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Of uncertain origin. Perhaps ultimately from L M N, first three letters of the second half of the Canaanite alphabet, recited by ancient scribes when learning it (in sense compare English ABC(s) (fundamentals)). This idea has been criticized though due to the absence of any evidence for use of a half-split in the Latin alphabet itself and the lack of evidence for the use of "el", "em", and "en" as letter names in early Latin. An alternative related idea is that elementum was borrowed into Latin from a Semitic term (probably via Egyptian) halaḥama, which derives from the old South Semitic initial character sequence, h-l-ḥ-m..., though this presents some difficulties as well.

The equivalent Greek term στοιχεῖον (stoikheîon, element, letter) (introduced in the sense of "element" by Plato), like the Latin elementum, has the dual meaning of "element" and "letter," which does suggest that the semantic connection between these ideas could be quite old.



elementum n (genitive elementī); second declension

  1. (chemistry, physics) one of four elements that composed the world.
  2. basic principle, rudiment
  3. (in the plural) the alphabet

Usage notes[edit]

Most often used in the plural to refer collectively to the components.


Second-declension noun (neuter).

Case Singular Plural
Nominative elementum elementa
Genitive elementī elementōrum
Dative elementō elementīs
Accusative elementum elementa
Ablative elementō elementīs
Vocative elementum elementa


Related terms[edit]