NOUNS, across the board, have three orientations, expressed, as we noted before, by fused-on endings. These functions are:
In outline then, to make it a bit more clear, we have something like
Nominative Subject Subject
Genitive Possessive Possessive
Dative "to/for" "to/for"
Accusative Object Object
Ablative "from/by/in" "from/by/in"
Vocative "hey there"
Several things deserve one more word. The Vocative exists only in the singular of masculine Class II nouns which you will see below, so generally you will have five cases in the singular rather than six. And in the plural of all classes (see below) the Dative and Ablative plurals have one form, hence plurals will have only four case forms. Asymmetry in language is normal, although some languages like Turkish have crystalline regularity....For asymmetry, just consider hodge-podge English.'
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Now that we have outlined the CASES, we should list the five CLASSES or DECLENSIONS to which all the Latin nouns belong.
A CLASS (which we number I II III IV V) is traditionally called a Declension (They were actually so named by Roman school masters because they descend or "decline" down the Roman schoolboy's tablet. The Romans believed in rote memorization, for centuries we enforced the notorious "amo amas amat..., a poor alternative to Inductive Reading.)
Each Declension is structurally different in its forms (endings) from the others, and a word normally belongs to one class and one class only. Nouns do not switch classes, there is no reason to, since they all mean semantically the same thing in terms of Gender/Sex, Case and number. As you learn a new word, you automatically note its class, and sex (gender), since you will need this information for reading.
Now we will describe the five classes of Latin nouns, and give a typical
example of a word in each class
The First Declension
Here is an example of the First Declension, the Feminine Nouns:
CLASS: Noun I Declension, Fem. "girl" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative puella puellae Genitive puellae puellarum Dative puellae puellis Accusative puellam puellas Ablative puella. puellis
CLASS: Noun I Declension, Masc.! . "sailor" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative nauta nautae Genitive nautae nautarum Dative nautae nautis Accusative nautam nautas Ablative nautâ nautisSee the exhaustive List of Masculine nouns in the First declension.
A few words are conjugated as reflections of the Greek originals:
CLASS: Noun 1 Declension, Masc. SINGULAR Nominative Aeneas Genitive Aeneae Dative Aeneae Accusative Aenean Ablative AeneâTwo things to note: 1) Nauta is masculine, although the forms looks feminine, and an adjective will be masculine, e.g. bonus nauta. 2) I have marked the Ablative Singular with a dot after the final -a to indicate that it is "long" phonematically (more about this later). This is a particularly annoying form in reading, which is why I mention the matter here.
See Particularites of the First Declension.
The Second Declension
The Second Declension has two types, here first are the Masculines:
CLASS: Noun II Declension, Masc. "slave" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative servus servi Genitive servi servorum Dative servo servis Accusative servum servos Ablative servo servisBut there is a Neuter class, which similar in many forms to the Masculine:
CLASS: Noun II Declension, Neut. "gift" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative donum dona Genitive doni donorum Dative dono donis Accusative donum dona Ablative dono donisIn the Second Declension the Neuters are distinguished from the Masculines only in the Nominative-Accusatives of Singular, and in the Nominative-Accusatives of the Plural. The other forms are identical with the Masculines.
Note: there is no difference between the nominative and accusative singulars in the Neuters, or between the nominative and accusative plurals.
CLASS: Noun II Declension, Masc. "man" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative vir viri Genitive viri virorum Dative viro viris Accusative virum viros Ablative viro virisIn some Decl. II nouns the nominative ends in -r, historically by loss of the vowel in a proto-form *vir-u-s , (cf. Lithuanian vyras) by consolidation of -rs- (not acceptable as a sound in Latin) as -r, giving vir "man"!
But the other forms are normal, e.g. gen.sg. viri.
of the Second Declension.
The Third Declension
There are many stem-types in this third declension, some ending in -p-, others in a guttural as -g- or -c-, dentals in -t- or -d-. The Third Declension is in a sense a catch-all for various stem-types, and can be very confusing. It can have words of several genders. But it is the similarity of the endings which binds all these disparate words together. Remember a word belongs to a given Declension class, there are no differences in meaning other than appearance and gender in the five noun classes.
