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See also: lus, lús, lûs, and luš



From syncope of Proto-Italic *-elos (source of Classical Latin -ulus),[1] from Proto-Indo-European *-elós, thematized from *-lós.[2]



-lus (feminine -la, neuter -lum); first/second-declension suffix

  1. Alternative form of -ulus

Usage notes[edit]

The suffix -lus is added to a noun to form a diminutive of that noun. As with other Latin diminutive suffixes, the gender of the diminutive regularly matches the gender of the base noun.

This form of the diminutive suffix is attached mainly to first- or second-declension nouns or adjectives whose stem-final vowel (-a- or -o-) is preceded by /r/, /l/ or /n/. Depending on declension and gender, this corresponds to words that end in the nominative singular with -ra, -er/-rus, -rum; -la, -lus, -lum; or -na, -nus, -num. As the result of syncope, the /r/, /n/, or /l/ of the stem is brought into contact with the /l/ of the diminutive suffix and is assimilated to it, forming geminate /ll/.

When the /r/, /n/, or /l/ in the base word is preceded by a short vowel or consonant, the diminutive usually ends in -ellus/-a/-um or -illus/-a/-um. (More rarely, some end in -ullus/-a/-um.) The vowel before /ll/ in the diminutive may differ from the vowel used in the base word. In the oldest formations, these vowels likely developed from regular sound changes. However, it is likely that many diminutives ending in -ellus and -illus were formed more recently than the stage when these sound changes occurred and took their vowels based on analogy with existing pairs of words. Thus, the endings -ellus and -illus had already started to be extended as suffixes in their own right in pre-literary times.

However, if for the sake of morphological analysis we treat diminutives formed from bases in -ra-/-ro-, -na-/-no-, or -la-/-lo- as ending in the suffix -lus, the following generalizations can be made about their vocalism:

Bases with stems ending in -ra-/-ro- preceded by either the short vowel /e/ or by another consonant form their diminutives with /ell/ (per Strodach, the only exception attested in Republican Latin is trānstillum from trānstrum; a second exception attested in Imperial Latin is verētillum/verētilla from verētrum):

liber (book) + ‎-lus → ‎libellus (booklet)
opera (work) + ‎-lus → ‎opella (light work)
cerebrum (brain) + ‎-lus → ‎cerebellum (a small brain)

Bases with stems ending in -na-/-no- preceded by a long vowel retain the quality and probably also the quantity of the long vowel before the geminate /ll/:

catēna (chain) + ‎-lus → ‎catēlla (a little/ornamental chain)
vīnum (wine) + ‎-lus → ‎vīllum (a little wine)
corōna (garland, wreath, crown) + ‎-lus → ‎corōlla (little crown, garland)
ūnus (one) + ‎-lus → ‎ūllus (any)

Bases with stems ending in -na-/-no- preceded by another consonant form their diminutives most often with /ill/, sometimes with /ell/:

signum (sign, mark, statue) + ‎-lus → ‎sigillum (seal, statuette)

Bases with stems ending in -na-/-no- preceded by the short vowel /i/ form their diminutives with /ell/ (with the exception of māchilla from māchina[3]). This /i/-/e/ alternation likely developed initially from the sound change of vowel reduction, by which original short vowels /e/ or /a/ regularly turned into /i/ in word-medial open syllables but into /e/ in word-medial closed syllables:

asinus (ass, donkey) + ‎-lus → ‎asellus (small (or young) ass, donkey)
fēmina (woman, female) + ‎-lus → ‎fēmella (girl, young woman)

Bases with stems ending in -la-/-lo- preceded by the short vowel /u/ sometimes form their diminutives with /ell/ and sometimes in /ill/:

oculus (eye) + ‎-lus → ‎ocellus (little eye)
ancula (maidservant) + ‎-lus → ‎ancilla (maid, slave girl)
porcus (pig) + ‎-lus → ‎porculus (young pig, little pig, piglet), ‎porculus + ‎-lus → ‎porcellus (little pig, piglet)

In some words, the base but not the diminutive shows the effect of sound changes on consonant clusters:

scamnum (stool) + ‎-lus → ‎scabillum (footstool) (base originally had -bn-, which turned into -mn- by regressive assimilation to nasality)
vannus (winnowing basket) + ‎-lus → ‎vatillum (shovel) (base originally had -tn-, which turned into -nn- by regressive assimilation to nasality)
māla (cheekbone, jaw) + ‎-lus → ‎maxilla (jawbone) (base originally had -ksl-, which turned into -◌̄l- by lenition of s-final clusters before voiced consonants)

A few third-declension nouns with stems ending in -r- or -n- may form diminutives with -lus:

homō (man (human being)) + ‎-lus → ‎homullus (little man)
frāter (brother) + ‎-lus → ‎frātellus (brother)


First/second-declension adjective.

Number Singular Plural
Case / Gender Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative -lus -la -lum -lī -lae -la
Genitive -lī -lae -lī -lōrum -lārum -lōrum
Dative -lō -lō -līs
Accusative -lum -lam -lum -lōs -lās -la
Ablative -lō -lā -lō -līs
Vocative -le -la -lum -lī -lae -la

Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ "Latin Diminutives in -Ello/A- and -Illo/A-: A Study in Diminutive Formation." George Kleppinger Strodach. Language, Vol. 9, No. 1, Language Dissertation No. 14 (Mar., 1933), pp. 7-98. Linguistic Society of America, http://www.jstor.org/stable/522000
  2. ^ de Goede, Tim (2014) de Vaan, Michiel, editors, Derivational Morphology: New Perspectives on the Italo-Celtic Hypothesis (Research master thesis)[1], Leiden University, pages 14-15
  3. ^ "The Formation of Latin Diminutives of Nouns and Adjectives," Ian Andreas Miller, ResearchGate, Jan 2012