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SUMMARY OF GRAMMAR 1: NOUNS & PREPOSITIONS

Sections: [Articles] [Nouns] [Prepositions]
Tables: [1st declension] [2nd declension] [3rd declension]  [4th declension] [5th declension] [Non-Latin proper names]


ARTICLES

Latin has no word for "the" (definite article), nor any word for "a" or "an" (indefinite article). We have to use common sense and add the appropriate words when they are needed in English.
 

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NOUNS

Nouns in Latin (and many other languages) have three properties: number, gender and case.

Number
This in Latin, as in English, is simply a distinction between singular (one thing) and plural (more than one). We are familiar with some Latin singular and plurals in English, e.g. formula ~ formulae, fungus ~ fungi, genus ~ genera, axis ~ axes etc.
Gender
All nouns in Latin are either masculine, feminine or neuter. As in other languages with grammatical gender, e.g. German, French, Welsh, Polish, this does not correspond to biological gender or sex. However, Latin is slightly tidier than some other languages in that with humans, at least, all females are feminine and all males are masculine. This often happens with "higher" animals, but with other animals and all things grammatical gender is arbitrary, e.g. mensa "table" is feminine, ager "field" is masculine, and caput "head" is neuter.
Case
For a fuller treatment of this, see the "Summary of grammar" of "Ordinary of the Mass 1." Here we will simply summarize. There are five main cases in Latin:
  • Nominative - the "naming" case dictionary form. It is used for the subject of a verb, e.g. rex ádvenit "the king is approaching"; also for what is called the complement of "to be" (and similar words), e.g. Christus est rex "Christ is king."
  • Accusative - this is used to show the direct object, e.g. regem laudavérunt "they praised the king"; it is also used after most prepositions, e.g. prope regem stabat "he was standing near the king."
  • Genitive - generally corresponds with of in english, or an English possessive, e. uxor regis "the wife of the king" or "the king's wife."
  • Dative - to show the indirect object with the verb "to give" and similar verbs, e.g. magnum honórem regi dedit "he gave the king great honour" or "he gave great honour to the king."
  • ablative - used after a few prepositions, e.g. pro rege pugnávit "he fought for his king". Apart from one construction, which does not concern us here, this is its only use with words referring to people. With things or abstract notions, the ablative may be used by itself with various adverbial uses which can generally be expressed by with or by in English, e.g. honóre pugnávit "he fought with honour"; dolo et perfídia Tarquínius Romæ rex factus est "by deceit and by treachery Tarquin became king of Rome."
There are also vestiges of two other cases; but these are found with just a small number nouns. These are the locative case, found mainly with names of places; it does concern us here. The other the vocative, which is used when addressing a person, e.g. Christe, miserére nobis "Christ, have mercy on us." The vocative was usually shown by the same form as the nominative; but 2nd declension masculine nouns ending in -us had a special form which will be noted below.

When we set out a Latin noun showing the different caees of the noun in the singular and plural, we are said to be declining the noun. Not all nouns are declined the same way. There are basically five different patterns or declensions. When nouns are given in any good dictionary, as well as giving the nominative case, the dictionary will also give the genitive case, the gender of the noun and, of course, its meaning. The genitive case is give, because:

  1. it unambiguously identifies which declension the noun belongs to;
  2. it also makes clear what the stem of the noun is, to which endings are added, if this is different from the nominative form.

For example:

1st declension
terra, terræ [f.] = "earth"
2nd declension
Dóminus, Dómini [m.] = "Lord"
puer, púeri [m.] = "boy"
magíster, magístri [m.] = "master"
regnum, regni [n.] = "kingdom"
3rd declension
pater, patris [m.] = "father"
panis, panis [m.] = "bread, loaf"
soror, soróris [f.] = "sister"
urbs, urbis [f.] = "city"
nomen, nóminis [n.] = "name"
mare, maris [n.] = "sea"
4th declension
manus, manus [f.] = "hand"
motus, motus [m.] = "motion, movement"
genu, genus [n.] = "knee"
5th declension
res, rei [f.] = "thing"

Now let us look in more detail (the dative and ablative plurals are always the same for all words in Latin):

1st declension
 singularplural
nominativeterraterræ
accusativeterramterras
genitiveterræterrárum
dativeterræterris
ablativeterra
All words in the 1st declension are feminine, with the exception of a few words which refer to males, e.g. agrícola "farmer" which is masculine; there are also some masculine proper names, e.g. Agrippa. There are no neuter words in this declension.

