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How to Find the Root of a Noun

We find the root of a noun by taking the ending off the genitive singular. Why the genitive singular, you ask? Because the nominative case is often irregular and features a stem not used by any other form of the noun. The genitive singular is the first form in the list that features the root word found in all other forms of the noun. Also, the genitive is a good form to focus on because it also tells us which declension every noun belongs to. So once you learn the genitive form of a noun, it becomes very useful indeed.

Dictionary entries often read this way for nouns:

corpus, corporis, n. body
ager, agrī, m. field
magister, magistrī, m. teacher

It is clear in these examples that the dictionary presents the nominative and then the genitive forms of these nouns. In order to find the root of each word, simply remove the genitive ending (which changes with each declension). Then you can add on the appropriate endings for the word's declension to form the other cases in singular and plural. We see the necessity for this kind of dictionary entry since in each case provided above, the nominative form does not include the true root of the noun, but is irregular. 

However, you are much more likely to find the following kinds of abbreviated entries for nouns in a Latin dictionary:

amicus, - ī, m. friend
puer, - ī, m. boy
puella, - ae, f. girl

Such entries must be expanded: - ī means that this ending, - ī, is added on to the root of the noun. But I just told you that you find the root by taking off the genitive ending! So what do you do if you are just given an ending??? Here is the rub: dictionaries say amicus, - ī, m. friend because the word is a regular second declension masculine word. They assume that you will know that amicus, - ī is shorthand for amicus, amicī. Mystery solved. In these cases, the nominative is not irregular, that's all.

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 06/29/2005
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