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ticular pattern in Latin, here the dative case, does not just have one
corresponding pattern in English; you may have to choose between
several alternatives. Different languages work in different ways and
exact translation is not always possible.
This is even more true when we come to the remaining case, the
ablative, since that can be used for an even wider variety of functions.
The most common use is after certain prepositions, such as in ˜in,
on™ and cum ˜with™, for example in via ˜on the road™, cum amico
˜with a friend™. But it is also used to express a means or an instru-
ment, for instance femina digito viam monstrat ˜the woman shows
the way with her ¬nger™ in which digito ˜with (her) ¬nger™ is

A natural history of Latin

the ablative. It can also be used to indicate time, as in anno Domini
˜in the year of our Lord™ where anno is in the ablative and Domini is
in the genitive.
So far we have mentioned two declensions but there are in fact
three more, making a total of ¬ve. The third declension is very com-
mon, as are the ¬rst and the second, whereas the fourth and the ¬fth
are only used for a very few words each. The safest way to ¬nd out
which declension a word belongs to is to look at the form of the gen-
itive singular, and that form is therefore mentioned for each word in
the word list. Starting from the genitive you can search in the tables
to ¬nd any other form, as we shall see. Before that though a word
about another nominal category, gender.
Latin is like languages such as French and German and unlike
English in that each noun has its own intrinsic gender. The Latin
term for this is genus, which can mean either ˜family™ or ˜sort, kind™.
In Latin there are three genders, which are traditionally called
masculínum˜masculine™,feminínum˜feminine™,and n©utrum˜neuter™.
There is some link with meaning in that most, but not all, words
denoting males are masculine and similarly most words for females
are feminine. Etymologically, ˜neuter™ means ˜neither the one nor
the other™, and indeed most words that are neuter refer to inanimate
things such as lac ˜milk™ and ebur ˜ivory™ and abstract concepts such
as bellum ˜war™ and nomen ˜name™. However, the word animal
˜animal™ is also neuter, and many, perhaps most, words that refer to
objects and ideas are either masculine (e.g. gladius ˜sword™, sol ˜sun™)
or feminine (e.g. machina ˜machine™, luna ˜moon™), so most of the
time the gender of a word is just an arbitrary fact about it which has
to be learnt. That is why dictionaries for languages like Latin,
French, or German always indicate a noun™s gender.
Similarly, the word list at the back of this book shows the gender
for each noun. This is needed for a number of reasons. The pronoun
a word is replaced with depends on gender, very much as in English,
where the word girl is replaced by she or her and boy by he or him.
Adjectives also vary their in¬‚ection according to the gender of the
noun they go with, a pattern which we do not have in English but

About the Grammar

which readers who know French, Spanish, or Italian will readily
recognize. We have luna magna ˜large moon™ but sol magnus ˜large
sun™. Nouns which are neuter are declined slightly differently from
the others, as you can see from Table 2.
You can use Tables 1 and 2 to identify a form from a text. First you
¬nd the word in the word list, which gives the form the word takes

Table 1. Noun, masculine and feminine

Declension 1 2 3 4 5
Meaning ˜woman™ ˜friend™ ˜city™ ˜fruit™ ˜day™
Gender feminine masculine feminine masculine masculine

Nominative sg. f©mina amícus urbs fructus dies
Genitive sg. f©minae amíci urbis fructus di©i
Dative sg. f©minae amíco urbi frúctui di©i
Accusative sg. f©minam amícum urbem fructum diem
Ablative sg. f©mina amíco urbe fructu die
Nominative pl. f©minae amíci urbes fructus dies
Genitive pl. feminárum amicórum úrbium frúctuum di©rum
Dative pl. f©minis amícis úrbibus frúctibus di©bus
Accusative pl. f©minas amícos urbes fructus dies
Ablative pl. f©minis amícis úrbibus frúctibus di©bus

Table 2. Noun, neuter

Declension 2 3 4
Meaning ˜temple™ ˜sea™ ˜horn™
Gender neuter neuter neuter

Nominative sg. templum mare cornu
Genitive sg. templi maris cornus
Dative sg. templo mari córnui
Accusative sg. templum mare cornu
Ablative sg. templo mari cornu
Nominative pl. templa mária córnua
Genitive pl. templórum márium córnuum
Dative pl. templis máribus córnibus
Accusative pl. templa mária córnua
Ablative pl. templis máribus córnibus

A natural history of Latin

in the nominative and in the genitive singular, and its gender. The
genitive singular endings are: -ae, -i, -is, -us, and -ei. If the word is
masculine or feminine, then look in Table 1 for the corresponding
ending in the genitive singular row.Then look in the column you are
now in for the form with the ending that you are looking for. If the
word is neuter, you do the same in Table 2.
There is one more case, the vocative, which is used when you
address someone, as in Brute ˜Brutus!™. The speci¬c ending -e for
the vocative is used for masculine singular nouns belonging to the
second declension. Otherwise the vocative is always identical to the
Some forms deviate from the pattern set out in Table 1. In the ¬rst
instance we ¬nd this with the nominative singular. To begin with
there are words in the second declension whose stems end in -r, and
which have no ending in the nominative singular. An example is
vir ˜man™ (nominative singular) beside viri (genitive singular or
nominative plural). There are several other kinds of irregularity in
the nominative singular in the third declension. Words like urbs
in Table 1 have a nominative ending -s, but if the stem ends in a c or
a g instead of the expected sequence cs or gs, we ¬nd the letter x,
pronounced [ks]. The word meaning ˜peace™ is pacis in the genitive
and pax in the nominative, and ˜king™ is regis in the genitive and rex
in the nominative.
There are also words in the third declension which have no ending
in the nominative singular. A large group of this kind is made up of
words with a stem ending in -or such as orátor, oratóris ˜orator™.
Another is words whose stem ends in -on-, which lose their -n- in
the nominative singular: for example nátio, natiónis ˜nation™. Then
there are words like civis, civis ˜citizen™ whose nominative singular
ending is -is, the same as the genitive. Because of these kinds of
irregularity both the nominative singular and genitive singular
are given in the word list. The genitive is always regular, and the
ending of that form tells you which declension a noun belongs to.
The material that precedes the genitive ending is the stem, to which