A few proper names of Greek origin end in -as in the nominative singular, but are otherwise declined as terra above; e.g. Lucas, Lucæ "Luke."
Hebrew names ending in -am are usually indeclinable (i.e, do not change), but sometimes are given 1st declension endings in all except the nominative singular, e.g. Adam, Adæ.
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2nd declension
a. Masculine nouns (All these words behave exactly the same way, except for the nominative singular):
 singularplural
nominativepuerpúeri
accusativepúerumpúeros
genitivepúeripuerórum
dativepúeropúeris
ablativepúero
 singularplural
nominativemagístermagístri
accusativemagístrummagístros
genitivemagístrimagístrórum
dativemagístromagístris
ablativemagístro
 singularplural
nominativedóminusdómini
accusativedóminumdóminos
genitivedóminidominórum
dativedóminodóminis
ablativedómino
Vocative singular
  • 2nd declension words ending in -us only may have a special vocative singular, e.g. Dómine, non sum dignus "Lord, I am not worthy".
  • But if -i- comes before the nominative ending -us, the vocative has no ending at all, e.g. "son of David" is fílius David, but in Luke 18:30 we find fili David, miserére mei "son of David, have mercy on me."
  • Otherwise in Latin the nominative is used also as vocative; we may even find this in late Latin with 2nd declension words in -us, e.g. Agnus Dei, miserére nobis "Lamb of God, have mercy on us."

a. Neuter nouns

 singularplural
nominativeregnumregna
accusative
genitiveregniregnórum
dativeregnoregnis
ablativeregno
Two things distinguish all neuter nouns in Latin:
  • The nominative and accusative cases are always the same.
  • The nominative and accusative plurals end in -a
It will be seen that the genitive, dative and ablative cases are formed in exactly the same way as the masculine nouns above.
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3rd declension
All 3rd declension nouns have the same form for both the nominative and accusative plural; there, therefore, only three distinct forms in the plural of these nouns. This applies also to 4th and 5th declension nouns (see below).
a. Masculine and feminine nouns (All these words behave exactly the same way, except for the nominative singular):
 singularplural
nominativepaterpatres
accusativepatrem
genitivepatrispatrum
dativepatripátribus
ablativepatre
 singularplural
nominativepanispanes
accusativepanem
genitivepanispánium
dativepanipánibus
ablativepane
 singularplural
nominativesororsoróres
accusativesorórem
genitivesorórissorórum
dativesorórisoróribus
ablativesoróre
 singularplural
nominativeurbsurbes
accusativeurbem
genitiveurbisúrbium
dativeurbiúrbibus
ablativeurbe

The observant will notice that the genitive plural of two of the nouns ends in -um, while that of the other two ends in -ium. If all you wish to do is to read Latin, you need know no more than that.

Those who are more curious may like to know that:

  • Nouns like soror which increase by one syllable in the genitive (and most 3rd declension nouns are like that), have genitive plural in -um. The exception to this rule is that monosyllabic noun stems ending in two or more consonants, e.g. urb-, have genitive plural in -ium.
  • Nouns which have the same number of syllables in the nominative and the genitive singular have genitive plural in -ium. The six exceptions are pater, patris "father", mater, matris "mother", frater, fratris "brother", senex, senis "old man", júvenis, júvenis "young man", canis, canis "dog", which have genitive plural in -um.

b. Neuter nouns

 singularplural
nominativenomennómina
accusative
genitivenóminisnóminum
dativenómininóminibus
ablativenómine
 singularplural
nominativemaremaria
accusative
genitivemarismarium
dativemaripánibus
ablative

The vast majority of 3rd declension neuter nouns behave like nomen, nóminis. Few nouns behave like mare, maris; the other two most common are: ánimal, animális "animal" and cubíle, cubílis "bed."

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4th declension
a. Masculine and feminine nouns
 singularplural
nominativemotusmotus
accusativemotum
genitivemotusmótuum
dativemótuimótibus
ablativemotu
 singularplural
nominativemanusmanus
accusativemanum
genitivemanusmánuum
dativemánuimánibus
ablativemanu
Most 4th declension nouns ending in -us are masculine. The only common feminine ones are manus "hand" and the anomalous noun domus "house, home." (see below)
The noun domus, though reckoned as 4th declension because its genitive is domus, has some 2nd declension forms. Its declension is given opposite.
It also has a special form called 'locative' which is used adverbially; it accusative and ablative may also be used adverbially, thus:
  • domum (accusative) = "[to] home, homeward(s)"
  • domo (ablative) = "from home"
  • domi (locative) = "at home"
 singularplural
nominativedomusdomus
accusativedomumdomos or domus
genitivedomusdómuum
dativedómuidómibus
ablativedomo

b. Neuter nouns

 singularplural
nominativegenugénua
accusative
genitivegenusgénuum
dativegenugénibus
ablative
 
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5th declension
 singularplural
nominativeresres
accusativerem
genitivereirerum
dativereirebus
ablativere
All words in the 5th declension are feminine, with the exception of dies "day" which is normally masculine, e.g. multos dies = "for many days." In the singular, however, it may be treated as feminine if it refers to a specific day, e.g. resurréxit tértia die = "he rose again on the third day."
 
