Knowing English, you may feel you have a solid understanding of nouns. Representing a person, place, thing, or idea, nouns are one of the fundamental parts of speech needed to create a sentence. No matter what language you learn, this does not change, but each language has its own quirks about how nouns function within a sentence.
Latin is what is called an inflected language. This means that parts of words will change to show its grammatical relationship with other words. In a highly inflected language like Latin, one word can give you a lot of information depending on the form it is in. One word can even be an entire sentence!
Latin nouns are split up into categories called declensions. Each declension has its own forms, but the basics about what each form does stays the same. The key ways that nouns change in Latin affect their case, number, and gender.
English does not have much in terms of cases. Besides subjects and objects of the sentence, there is not much more in terms of classification. English nouns certainly do not change regularly to show you what role they take in a sentence. In Latin, the form of nouns will change to show you whether it is the subject, direct object, indirect object, or something else. You must understand and memorize the forms. There are seven cases in Latin: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, vocative, and locative. Below is a simple description about how each case is used in Latin.
Nominative: Words in this case are most often the subject of the sentence. There are a few other cases where a word may be in the nominative, but this is the main use.
Genitive: Words in this case will be possessive. It shows ownership over something
Dative: Words in this case will be the indirect object of the sentence.
Accusative: Words in this case will be the direct object of the sentence.
Ablative: Words in this case will usually be translated with a preposition in English. There may or may not be a Latin preposition accompanying it, but in English translation, you will usually add a preposition.
Vocative: This case is used when talking directly to someone. For example, saying
“Hey, Fred!” as a greeting to someone would be in the vocative case.
Locative: This case is used to show being present at a location. It is mainly used with some words for cities, towns, or small islands. This case pops up rarely, so students should not worry too much about this case until Latin 2 or 3.
All number means is that a word is either singular or plural. If only one person or thing is
involved, the number of that word will be singular. Once two or more things are
involved, the number will be plural.
As an English speaker, you are familiar with some words being gendered. Usually, this happens with words like actor where you have different forms to refer to male and female counterparts. The word “actor” means “a person that makes a living by appearing in plays, shows, or movies.” It can refer to a male or female in this profession. On the other hand, the word “actress” refers specifically to females within this profession.
Gender in Latin works a little bit differently. There are three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. While some masculine words refer to males and vice versa with feminine, the genders in Latin do not specifically mean someone or something that is male or female. It is a more general classification, and every noun, even a table, is assigned one of these genders. Table (mensa, mensae), for example, is in the feminine gender. You do not need to know much about why that is the case, but you need to understand the gender of each noun you learn and the correct forms for it. This is important especially when you want to pair nouns with adjectives and pronouns. When these parts of speech work together, they need to have the same case, number, and gender. If all these things don’t line up for the words, then they are not describing one another, and it changes the meaning of the sentence.
Declensions are the different categories that nouns fall into. In Latin, there are 5 of these groups. There is no special name for them besides being numbered 1 through 5. Nouns in the same declension will have similarities about how they are formed and will share the same endings when in the same case, number, and gender. Declensions 1 and 2 make it easy to identify the noun’s gender. First declension contains mostly feminine words, and second declension contains mainly masculine and neuter words (Neuter words have slightly different endings). Declensions 3 through 5 contain all three genders, and you need to memorize which words have which gender. Students beginning to learn Latin should just focus on the first 3 declensions until Latin 2 or 3.
Below is a chart with the endings for declensions 1, 2, and 3.
|1st Declension||2nd Declension (M)||2nd Declension (N)||3rd Declension (M/F)||3rd Declension (N)|
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