About the Grammar

the endings are added for all the cases, except, as we have said, for
some nominative singulars.
The other case forms are almost always as they are to be found in
Table 1. The only exceptions are that in the third declension the end-
ing of the ablative singular is -i instead of -e for some masculine and
feminine words (the neuter is always in -i), and the ending of the
genitive plural is -um and not -ium for certain words. We have
regum ˜of kings™ beside urbium ˜of cities™.


Adjectives are used to qualify or modify nouns, and have endings
which show case and number and which re¬‚ect the gender of the
noun they accompany. This means that in principle each adjective
must have a form for each of the ¬ve cases, both singular and plural,
and in the three genders.That means 5 2 3, or a total of 30 forms.
This is not as dif¬cult as it seems, since the endings are the same as
the endings for nouns. Indeed the adjective often has the same end-
ing as the noun: femina clara ˜a famous woman™, feminae clarae
˜famous women™, amicus clarus ˜a famous friend™, amici clari ˜famous
friends™, templum clarum ˜a famous temple™, templa clara ˜famous
temples™. That is how things work out when the noun belongs to
either the ¬rst or second declension and the adjective is one of the
most common ones, which are called in the grammars ˜adjectives of
the ¬rst and second declension™ (see Table 3).
If the noun belongs to another declension it obviously has different
endings. The word rex ˜king™ is masculine and urbs ˜town™ is feminine
and both belong to the third declension. We have urbs clara ˜a famous
town™, urbes clarae ˜famous towns™, rex clarus ˜a famous king™, reges
clari ˜famous kings™.
There is also another type of adjective which has the endings of
the third declension, for example brevis ˜short™ (see Table 4). This
yields combinations such as femina brevis ˜a short woman™, feminae

A natural history of Latin

Table 3. Adjective, declension 1 and 2

Meaning ˜famous™
Gender masculine feminine neuter

Nominative sg. clarus clara clarum
Genitive sg. clari clarae clari
Dative sg. claro clarae claro
Accusative sg. clarum claram clarum
Ablative sg. claro clara claro
Nominative pl. clari clarae clara
Genitive pl. clarórum clarárum clarórum
Dative pl. claris claris claris
Accusative pl. claros claras clara
Ablative pl. claris claris claris

Table 4. Adjective, declension 3

Meaning ˜short™
Gender masculine, feminine neuter

Nominative sg. brevis breve
Genitive sg. brevis brevis
Dative sg. brevi brevi
Accusative sg. brevem breve
Ablative sg. brevi brevi
Nominative pl. breves br©via
Genitive pl. br©vium br©vium
Dative pl. br©vibus br©vibus
Accusative pl. breves br©via
Ablative pl. br©vibus br©vibus

breves ˜short women™, rex brevis ˜a short king™, reges breves ˜short
An important group which is declined according to this pattern com-
prises the past participles of verbs, such as monstratus, monstrata,
monstratum ˜shown™.
As with the third-declension nouns, there are several different
forms of the nominative singular in this class. A very small group of

About the Grammar

Table 5. Present participle

Meaning ˜showing™
Gender masculine, feminine neuter

Nominative sg. mónstrans mónstrans
Genitive sg. monstrántis monstrántis
Dative sg. monstránti monstránti
Accusative sg. monstrántem mónstrans
Ablative sg. monstránti, monstránte monstránti, monstránte
Nominative pl. monstrántes monstrántia
Genitive pl. monstrántium monstrántium
Dative pl. monstrántibus monstrántibus
Accusative pl. monstrántes monstrántia
Ablative pl. monstrántibus monstrántibus

words have different forms for masculine and feminine precisely
in the nominative singular, as for instance acer (masculine), acris
(feminine) and acre (neuter) ˜sharp™.At the other extreme, quite a lot
of words have a single form in the nominative singular across all
genders, as íngens (nominative), ing©ntis (genitive) ˜huge, powerful™.
Here the nominative ending is -s and the -t- of the stem disappears
before it, just as happens with a noun like mens, mentis ˜mind™. An
important group of words which are declined according to this pat-
tern are the present participles of verbs: monstrans ˜showing™. As
Table 5 shows, these items otherwise differ very little from other
adjectives belonging to the third declension.
In the word list the three forms of the nominative in the masculine,
feminine, and neuter are indicated for most adjectives, but for those
where there is only one form for the three genders, I have given that
form followed by the genitive.
In Latin, as in English, adjectives have comparative and super-
lative forms. Beside English clear, clearer, clearest we ¬nd Latin clarus,
clárior, claríssimus. The superlative is formed by adding -issim- to
the stem of the positive. To that you then add the normal adjectival
endings following the pattern in Table 3. To make the comparative,

A natural history of Latin

you add -ior to the same stem. The comparative for most forms is
declined like third-declension adjectives (Table 4 above). For example
the genitive singular is clarióris. In the nominative singular there


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