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Getting started on classical Latin
Getting started on classical Latin

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4.2.1 Nouns

Nouns are used to name people, places, things or concepts; for example Cicero, Italy, field, happiness. Most nouns can be singular or plural; for example field, fields.

In Latin, nouns are usually subject to inflections: their endings change. This is sometimes so in English, too, as you saw in Section 4.1 with woman, women, woman’s, and women’s.

Activity 5

Identify the nouns in this passage from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

‘Now, my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.

Potter, 1902, pp. 7–11


time, Rabbits, names, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, Peter, Mother, sand-bank, root, fir-tree, dears, Rabbit, morning, fields, lane, McGregor’s, garden, Father, accident, pie, McGregor

Gender of nouns

In English, we tend to classify nouns according to their sex, ‘masculine’ being used of males, ‘feminine’ of females and ‘neuter’ of everything else. Observe the following examples:

  • What’s wrong with that man ? He seems really annoyed.
  • I saw you speaking to that woman. What did she say?
  • You had the book in your hand just now. Where did you put it ?

‘He’ tends to be used for male humans and animals; ‘she’ tends to be used for female humans and animals; and ‘it’ is used for inanimate objects and animals of indeterminate gender.

In Latin, however, nouns are classified according to their gender, and the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are not restricted to male and female people and animals.

So, some masculine nouns identify people or animals that you might intuitively class as ‘masculine’, such as:

  • vir, man
  • miles, soldier
  • servus, (male) slave
  • lupus, (he-)wolf

But a number of inanimate objects or concepts are also masculine in Latin:

  • campus, field
  • murus, wall
  • pons, bridge
  • annus, year

Similarly, some feminine nouns identify people or animals that you might intuitively class as ‘feminine’, such as:

  • femina, woman
  • regina, queen
  • uxor, wife
  • lupa, she-wolf

But many inanimate objects or concepts are also feminine in Latin:

  • flamma, flame
  • statua, statue
  • urbs, city
  • arx, citadel

In addition to masculine and feminine, Latin also has a third gender: neuter. Neuter nouns include:

  • templum, temple
  • bellum, war
  • consilium, plan
  • nomen, name

If you are new to language learning (and even if you are not!), the idea of gender may be challenging to grasp. There is, after all, nothing intrinsically masculine about a ‘year’ or feminine about a ‘flame’. Rest assured that gender is something that you will get used to over time, however.