There are no neuters in this declension.
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Non-Latin proper names
One of four things may happen:
  • The name may be fully assimilated and be declined like one of the models above, e.g. Matthǽus, Matthǽi = "Matthew"; Joánnes, Joannis = "John"; Elisǽus, Elisǽi = "Elisha"; María, Maríæ = "Mary"; Eva, Evæ = "Eve."
  • Under the 1st declension above, we found (a) that some male names come into Latin with a Greek nominative form, e.g. Elías, Elíæ = "Elijah"; Jonas, Jonæ = "Jona"; Zaharías, Zacharíæ = "Zechariah, Zachary"; and (b) that Hebrew names ending in -am might be given 1st declension endings for all cases except the nominative singular, e.g. Abraham, Abrahæ.
  • If a male name ended in a vowel, it might be given a final -s for the nominative and -m for the accusative, but no ending for the genitive, dative, ablative and vocative. The most famous instance of this is:
    nominativeaccusativegenitivedativeablativevocative
    JesusJesumJesu
  • Mostly, however, they are just left unchanged, e.g. "David" remains unchanged, so that "son of David" is simply filius David with no genitive ending. Examples of other indeclinable (i.e. unchanging) names are: Noe = "Noah", Josue = "Joshua", Joseph, Ruth, Rachel etc.
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PREPOSITIONS

Prepositions are short words that in English, Latin and many other languages precede nouns and show how they are related to other parts of the sentence. In Latin, a preposition is followed by either the accusative or the ablative case, as shown below. As in all languages, so in Latin, prepositions tend to develop various metaphorical uses; we cannot attempt to cover all possible meanings of Latin prepositions here. Below we give only the basic or more common meanings.

Four prepositions only may be followed by either the accusative or ablative case
The prepositions in, sub, subter and super are followed by the accusative if they express motion, but by the ablative if they express no motion; e.g.
  • in urbem venérunt = "they came into the city" ~ in urbe mansérunt = "they remained in the city"
  • sub tectum meum intras = "you enter under my roof" ~ sub tecto tuo manébo = "I shall remain under your roof"
  • subter is not common and means much the same as sub
  • super capita nostra volávit = "it flew above our heads" ~ super capite eius sedébat ="it was sitting on his head"

Those who know German should note that this distinction between accusative and ablative is not a general one like the distinction between the accusative and dative in German. It is confined solely to these four prepositions. So, e.g. ad is always followed by the accusative whether it indicates motion ("towards") or not ("at, near").


Eight prepositions may be followed only by the ablative
They are:
  • a, ab (ab before words beginning with a vowel or with h-; a before all other consonants) = "from, away from", e.g. ab urbe = "from the city", a fronte = "from the front"
  • cum = "with" e.g. cum Luca ="with Luke" (with some pronouns it is attached to the end, e.g. "with me" is mecum; see section on pronouns in 'Summary of Grammar 2')
  • coram = "in the presence of", e.g. coram pópulo = "in the presence of the people"
  • de = "(down) from; about, concerning" e.g. de móntibus = "(down) from the mountains"; de veritáte = "about the truth; concerning the truth"
  • e, ex (ex may be used before all letters; e is found only before consonants) = "out of" e.g. ex urbe = "out of the city"
  • præ = " = "in front of" e.g. præ me = "in front of mr"; this preposition is more commonly used with various metaphorical meanings
  • pro may also mean "in front of", e.g. pro domo = "in front of the house"; but more often it means "for (the sake of), on behalf of, instead of", e.g. pro patria = "for one's country", pro rege = "on behalf of the king", pro te ibo = "I shall go instead of you"
  • sine = "without",, e.g. sine dúbio = "without doubt"

palam is also sometimes also listed with the meaning of "in the presence of"; but it is rare as a preposition. Its more common use is as an adverb meaning "openly, plainly, publicly."
 

All other prepositions are followed by the accusative case
The remaining twenty five or more prepositions are always followed by the accusative. It would be somewhat tedious to list them all here. Two we came across in texts from the Mass are: ad = "towards, at, near" and per = "through."
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