Here are some typical examples in the Third Declension:
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Masc. "king" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative rex reges Genitive regis regum Dative regi (i- long) regibus Accusative regem reges/regis Ablative rege regibus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Masc. "soldier" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative miles milites Genitive militis militum Dative militi militibus Accusative militem milites Ablative milite militibus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Masc "leader" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative dux duces Genitive ducis ducum Dative duci ducibus Accusative ducem duces Ablative duce ducibus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Neut. "head" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative caput capita Genitive capitis capitum Dative capiti capitibus Accusative caput capita Ablative capite capitibus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Masc. "father" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative pater patres Genitive patris patrum Dative patri patribus Accusative patrem patres Ablative patre patribus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Neut. "body" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative corpus corpora Genitive corporis corporum Dative corpori corporibus Accusative corpus corpora Ablative corpore corporibus
CLASS: Noun III Declension, Masc. "fire" (i-stem) SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative ignis ignes Genitive ignis ignium Dative igni ignibus Accusative ignem ignis/es Ablative igni/e ignibus
CLASS: Noun lll Declension, Fem. "city" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative urbs urbes Genitive urbis urbium Dative urbi urbibus Accusative urbem urbis/es Ablative urbe urbibusIn this Third Declension there are also many irregular paradigms. Let me note a few of the more common ones here. The best way to get the gist of these is to look up in your dictionary these nominative forms, and observe carefully the genitive which is always given. This genitive gives the clue to the formation of most of the other forms. Basically you have to learn these irregulars by experience and use:
The Fourth Declension
The Fourth Declension is quite regular, it is normally masculine. Note that the nominative singular has a short -u-, while the genitive singular and nominative and accusative plural are all identical with a long -u-. Confusing, but in texts the context almost always makes the use quite clear.(The circumflex accent over some vowels indicates that they are long, since this electronic format lacks the macron).
CLASS: Noun IV Declension, Masc. "lake" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative lacus lacûs Genitive lacûs lacuum Dative lacui lacubus Accusative lacum lacûs Ablative lacû lacubus
CLASS: Noun IV Declension, Fem. "hand" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative manus manûs Genitive manûs manuum Dative manui/u manibus Accusative manum manûs Ablative manû manibusThe common word for "house" domus is Fem. and oscillates between the Second and Fourth Declensions, as follows:
CLASS: Noun II/IV Declension, Fem. "home" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative domus domûs Genitive domûs/domi domuum/domorum Dative domui/domo domibus Accusative domum domus/domos Ablative domu/domo domibusNOTE: There is variation in the dative/ablatve plural forms, which alternate between ibus/ubus. Assume generally -ibus following the analogy of the Third Decl., but partus, tribus, artus and lacus retain -ubus, while portus and specus have have either.
of the Fourth Declension.
The Fifth Declension
The Fifth (last) Declension contains only a few dozen words, but all are quite common. Words in this group are Feminine (except dies and meri-dies which are Masc.). The genitive singular is listed here but generally avoided in Latin prose, oddly, even to the extent of writing "partem e facie" rather than "partem faciei". Again several case-forms have the same ending -ies, a common feature of Latin grammar, but one which does not cause problems in Latin texts. Authors generally are careful to make their meaning clear, despite grammatical ambiguities.
CLASS: Noun V Declension, Fem. "thing, matter" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative res res Genitive rei rerum Dative rei rebus Accusative rem res Ablative re rebus
CLASS: Noun V Declension, Masc. "day" SINGULAR PLURAL Nominative dies dies Genitive diei dierum Dative diei diebus Accusative diem dies Ablative die diebus
See Particularities of the Declensions.
An Excursus on "Vowel Length"
This is a good point to discuss something which we have been avoiding, the fact that some vowels are "long" while others are "short".
The long vowels are marked with a macron above in dictionaries and in highschool textbooks, but were never marked by the Romans in their manuscripts, no do we note them in printed Latin texts. In the old days students were drilled for knowledge of the longs and shorts, in Germany it was traditional to have the student make hand motions to indicate longs, but this was a poor substitute for proper pronunciation in the classroom. Curiously many Latin teacher don't like to read Latin aloud, thus missing the pleasure of hearing the nuances of poetry and also engraining the vocabulary in the students' minds.
From a Linguistics point of view, sounds which "make a difference", that is sounds which can distinguish one word from another, are called "phonematic". Many of the long/short differences are NOT phonematic, so I am not going to burden you with them in this Guide. But a few are, for example the Nominative/Ablative of "puella", so I will place a . (period) after a long vowel when it does make a distinction. (We lack the macron in this website language...)
But when you read poetry you suddenly find that you really have to know the lengths of the vowels in order to grasp the metrical cadences of the verse. However you only learn to read the Latin hexameter fluently by absorbing its sound and characteristic rhythmic, and if you know a few of the "longs" many of the rest will fall into place. But there is another complication here: Romans pronounced their prose in a different mode, by the "Law of the Antepenult", i.e. there is a stress-accent (not length) on the third syllable from the end, unless the second is long in which case the "accent" goes on it. I only mention these complications to warn you that there is a no-man's-land ahead, which I suggest you ignore for the present, learning only the basic forms as they stand. This will be enough to get you into reading basic Latin, the rest can come bit by bit later as you need it.
There are many irregularities in Latin Grammar, which have no special reason for their being, so don't be surprised when you find them cropping up, as they surely will. Common words are often irregular, unfortunately. Why in the world should a sailor (nauta) be feminine in Class I, but have a Class II adjective? Or why should all trees ending in -us (ornus "ash tree") be masculine in form but take feminine adjectives. Forget the reasons and enjoy the ancient irrationality of what is generally a very rational language overall.
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