Module 1 - Nouns and Adjectives


Latin nouns have three characteristics: grammatical gender, number, and case.

Grammatical gender is not related to biological gender (though at times they can align), but it is a classification system that allows us to determine what form the modifying adjective should take (more on this below). Nouns can be one of three of genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. A noun’s gender cannot be changed.

Number tells us whether the noun in question is singular or plural. Consequently, it also plays a role in determining the form the modifying adjective may take (more on this below). When nouns function as the subject of the sentence, number also helps us to determine the proper verb form to use (subject-verb agreement). This works exactly like English. For example, you wouldn’t say “the boys walks to school”; rather, the plural subject “boys” must have a plural verb to agree with it: “the boys walk to school.”

Case indicates the function of a noun in the sentence. Because Latin is an inflected language, it does not rely on word order to indicate how a word functions in a sentence. Rather, the endings of the noun will change to reflect what it is doing in the sentence - whether it is a subject or direct object or the object of preposition etc. Again, it will also provide information about the form that the modifying adjective must take (more on this below). Nouns can be one of six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, or vocative.

To summarize, nouns have:

How can we determine what characteristics that a noun “in the wild” has? We need to consult what we call the dictionary entry (that is, how the noun will appear in a dictionary). Below we have the dictionary entry for mater:

mater, matris, f. - mother

Working from left to right:

mater indicates what the nominative singular form of the word is.

matris indicates the genitive singular form of the word. This form tells us two important pieces of information. First, it provides the stem (matr-) that is used to create all cases and numbers of the noun in question except for the nominative singular. Second, the ending, in this example -is, tells us the pattern (often referred to as a declension) that the noun will follow in creating different cases and numbers (more below).

Next, we have grammatical gender, signified here by the “f”, that tells us that mater is feminine. As mentioned above, this is an immutable characteristic.

The last part of the dictionary entry is simply the definition.

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As I alluded to above, Latin is an inflected language and relies on word endings to reveal how a word functions within the sentence. The way that Latin nouns or adjectives change their endings to reflect their function in a sentence is what we call a declension. There are three major declensions (as well as two minor ones) that we will become familiar with.

The declension to which a noun belongs can be easily determined by consulting the genitive singular form in the dictionary entry:

Practice opportunity

What declension does each of the following nouns belong to?

  1. ager, agrī, m. - field

  2. nomen, nominis, n. - name

  3. agricola, agricolae, m. - farmer

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Third Declension i-stems

There is a special subset of third declension nouns known as i-stems. These nouns include an -i- in certain case/number endings:

We can identify an i-stem based on the nominative and genitive forms in the noun’s dictionary entry according to the following rules:

Masculine and Feminine i-stems

  1. parisyllabic: the nominative ends in -is or -ēs, and the nominative and the genitive have the same number of syllables (pari- = “equal”). Some examples of parisyllabic i-stems include:
    • hostis, hostis, m. - enemy (gen. pl. = hostium)
    • nāvis, nāvis, f. - ship (gen. pl. = nāvium)
  2. monosyllabic and double consonant: the nominative ends in -s or -x, and the noun stem ends in two consonants. Often, the nominative is a single syllable. Some examples include:
    • ars, artis, f. - art, skill (gen. pl. = artium)
    • nox, noctis, f. - night (gen. pl. = noctium)
    • urbs, urbis, f. - city (gen. pl. = urbium)

Note that the only difference in declension between these masculine and feminine i-stems versus regular masculine and feminine third declension nouns is the extra -i- in the genitive plural ending. Otherwise, declension is completely regular.

Neuter i-stems

  1. -al, -ar, -e: the nominative ends in -al, -ar, or -e. Examples include:
    • animal, animālis, n. - animal (abl. sg. = animālī; nom. and acc. pl. = animālia; gen. pl. = animālium)
    • mare, maris, n. - sea (abl. sg. = marī; nom. and acc. pl. = maria; gen. pl. = marium)

Note that only neuter i-stems use an -i- in the abl. sg. and nom. and acc. pl. forms (and they use it in the gen. pl., a trait shared with masculine and feminine i-stems). Masculine and feminine i-stems use the -i- only in the gen. pl.


