Latin Grammar I, Lesson 05. Of Nouns

1. Nomen est pars orationis, quae casus habet neque tempora adsignificat, ut musa, dominum.

A Noun is a part of speech, which has case and does not signify time, as musa (a muse), dominus (a master).

The first of the parts of speech we will learn of is the Noun. In modern Grammar books, we may be taught that a noun is a “person, place or thing”, but that is not a true definition. We see two characteristics identified in this definition–one positive and one negative. Positively, a noun has cases. That distinguished a noun from the four undeclined parts of speech: Prepositions, Adverbs, Interjections and Conjunctions. Negatively, it does not signify time. This distinguishes a Noun from Verbs and Participles, which signify time. All that remains is the Pronoun, which is distinguished by its definition, for it stands in place of a Noun.

The two examples are musa and dominus. The noun musa signifies “a muse” or a spirit, and is a first declension noun. The noun has cases and does not signify time. The noun dominus signifies “a master”, and is a second declension noun. The noun has cases and does not signify time.

2. Nomen proprium est, quod res proprias atque certas significat, ut Romulus, Mantua.

A Proper Noun is that which things proper and certain signifies, as Romulus, Mantua.

The first division of nouns we learn of is between Proper and Appellative nouns. We learn that a Proper noun is one that signifies things that are proper and certain. In other words, a Proper noun is the name of a particular individual person or thing, by which name he/it is distinguished from all other members of a class. Two examples given are Romulus and Mantua. Romulus is the name of a particular man, the founder of Rome, by which he is distinguished from other men in his family. Mantua is the name of a particular Italian town, by which it is distinguished from all other Italian towns.

3. Appellativum est quod res communes atque incertas significemee the ut rem, oppidum.

An Appellative Noun is that which signifies things common and uncertain as rem (thing), oppidum (town).

Here, we learn of the the Appellative or “Common” Noun. Such a noun signifies not a particular person or thing, but a class of persons or things. The examples we are given are rem and oppidum. The noun “rem” signifies no particular thing, but a common and uncertain thing. The noun “oppidum” signifies not a particular town, as Mantua, but a common and uncertain one. Thus, we see the first division of nouns: Proper and Appellative.

4. Collectivum est quod numero singulari significat multitudinem, ut populus, gens, turba.

A Collective Noun is that which signifies a multitude with the singular number, as populus (a people), gens (a nation), turba (a crowd).

A third class of nouns is the class of Collective nouns. These nouns name a group of things as a whole, using a singular noun. The examples we are given are populus, gens and turba. In populus, we see a multitude–a group of people–named as a single group. In gens, we see another multitude–a nation of men–named as a single group. In turba, we see a multitude–a crowd of men–named as a single group. These are examples of collective nouns.

5. Substantivum (seu fixum) nomen est, quod per se in oratione esse potest, ut Dux imperat. Miles obtemperat.

A Substantive (or fixed) Noun is that which cannot be by itself in a sentence, as Dux imperat. (A ruler commands.) Miles obtemperat. (A soldier obeys.)

The second division of nouns we learn of is between Substantive and Adjective Nouns. We learn that a Substantive noun is a noun that is able to exist by itself in a sentence–the name of a substance. It will be easy to understand what a substantive is after we have learned what an Adjective noun is. So, let’s continue below, then come back to the Substantive noun.

6. Adjectivum (seu mobile) est quod in oratione esse non potest sine substantivo aperte vel occulte; aperte, ut Dux prudens, si strenuos milites dictoque audientes habenti hostes facile superabit.”; occulte, ut “Qui tertiana laborant, non vescuntur bubula; hoc est tertiana febri, bubula carne.“.

An adjective (or moveable) Noun is that which in a sentence is not able to exist without a substantive expressed or understood; expressed, as “A prudent leader, if he should have strenuous soldiers and listening to (his) command, he shall overcome his enemies easily.”: understood, as “He who labors with a tertian, does not feed on bovine.”, that is “with a tertian fever”, “on bovine meat”.

We learn here that an Adjective noun is a noun which is not able to exist without a substantive in a sentence. This is because an adjective noun is a name for an attribute of some kind and the attribute must exist in a substantive noun. If we name any attributes–good, bad, strong, weak, white, black, etc.–there must be a substantive noun in which the attribute is present. If someone asks, “Did you see the red?”, we will have to ask, “The red what?” The adjective cannot exist by itself.

A substantive noun names a substance, that is, a thing which exists on its own. An adjective noun names an attribute that exists in a substance.

In rule 5 above, we see two Substantive nouns given in the example: Dux (a leader) and Miles (a soldier).

In rule 6, we find two examples given for Adjectives. The first shows adjectives used where the substantives they modify are expressed in the sentence. The adjectives are prudens (which modifies dux) and strenuos (which modifies milites).

Sometimes, the substantive is already known and, therefore, is not expressed in the sentence. It is understood. We see this in the second example, where the adjectives are tertiana and bubula. The adjective tertiana means “tertian” and is a kind of fever suffered when a person is sick. The substantive noun “fever” is understood and not expressed. Likewise, “bubula” means “bovine” or “cattle” and modifies the substantive noun “carne” (meat) which is understood. When someone says, “I ate some chicken.”, we don’t think of chicken feathers or chicken bones, but we understand that the substantive is chicken meat.

Remember: All adjectives must be joined to a substantive noun, and that substantive noun may be expressed or understood.

7. Adjectivum nomen vel habet tres formas, ut bonus, bona, bonum; vel duas, ut brevis et breve; vel unam ut prudens, felix.

An Adjective Noun either has three forms, as bonus, bona, bonum; or two, as brevis and breve; or one, as prudent, happy.

Adjective nouns must be joined to substantive nouns. These substantive nouns have gender. Therefore, to avoid confusion, adjectives must be able to show gender and agree with the gender of the substantives they modify. The substantive noun musa, which we learned of above, is a feminine noun. Therefore, an adjective joined to musa must be marked with the same gender. The substantive dominus is a masculine noun. Therefore, an adjective joined to dominus must be marked with the same gender.

Since substantives can be masculine, feminine or neuter, and adjectives are used with different adjectives, every adjective must have different forms, which allow it to be joined to different substantives and always have the same gender. Adjectives are divided among three different families based on how they do this.

The first family of adjectives have three different sets of forms, one for each gender. An example given to us of this kind of adjective is bonus, bona, bonum. The form bonus is masculine, bona is feminine, and bonum is neuter.

The second family of adjectives have two different sets of forms. The first set of endings is for both masculine and feminine substantives. The second set of endings is for joining with neuter substantives. An example given to us is brevis, breve. The form brevis is used with masculine and feminine substantives. The form breve is used with neuter substantives.

The third family of adjectives have one set of forms. The example given us is prudens. The form prudens is used with masculine, feminine and neuter substantives.

All of these details will become clear when we study and memorize the forms of Latin substantive and adjective nouns.


I hope that you have found this translation and exposition helpful. If you have any questions about this lesson, please contact me.

God bless your studies,
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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