The Adjective and Adverb

by William Harris
(the text is published with the permission of the author)
The Adjectives

Adjectives are descriptive words which attach themselves to nouns and tell us something more about their nature. All adjectives are in form really nouns, that is they have the same endings as nouns by and large, and they fall into two classes:
Class I: Adjectives based on Declensions I and II


               CLASS: Adjective   1  Declension, Fem. "good"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              bona                  bonae
Genitive                bonae                 bonarum

Dative                  bonae                 bonis
Accusative              bonam                 bonas
Ablative                bona.                 bonis
               CLASS: Adjective  1I  Declension, Masc. "good"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              bonus                 boni
Genitive                boni                  bonorum
Dative                  bono                  bonis
Accusative              bonum                 bonos
Ablative                bono                  bonis
               CLASS: Adjective  II  Declension, Neut. "good"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              bonum                 bona
Genitive                .                     .
Dative                  .                     .
Accusative              bonum                 bona
Ablative                .                     .
(The unlisted neuter forms are exactly the same as the Masc.)
Class II: Adjectives based on Declensions III
Many adjectives fall into this second adjective class, based on noun Class III. Since there is such a variance of stems and appearances, I will give a few examples:
               CLASS: ADJECTIVE    III  Declension, "brave"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              fortis (forte)        fortes (fortia)
Genitive                fortis                fortium
Dative                  forti                 fortibus
Accusative              fortem (forte)        fortes (fortia)
Ablative                forte                 fortibus
(The bracketed forms are neuters, the others are Masc.= Fem.)
               CLASS: Adjective III  Declension, "headlong..." 
                       SINGULAR                 PLURAL 
Nominative              praeceps (praeceps)      praecipites (-ia)
Genitive                praecipitis              praecipitum
Dative                  praecipiti               praecipitibus
Accusative              praecipitem (praeceps)   praecipites )-ia)
Ablative                praecipite               praecipitibus
               CLASS: Adjective III  Declension, "old"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              vetus (vetus)         veteres (vetera) 
Genitive                veteris               veterum
Dative                  veteri                veteribus
Accusative              veterem (vetus)       veteres (vetera) 
Ablative                vetere                veteribus
You will note immediately that in Class III one form covers both masculine and feminine. Many of these forms also apply to the neuter, with the exception of the subject/object singular subject/object and plural, which have separate forms, just as in noun Class II b. And again Dative and Ablative plurals are always the same, and no vocatives exist anywhere here.
General Notions on the Adjectives

A few more things remain to be said about adjectives in general:

They can precede their noun, or follow it, or be separated by a distance of many words, since tagged Latin words are generally easily identified aside from word order. Therefore we can say that Latin has a fairly free word order. This confers a freedom and beauty on the art of writing poetry, where inversions and artistic separations are pretty much a standard practice. A line of verse can have artistic form as well as artistic meaning.

Any adjective, if used without a noun to attach itself to, can be considered a noun in its own right. So vir bonus or VB on Roman electioneering posters, "good man" a standard term in politics, can be reduced to bonus, which is now a noun. And fortis "brave", an adjective, by itself means "a brave man". This is not commonly found in English so you will have to watch carefully. But "the meek" (as a noun) may still inherit the earth!

A cardinal rule which governs every Latin sentence, is that:

Everything must agree with everything else in every possible way.

This has no direct relevance to the structure of Roman society, although it certainly sounds that way. It might be more typically American ! Certainly language and society exhibit parallel features, as the American linguist Whorf noted thirty years ago. But back to grammatical agreement...:

Rules for grammatical agreement:

  1. An adjective must "agree" i.e. have parallel structure in its endings, with the noun it goes with, in respect to sex/gender (masc. fem. neut.)
  2. An adjective must "agree" in Number, i.e. singular or plural. But this does not apply to the Noun Declension concinnity, they are all equals in terms of agreement.
  3. An adjective must match in Case, as listed in the description of noun and adjective forms, i.e. subject, possessive, to-for (dative), Object, Ablative and the rare Vocative when it occurs.
This sounds complicated but the idea is simple: If you are going to use tag endings to identify functions, you tag alike things which intellectually go together in the phrase or sentence. Hence bonorum consiliorum "of good counsels", Marce Tulli "Hey, Marcus Tullius", malae sententiae "evil thoughts" ----- these pairs make perfect sense. They are grammatically "matched pairs".

(A sharp eye might notice that in the phrase Marce Tulli, something is wrong, because it might well have been Marce Tullie. A subrule states that masculine names in -ius have a Vocative ending simply in -i, probably as a condensation of a historical *Tulli-e which does not occur.)

I mention the above example here to advise you that I am not going to note unusual exceptions and rare forms for you at this stage of our introduction. We are trying to get the general features firmly grasped, and you can learn the exceptions later. You will find a list of all the exceptions you are likely to find in a standard grammar (Allen & Greenough...). Remember that although Latin is by and large standardized (although it can seem irregular) there are many exceptions to rules which are in themselves the rule in early Latin, common parlance Latin , Vulgar Latin (which is not "vulgar"), Church Latin, Medieval Latin, Scholastic Latin, and even Renaissance Latin. It is no surprise to find the Perfect "davit" for dedit in a late Inscription.
The "Grades" of Adjectives

Adjectives have three grades (this scaling is called the Comparison of Adjectives traditionally), as follows:

1) The base or regular adjectival form, which we have been discussing above.

2) The "comparing" stage, which is similar to English "more" when there is something real or implied to compare the word to, i.e. "this tree is taller than that". But it is important to note that if no comparison is present, this form is like English "rather...", this "this tree is rather tall....". It is this second use (without comparison) which confuses the student most.

