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See also: culus


Alternative forms[edit]


Rebracketing of diminutive suffix -ulus on nouns ending in -cus, used freely.



-culus (feminine -cula, neuter -culum); first/second-declension suffix

  1. Alternative form of -ulus
    1. added to a noun to form a diminutive of that noun.
    2. added to an adjective to form a diminutive of that adjective.

Usage notes[edit]

The ending -culus occurs originally and frequently in diminutives formed from third declension nouns with stems ending in /n/ or /s/.[1] It is used also to form diminutives of other third declension nouns (particularly i-stems and r-stems, sometimes others), and of fourth and fifth declension nouns. In the form -iculus, it is sometimes used instead of -ulus to form diminutives of other consonant stem nouns or of first or second declension nouns.[2] As with other Latin diminutive suffixes, the gender of the diminutive regularly matches the gender of the base noun.

The unextended form -culus, -cula, -culum cannot directly follow a consonant other than /l/, /n/, /r/, or /s/. The suffix may occur after other consonants with an intervening vowel:

  • It is often preceded by the short vowel /i/ (-icul-). This occurs in diminutives of some third declension nouns and in diminutives of fourth declension nouns (where /i/ replaces the stem-final /u/ of the base noun, as in acicula, corniculum and geniculum from acus, cornū, genū). Etymologically, this /i/ is derived in some cases from the final vowel of the stem (affected when possible by vowel reduction): many words that form diminutives in -icul- were originally i-stem forms (whether of the "pure" parisyllabic or neuter types, or the "mixed" type that resulted from contraction in the nominative singular). However, -icul- can also be found in diminutives of third-declension words that are etymologically consonant-stem nouns (such as anaticula, from anas) and on the other hand, some i-stem nouns form diminutives in -cul- with no preceding -i- (such as animalculum, from animal). Synchronically, therefore, the /i/ can be interpreted as part of the suffix (making -iculus an allomorph of -culus) or as a linking vowel.
  • It is preceded by the long vowel /iː/ (-īcul-) in a small number of irregularly formed diminutive nouns (such as canīcula from canis).
  • It is preceded by the long vowel /eː/ (-ēcul-) in diminutives of fifth declension nouns (such as diēcula from diēs) and sometimes in diminutives of third declension nouns that have a nominative singular form ending in -ēs (such as nūbēcula from nūbēs).

The stem that the diminutive is built on is sometimes different from the stem found in the genitive singular of the base:

  • Some diminutives end in -scul-. In this context, -s- often represents the original stem-final *s of a word that developed -r- in the oblique stem due to the sound change of rhotacism. (Synchronically, it may also be relevant that stem-final s was usually retained in the nominative singular form of neuter nouns.) From these, the frequent ending -usculus was occasionally extended by analogy to form diminutives of nouns that were not etymologically s-stems; thus, the r-stem nouns marmor (genitive marmoris) and iecur (genitive iecinoris or iecoris) have diminutives marmusculum and iecusculum, the o-stem noun rāmus (genitive rāmī) has a diminutive rāmusculus, and the ā-stem noun herba (genitive herbae) has a diminutive herbuscula.
  • N-stem nouns (most of which have nominatives ending in -ō and oblique stems ending in -ōn- or -in-) form diminutives in -un-cul- because of regular sound changes that turned ō or o into u before the cluster /nk/. After -uncul- developed in the diminutives of stems where /n/ was originally preceded by ō or o, this vocalism was extended by analogy to diminutives from n-stem nouns that originally had other vowels before the stem-final /n/ (such as pecten, pectinis, diminutive pectunculus). Occasionally, the ending -unculus was extended to form diminutives of nouns that were not n-stems.


ōs, ōris n (mouth) + ‎-culus → ‎ōsculum n (little mouth)
lepus, leporis m (hare) + ‎-culus → ‎lepusculus m (young hare, leveret)
arbor, arboris f (tree) + ‎-culus → ‎arbuscula f (shrub)
uxor, uxōris f (wife) + ‎-culus → ‎uxorcula f (little wife)
sermō, sermōnis m (talk, rumor) + ‎-culus → ‎sermunculus m (rumor; small talk)
carō, carnis f (flesh) + ‎-culus → ‎caruncula f (little bit of flesh)
clāvis, clāvis f (key) + ‎-culus → ‎clāvicula f (little key)


First/second-declension adjective.

Number Singular Plural
Case / Gender Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative -culus -cula -culum -culī -culae -cula
Genitive -culī -culae -culī -culōrum -culārum -culōrum
Dative -culō -culō -culīs
Accusative -culum -culam -culum -culōs -culās -cula
Ablative -culō -culā -culō -culīs
Vocative -cule -cula -culum -culī -culae -cula

Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ Derivation of Adjectives: Nominal Adjectives in Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014.
  2. ^ "The Formation of Latin Diminutives of Nouns and Adjectives," Ian Andreas Miller, ResearchGate, Jan 2012