Nouns are words that refer to a person, place, (physical countable) thing, event, substance, quality, quantity, or idea. So we have in English, for example, the nouns Peter, Washington, tree, birthday, clay, redness, fifty, and justice. That list is not even complete, but even just the first three (including nonphysical and uncountable things in thing) will do for the non-linguist. The word noun comes from the Latin word nōmen meaning name.
In the Latin language, nouns are assigned one of three different grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Nouns also are assigned one of five different morphological groups called declensions. The declension determines how the noun is modified from its base depending on whether it is singular or plural, and which case (or roughly which grammatical function) it fulfills: there are five major cases, and two minor cases.
The cases of Latin are as follows:
- The nominative case (Latin nominativus, what is named), which is used to express the subject of a statement or following the verb 'to be':
- Servus ad villam ambulat.
- The slave walks to the house.
- The genitive case (Latin genitivus, what is begotten), which expresses possession, association, measurement, composition, source, contents, authorship, description, or group. In English, the preposition of is, in nearly all cases, used to denote this case, or, in the case of possession, the English possessive construction can be used:
- Servus laborat in villa domini.
- The slave works in the house of the master. or The slave works in the master's house.
- The dative case (Latin dativus, what is given (something)), which expresses the recipient or beneficiary of an action, the indirect object of a verb. It also is used to represent agency in a construction with a passive periphrastic. In English, the prepositions to and for most commonly denote this case:
- Servi tradiderunt pecuniam dominis.
- The slaves handed over the money to the masters.
- The accusative case (Latin accusativus, what is accused), which expresses the direct object of a verb or direction or extent of motion and may be the object of a preposition:
- Dominus servos vituperabat quod non laborabant.
- The master cursed the slaves because they were not working.
- The ablative case (Latin ablativus, what is separated), (may or may not be preceded by a preposition) which expresses separation, means by which an action is performed, manner, location, agency, or instrumentality. In English, the prepositions by, with, and from most commonly denote this case:
- Dominus in cubiculo dormiebat.
- The master was sleeping in his bedroom
- The vocative case (Latin vocativus, what is called), which is used to address someone or something in direct speech.
- Festina, serve!
- Hurry, slave!
- The locative case (Latin locativus, what is located), which is used to express the place in or on which, or the time at which, an action is performed. The locative case is extremely marginal in Latin, applying only to the names of cities and small islands and to a few other isolated words. All other nouns use the ablative with a preposition to serve the same purpose. In form, it is identical to the genitive case in the singular of the first and second declension, and the ablative case otherwise, with the exception of the noun "domus" (home), which has the locative "domi".
- Servus Romae erat.
- The slave was in Rome.
It is important to understand that Latin does not have articles, either definite (as in English the) or indefinite (as in English a). For the purposes of translation and conceptualization of the definiteness of nouns, the context must be understood.
Since the person and number of a subject are encoded in the verb of a sentence, Latin does not use a pronoun as the subject of a sentence, unless it is emphasized. So for example, one can simply say, Scio (I know), but when one says Ego scio, it means I (in particular) know (even though you may not). There are even more emphatic versions, such as Egomet scio, or, idiomatically, I sure as hell know.
- ^ In general, there is no relationship between a noun's actual sexual gender and its grammatical gender. For example, sailor (nauta) is always masculine since historically sailors have usually been men. There is also a common gender in which the noun can be either masculine or feminine, depending on preference.
- ^ Based on the English Wikipedia article [[w:Latin grammar|]].