Adjectives modify (i.e., tell us more about) nouns. In Latin, adjectives must agree with nouns in number, case, and gender. Thus, a feminine nominative singular noun must be modified by the feminine nominative singular form of the adjective, while a masculine nominative singular noun is modified by a masculine nominative singular adjective. For instance:

Because adjectives need to match nouns in form, they also decline in gender, case, and number. Most adjectives fall into one of two major categories: 1st/2nd declension and 3rd declension. The former, 1st/2nd declension, includes 2-1-2 adjectives. The latter, 3rd declension, is split into three smaller categories: three termination, two termination, and one termination. All four of these categories (2-1-2, 3-, 2-, 1-termination) are described below.

Note that although an adjective must match its noun in gender, case, and number, it does not necessarily have to match in declension; for example, a 3rd declension adjective can modify a 1st or 2nd declension noun:

Just like nouns, the dictionary entries for adjectives tells us what declension(s) they belong to and, thus, how to form them. Dictionary entries for adjectives come in four types:

1) The 2-1-2 adjectives:


The 2-1-2 adjective can be recognized from endings of all three entries (-us, -a, -um or -r, -a, -um). The three forms listed tells us the nominative singular form for all three genders - masculine, feminine, and neuter (from left to right).

The declension of these adjectives is relatively simple. To get the adjective’s stem, you take the -a off the feminine singular form (the second part of the dictionary entry) and then add the appropriate endings onto it. If you need a masculine form, then you decline the adjective like a 2nd declension masculine noun (e.g., maritus). If you need a feminine form, you decline it like a 1st declension feminine noun (e.g., puella). If you need a neuter form, you decline it like a 2nd declension neuter noun (e.g., exemplum).

The full declension chart for 2-1-2 adjectives can be found here.

1.1) -īus adjectives:

There is a special subset of 2-1-2 adjectives known as -īus adjectives, so called because although they are 2-1-2 adjectives, their genitive singular forms across all three genders end in -īus, rather than the or -ae familiar from regular 2-1-2 adjectives. Also, their dative singular forms across all three genders end in , rather than the expected or -ae. Nine adjectives fall into this pattern, and two of them are in your vocabulary for this module: nullus, nulla, nullum, “no, none”, and uter, utra, utrum, “both, whichever (of two).” So, take a look at the following examples:

The full declension chart for -īus adjectives can be found here.

2) Three termination adjectives:

ācer, ācris, ācre - sharp, harsh

Three termination adjectives are so called for the three different parts of the dictionary entry, but they do not follow the -us, -a, -um or -r, -a, -um pattern that we saw in 2-1-2 adjectives. The dictionary entry for three termination adjectives similarly tells us the nominative singular forms for each gender: ācer is the masculine nominative singular form; ācris is the feminine nominative singular form; ācre is the neuter nominative singular form.

To decline a three termination adjective beyond the nominative case, begin the same way as with a 2-1-2 adjective: go to the second part of the dictionary entry, the feminine nominative singular form, and get the adjective’s stem by chopping off the final -is. Then, add the endings that you need.

Generally, these adjectives decline like third declension masculine/feminine and third declension neuter nouns with a few small differences. The genitive plural for all third declension adjectives ends in -ium instead of -um and the nominative plural for neuter third declension adjectives ends in -ia instead of -a (NB: the ablative singular for all third declension adjectives ends with instead of -e, but we don’t have to worry about that for now).

The full declension chart for three termination adjectives can be found here.

3) Two termination adjectives:

fortis, forte - strong

Two termination adjectives can be recognized by the fact that their dictionary entry consists of two adjectival forms that end in -is and -e, respectively. In two termination adjectives, the first form (i.e. fortis) tells us the masculine AND feminine nominative singular form and the second form (i.e. forte) is the neuter nominative singular form.

Like three termination adjectives, two termination adjectives generally decline like third declension nouns except in the genitive plural for all genders and neuter nominative plural (as well as the ablative singular).

The declension of two termination adjectives is exactly the same as for three termination adjectives, except that the masculine and feminine nominative singular forms are the same.

