Lesson 2 – Introduction to nouns, first declension nouns, cases of nouns

What is a noun?

A noun is a person, place or thing.

For example: the queen, a parish, the charter.

Nouns are divided into groups called declensions. Nouns that end in ‘-a’ belong to the first declension. They are mostly feminine.

In Latin, there are no words for ‘a’ or ‘the’. Regina means:

  • queen
  • the queen
  • a queen

Carta means:

  • charter
  • the charter
  • a charter

When you are reading a document, you need to decide which meaning is appropriate.

These are examples of Latin nouns from the first declension.

domina lady
ecclesia church
parochia parish
terra land
vidua widow

All of these nouns end in ‘-a’.

People’s names are also nouns. In Latin, women’s names often end in ‘-a’.

Maria Mary
Isabella Isabella

All Latin nouns have a gender – they are either masculine, feminine or neuter. Even charters and parishes have a gender! In English we give some nouns a gender, for example we sometimes describe ships as ‘she’.

First declension nouns

Nouns are divided into groups called declensions. Nouns that end in ‘-a’ belong to the first declension. They are mostly feminine.

The first part of a noun stays the same, but endings are added to give different meanings:

Singular Meaning Plural
carta charter(s)
Subject of the sentence: A charter costs 2 pounds.
carta Oh charter(s)! carte
cartam charter(s)
Object of the sentence: The king grants the charter.
carte of the charter(s)
The seal of the charter is broken.
carte to or for the charter(s)
They refer to the charters.
carta by, with or from the charter(s)
He claims the land by a charter.

The ending of a noun is crucial, as it tells you

  • whether the noun is singular or plural
  • what role the noun is playing in the sentence

Read through carta again. Some endings are the same, but have different meanings. For example, carte means:

  • charters
  • of the charter
  • to or for the charter

To decide which meaning is appropriate, read the rest of the sentence.

For example, if part of a sentence is ‘she asked the king’ and the remaining word is carte, the meaning of carte that would make sense is ‘for the charter’.

All first declension nouns take the same endings as carta except

anima soul
filia daughter
  • filiabus means ‘to or for the daughters’ and ‘by, with or from the daughters’
  • animabus means ‘to or for the souls’ and ‘by, with or from the souls’

A few first declension nouns are masculine. You are only likely to come across these three words:

agricola farmer
papa pope
parsona parson

You can see that a noun has six different meanings, each relating to a case.
Each case has a singular and a plural ending.

To decline a noun means to list these cases in the order we have used above.

Cases of nouns

1. Nominative

Used for the subject of the verb. The subject is the person or thing doing the verb.For example,

regina orat
the queen prays

The queen is the subject, as she is praying. The queen is in the nominative case.

2. Vocative

Used to call or address someone or something.
For example

O domina! Oh lady!
O regina! Oh queen!
O Maria! Oh Mary!

The vocative case is the same as the nominative, except in the second declension.

Latin document points

The vocative case is used in chronicles and in the inscriptions on tombs. You will not find it in many other sources.

3. Accusative

Used for the object of a verb. The object is the person or thing the verb is done to. For example:

domina cartam confirmat.
The lady confirms the charter.

‘the lady’ is the subject and in the nominative

‘the charter’ is the object and in the accusative

4. Genitive

Used for nouns that are ‘of’ something else and also to show possession.

For example

terra ecclesie The land of the church.
filie vidue The widow’s daughters

5. Dative

Used for nouns that are to or for something. For example:

terram ecclesie do 
I give land to the church

‘I give’ is the verb – do. ‘Land’ is the object – it is in the accusative. ‘To the church’ is in the dative.

6. Ablative

Used for nouns that are by, with or from something.

For example

papa ecclesiam carta confirmat 
The pope confirms the church by a charter

‘The pope’ is the subject – it is in the nominative. ‘Confirms’ is the verb.

‘The church’ is the object – it is in the accusative. ‘By a charter’ is ablative.

Word order in Latin

Think about the order that words are arranged in sentences.

In English, ‘I give land’.
The word order is: subject (I) + verb (give) + object (land).
The Latin translation is: terram do.
The word order is: object (land) + verb (I give).
The subject is: ‘I’, which is expressed in the word do.

Often in Latin

  • the subject is at the beginning of the sentence
  • the verb is at the end of the sentence
  • the object of the sentence follows the subject
domine cartas dant. ‘the ladies give charters’.
The word order is: subject (the ladies) + object (charters) + verb (give).

However, these rules are not always applied and vary between documents. You may find that the word order is different in your document. It may even be in the same order as English.

Look out for sentences that do and don’t keep to these rules during these lessons.


Are you confident with

  • the Latin for ‘a land’, ‘the land’ and ‘land’?
  • why the endings of Latin words are important?
  • how to decline carta?
  • the six cases for nouns and when they are used?
  • where the subject, verb and object may appear in a Latin sentence?

What next?