In form this class follows class II Adjectives, with no distinction between masculine and feminine forms (on the left in the following examples), while neuter endings are in brackets.

 Note that the Acc. Pl. always ends in -es ( but Decl. III nouns have alternate forms: long -is/es).

               CLASS: Comparative adj. "braver", 
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              fortior (-ius)        fortiores (-iora)
Genitive                fortioris             fortiorum
Dative                  fortiori              fortioribus
Accusative              fortiorem (-ius)      fortiores (-iora)
Ablative                fortiore              fortioribus
In this case the comparative forms are based on the regular word-stem, fort- .
               CLASS: Comparative Adj. "good/better" bonus melior
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              melior (-ius)         meliores (-iora)
Genitive                melioris              meliorum
Dative                  meliori               melioribus
Accusative              meliorem (-ius)       meliores (-iora)
Ablative                meliore.              melioribus
But in this case, as often in commonly used words, the comparative is based on entirely different stem, in fact it is a different word "suppleted" to go into that linguistic space. This should be no surprise to speakers of English who are well accustomed to "good/better", let along "go/went" and many other similar oddities.

There is a group of quite common words which are irregular, and which you will have to learn by experience as you read. Who could ever guess that "good, better, best" would be in Latin bonus....melior....optimus...? (But look back at the English... good/better).

A list of the most commonly seen comparatives (with the superlatives, discussed below) is:

bonus                melior          optimus
malus                peior           pessimus
magnus               maior           maximus
parvus               minor           minimus
multus               plus            plurimus
multi                plures          plurimi (of persons)
nequam (indecl.)     nequior         nequissimus
frugi (indecl.)      frugior         frugissimus
A few words are found in Comparative and Superlative without a "positive", namely:
ocior ocissimus "swift" and the common potior potissimus "powerful".

3) The "most" stage, somewhat gaudily titled the "superlative" in traditional-ese grammar, is much easier to deal with since it is quite regular in its forms:

 In form it regularly follows class I Fem. and II Masc/Neut. Adjectives:

From "spissus" 'thick'  we make up our "most" form by adding -issimus, and then derive up the rest of the grammatical forms according to Class I/II Adjectival procedure:

               gratissimus      gratissima       gratissimum
               etc              etc              etc
There are, however, some phonetic changes which took place presumably for ease of pronunciation, and we have :
        celer "quick"   but celerrimus for *celerissimus
facilis "easy" but facillimus for *facilissimus

Once you are aware of this change, you can probably recognize most of the altered forms, but again there are the real irregulars, which may even substitute a different root in this form.

bonus                melior          optimus
malus                peior           pessimus
magnus               maior           maximus
parvus               minor           minimus
multus               plus            plurimus
multi                plures          plurimi (of persons)
nequam (indecl.)     nequior         nequissimus
frugi (indecl.)      frugior         frugissimus
The Adverbs

Adverbs are basically adjectival forms which are matched up with verbs, rather than nouns. They "modify", that is, they explain and further develop a verbal concept, hence they "go with" the verb and were so named by the Roman grammarians: pro + verbum "near or beside the verb", a neat term in fact. But adverbs do not grammatically agree with the verb they match, nor are they fused on so as to become one word with the verb. Adverbs have one, fixed form, hence they are easy to deal with for an English speaker, since they are analogous to English adverbs, which also have a single, fixed form. Adverbs are listed in the dictionaries as "undecl." or undeclined, fixed forms.

1) The most common class of adverbs ends in -e, and is derived from Decl. I/II Adjectival formation:

Beside the Adjective bellus bella bellum "pretty" we have the Adv. belle "nicely, cutely"

(This last word "bell-" is not the word for "war", which is identical. Latin has the same identity problems as every language, cf. English lead (the verb form: to lead etc.) as well as lead "plumbum, the metallic element". )

Beside bona bonus bonum we would expect bone, but we get bene, the vowel phonetically shifted by use. But the basic rule stands: Adjectives in "-us -a, -um" make an adverb in -e, and this includes the "most" m or Superlative grade in -issimus -a -um, which make adverbs by the same rule: -issime. "most....-ly"

2) Adjectives which normally occur in our Class II Adjectives (like Class III nouns) regularly take the ending -ter, which makes an adverb just as well, and with no difference in meaning from the above.

So fortis "brave" gives fortiter "bravely". This class is common and pretty regular, no special problems

3) But if you want to make an adverb from a "more" (comparative) adjectival form, you don't use this -ter ending, but use instead the comparative neuter form just as it stands.

So from the grade normal adj. tristis "sad", you make the "more" comparative up as tristior "sadder or rather sad", and then the adverb will be the same as the neuter singular in -ius:

tristius "rather sadly, or more sadly".
But this can also be a straight neuter adjectival form going with some neuter noun in the sentence, so in reading you might consider both options. Authors, then as now, are usually conscious of ambivalencies, and common sense usually cuts the Gordian knot.

4) Adjectives in the "most" or superlative grade will always be of the Class I /II Adjectives with -a -us -um endings, whether regular or irregular and so will use the simple and easily recognizable Adverb ending -e, used in the first group listed above. The root and the appearance of the word may change but the ending will just as you expect: -e.

5) Within the formal class of adverbs is a bagful of words which are just plain root-words with no formal tag ending. One might mention cras "tomorrow", mane "early in the AM", tot "so many", as well as the sentence connectors enim "indeed." quippe "to be sure (sarcastic)", autem "on the other hand" and many more. You look each up in a dictionary, each is a word with a meaning, and that's all there is to it.


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