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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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3.1 ‘Of’ and the genitive case

When Pliny mentions ‘the death of my uncle’ he uses the phrase auunculī meī exitum. Uncle is auunculus, but the change of ending from ‘-us’ to ‘-ī’ signals a relationship between the noun ‘uncle’ and the noun ‘death’ (exitum). In English this relationship is expressed by the preposition ‘of’ (‘the death of my uncle’).

English can also express the same idea with a change of word ending, as in ‘my uncle’s death’, with an apostrophe followed by the letter ‘s’. This is a rare instance of English working like Latin by deploying a noun ending.

Examples

  • carmina Catullī – the poems of Catullus
  • dīvī fīlius – son of a god (one of the titles of the Emperor Augustus, a reference to his adoptive father Julius Caesar)
  • altae moenia Rōmae – the walls [moenia] of lofty Rome
  • amīcī Cicerōnis – friends of Cicero
  • Iēsus Nazerēnus Rēx Iūdaeōrum – Jesus from Nazareth, King of the Jews

The genitive case

These endings are examples of the ‘genitive’ case in Latin. You can think of the genitive case as the ‘of’ case. It generally links two nouns (as in carmina Catullī).

Caution

English uses ‘of’ in a wider range of situations than Latin

  • I speak of many things

Note that ‘of’ here does not express a relationship between two nouns. It is closely related to the verb ‘speak’ and is equivalent in meaning to ‘about’.

Practice

Activity 14: the genitive case

Select the Latin nouns in the genitive case.

a) Rōma caput mundī – Rome, head of the world

a. 

Rōma


b. 

caput


c. 

mundī


The correct answer is c.

b) Caesaris uxor – Caesar’s wife

a. 

Caesaris


b. 

uxor


The correct answer is a.

c) Turnus rēx Rutulōrum – Turnus, king of the Rutuli

a. 

Turnus


b. 

rēx


c. 

Rutulōrum


The correct answer is c.