The Declensions

Nouns are divided into classes called declensions. The concept of noun declensions in Latin is even easier than verbs because you can divide English nouns into groups as well. Have a look at TABLE 5-1:

Table 5-1 English Declensions

Can you see on what basis these words are divided into these declensions (i.e., groups)? Look at how each group forms its plurals. Different groups for different endings. Our first declension takes an “-s” to form its plural, and the second declension takes an “-es” to show more than one. The third declension adds “-en,” but “child” is a bit of an exception because it inserts an r before the ending. We could call words with this variation, third declension r-stems. The fourth declension changes “oo” to “ee,” while the fifth declension doesn't add or change anything at all. The strangest of our English declensions is the sixth. The internal “ous” becomes “ic.” (Even stranger is that we don't live in a “hice”!)

Latin has five declensions, plus a handful of irregular nouns. (You will meet the irregulars along the way, one by one.) Because of all the cases involved, Latin nouns have more than just a plural to worry about. Every noun can take ten forms, one for each of the five cases, singular and plural.

Here is an overview of each of the five declensions. Remember: This is just a roundup of all the forms. Don't try to learn all of them all at once!

In the rest of this chapter, you will work with only the nominative and accusative case forms. They appear in these charts in boldface to make them easier for you to pick out. The others are presented simply so you can see the big picture.

First Declension

The gender of all first declension words is feminine unless the word refers to a male being (e.g., nauta, “sailor”).

Table 5-2 First Declension: “wing”

Second Declension

Second declension words are either masculine or neuter. The first word declined in TABLE 5-3, servus, is a typical second declension masculine noun with a nominative singular ending in “-us.” The next word, puer, takes all the same endings that servus does, it just doesn't have the “-us” in the nominative singular.

The third word seems to work like puer, but if you look closer, you will notice that after the initial form ager, suddenly the endings are pasted onto agr-. The e dropped out! This phenomenon is called a stem change. There are a few second declension -er words that change their stems, but where you will see it as a normal course of events will be in third declension.

Before we move on to third declension, there is still one word to discuss: templum. Templum is a typical second declension neuter word. The -um in the nominative singular is what gives it away. Compare the endings across the whole chart and you will see that they are all the same, except in a couple of places. Neuter nouns are very easy to work with if you remember the double neuter rule:

  • Nominative and accusative forms are always the same.

  • Nominative plural always ends in -a.

Table 5-3 Second Declension

Third Declension

Most Latin nouns are third declension, so it is an extremely important group. They also constitute the least friendly of the declensions. They're not hostile; they're just very particular. Here are the most important facts to keep in mind when working with them:

  • Third declension has words of all genders. In TABLE 5-4, for example, homō is masculine, ter is feminine, and iter is neuter.

  • There is no predictable nominative singular ending in third declension. You must learn each one as you learn your vocabulary.

  • Most third declension words have stem changes. You must learn them as you learn your vocabulary as well.

  • The endings always go on the modified stem.

  • The endings are the same for masculine and feminine words. Neuters follow the double neuter rule.

Table 5-4 Third Declension

Fourth Declension

Fourth declension words are masculine. There are two common exceptions, namely manus (“hand”) and domus (“house”), which are feminine. (There are also a few neuters, but they are too uncommon for you to worry about them.)

Table 5-5 Fourth Declension: “hand”

Case

Singular

Plural

Nominative

manus

manū s

Genitive

manūs

manuum

Dative

manuī

manibus

Accusative

manum

manū s

Ablative

manū

manibus

Fifth Declension: Trust

Fifth declension words are all feminine with one exception — diēs (“day”), which is masculine. There are no neuters. Fifth declension has the smallest population of all the declensions. Ironically, the most common noun in the whole Latin language, rēs (“thing”), belongs to this group.

Table 5-6 Fifth Declension: “trust”

Case

Singular

Plural

Nominative

fidē s

fidē s

Genitive

fideī

fidē rum

Dative

fideī

fidē bus

Accusative

fidem

fidē s

Ablative

fidē

fidē bus

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