4) One termination adjectives:

ferox, ferocis - ferocious

One termination adjectives can be recognized by the -is ending in the second part of the dictionary entry. In the dictionary entry for one termination adjectives, the first form (i.e. ferox) signifies the nominative singular for all three genders (hence the name “one termination”), and the second form (i.e. ferocis) signifies the genitive singular for all three genders. Like three and two termination adjectives, one termination adjectives generally decline like third declension nouns except in the genitive plural for all genders and neuter nominative plural (as well as the ablative singular).

The full declension chart for one termination adjectives can be found here.

5) Irregulars

Beyond these categories, there are few common adjectival forms that are declined irregularly. These include demonstrative adjectives like hic, haec, hoc and ille, illa, illud (adjectives that point out what you are referring to, equivalent to the English “this” and “that”) and the intensifying adjective ipse, ipsa, ipsum (adjectives that emphasize the noun they modify, equivalent to the English “the very girl” or “the girl herself”). You must become familiar with how they decline so that you can recognize them easily when you are reading a Latin text, so please refer to the paradigm charts linked to each irregular adjective in this paragraph for further clarification.

Practice Opportunity

What type of adjective is each of the following?

  1. celer, celeris, celere - swift

  2. sapiens, sapientis - wise

  3. malus, mala, malum - bad, evil

  4. brevis, breve - brief, short

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One final note on adjectives. At times, they can be used effectively as nouns, which we refer to as substantival use of the adjective. You will recognize the substantival use of an adjective by the fact that there will be no noun with which it agrees. To fill out the meaning, we simple add “men”, “women”, “people”, or “things” to the meaning of the adjective depending on the gender. So bonī can stand in for “good men” and bonae for “good women.” This is something that we will return to throughout the semester.

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Case usages - Nominative and Genitive

For the current module, we will focus only on two of the six cases: the nominative and the genitive. The nominative case is used to signal that a noun is the subject of a sentence or is equivalent to the subject of the sentence. For an example of the latter, we can think of the Latin sentence: mater est femina (“the mother is a woman”). Both mater and fēmina are in the nominative. Mater is the subject of the verb est and so is in the nominative case. Fēmina is also in the nominative case because it is equivalent with the subject mater in this sentence. This usage, which occurs with a linking verb (e.g. “is” in English, “est” in Latin), is called the predicate nominative.

Nouns in the genitive case are used to modify another noun and will usually appear next to that noun. Like adjectives, they provide further information about that noun. The genitive is almost always translated with “of” plus the word in the genitive. Examples of the usage of the genitive include:

fīlius patris (the son of the father)
nullus familiae (none of the family)

Practice Opportunity

Translate the following phrases or sentences into English. Consult your vocabulary for words with which you are unfamiliar and your noun/pronoun declension charts and adjective declension charts for this module if needed.

Make sure you are translating the correct case and number for each word. Also, make sure that you are translating adjectives with the words that they modify! (How can you tell? What aspects does an adjective have to match its noun in?)

  1. maritus bonae rēginae

  2. māter huius familiae

  3. māter haec familiae

  4. parēns illīus monstrī

  5. parentēs sapientis puerī

  6. illa est māter familiae.

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Pronouns - is, ea, id

Sometimes, Latin uses pronouns to stand in for nouns. The most common Latin pronoun is is, ea, id (“he”, “she”, “it”). The dictionary entry for is, ea, id represents the nominative singular forms for all three genders (once again, masculine, feminine, and neuter from left to right).

The declension chart for is, ea, id can be found here.

The noun to which a pronoun refers is called the pronoun’s antecedent. The pronoun used in place of the noun must have the same gender and number as the antecedent. For instance, you would use ea to substitute for mater and is to substitute for pater. This also applies for nouns that are not typically biologically gendered. For the Latin word for table (mensa), you would use ea as the pronoun because the noun is feminine.

The declension for the pronoun is tricky, so be sure to consult the paradigm chart linked above so you are able to recognize its forms.

Practice Opportunity

Substitute each of the following words with a form of is, ea, id that matches it in gender, case, and number. Each word is either in the nominative or genitive case. Make sure to consult the declension chart of is, ea, id, the general noun declension charts, and your Module 1 vocabulary for help.

  1. exemplum

  2. puerī

  3. matrēs

  4. regum

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