Latin can be complicated for beginners learning the language. Latin grammar is not necessarily obvious, especially because Latin nouns can be quite problematic.
In fact, all nouns correspond to a Latin declension according to their position in the sentence. Learning Latin, therefore, requires you to memorise all the Latin declensions and cases.
Don't fret, Superprof is here to give you some tips to help you remember these pesky grammar rules!
What Are the Latin declensions?
Latin has five declensions the origin of which are explained in Latin history books. To define a noun and know which declension it belongs to, you have two different cases, nominative or genitive, then its type (feminine, masculine or neutral). For all the declensions, you will need to learn the cases in both singular and plural.
There are 6 cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative. They each correspond to a grammar function:
- Nominative = subjects,
- Vocative = function for calling, questioning,
- Accusative = direct objects,
- Genitive = possessive nouns,
- Dative = indirect objects,
- Ablative = prepositional objects.
For all the nouns that have a genitive ending in -ae and which are feminine, we will use the first declension, with the example rosa, rosae, feminine (rose). Here is the first declension:
For the second declension in the masculine, we will use dominus, i, m (masculine) which means master or ager, i, m (field):
There are also nouns that are neutral in Latin. For the second declension for neutral nouns, the example is templum, i, n (neutral) which means temple:
The third Latin declension is the most difficult to learn. Indeed, there is a distinction between Parisyllabic and imparisyllabic Latin words.
What is it?
Parisyllabic nouns have the same number of nominative and genitive syllables, whereas for imparisyllabic nouns, the genitive has one syllable more than the nominative. Beware, there are false imparisyllabic nouns: these are nouns with two consonants at the end. For example: urbs, urbis (city); mens, mentis, f (mind); mons, montis, f (mountain) or cor, cordis, m (heart).
For the masculine or feminine parisyllabic nouns, the example used is civis, civis, m (citizen):
For neutral parisyllabic nouns, the example is mare, maris, n (sea):
For the imparisyllabic masculine or feminine nouns, the example we've used is consul, consulis, m (consul):
For neutral imparisyllabic nouns, the example is corpus, corporis, n (body):
For the fourth declension, masculine or feminine, we will use manus, us, f (hand) as an example:
For the fourth declension for neutral nouns, we will use cornu, us, n (horn):
As for the fifth declension, there are only feminine nouns, with the exception of dies, ei, m (day) but which is also feminine when it means the date. We will use the example of res, rei, f (thing):
You can easily find all the Latin declensions in an English-Latin dictionary like the Oxford Latin Dictionary or even online.
Latin Declensions: Learn Using Multiple Intelligences
The theory of multiple intelligences was explained by the psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983 and later developed in 1993.
This theory is a tool used in educational science to allow every student to flourish, to learn to how to learn and help them think differently about their education.
He suggests that there are several types of intelligence:
- Linguistic: the ability to use language to understand others and express what we think. In terms of Latin and the declensions, it may mean we comment on what we see and express what we think of declensions to memorise them better and simplify learning,
- Logical-mathematical: the ability to manipulate numbers and problem solve. By making diagrams of the declensions, pupils can appropriate them and retain them better,
- Spatial: the ability to find one's way and establish relationships between objects in space. Making colourful drawing can allow students to make the declensions more tangible and thus memorise them more easily.
These first three types of intelligence are the ones most used in schools to help students memorise an abstract topic. Each student then gradually discovers which intelligence is most effective for them.
There are also other strands of intelligence described by this theory that may prove useful to some students:
- Intra-personal: the faithful and realistic self-representation and proper use in everyday life,
- Interpersonal: the ability to understand others and anticipate behaviour,
- Body-kinesthetic: using your body to express an idea or carry out a given physical activity,
- Musical: the ability to perceive and create rhythms and sounds. This can be useful when learning declensions, you'll soon see why!
- Naturalist: understanding your environment and having awareness of living things,
- Existential (spiritual): the ability to question the origin and meaning of things.
Test your knowledge of Latin history and culture by identifying these 20 quotes!
Memorizing Techniques to Learn the Latin Declensions
The Latinists should be good singers or at least try to beat in time to learn the Latin declensions by heart! For both modern languages and grammar rules, try to come up with a song to help you remember, or even recall famous quotes in Latin.
Have you ever not been able to get a TV advert out of your head? Do you know why? Two simple reasons:
- Repetition: an advertisement is played several times a day, it's practically impossible not to remember it after hearing it two or three times,
- Music: advertisers usually use a short melody or even sing a slogan that gets into your head and you can't get it out! "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline." (I dare you not to sing this in your head.)
If you put the declensions into a song or to a piece of music, there is more chance you will remember them. Don't have a tune that comes to mind? Do not worry, it's already been done for you!
Sing along to the video then before you know it you'll be singing it in the shower!
To learn the declensions, a father and son created their own lyrics set to the music of Get Lucky by Daft Punk:
Have you tried using any familiar tunes that you've come up with yourself? If not, use well known tunes like nursery rhymes you learned as a child or even your favourite pop song to help you learn.
Discover also the history and evolution of the Latin alphabet...
Latin Declensions: Doing Exercises to Boost Memory
After you've learned the declensions and you think you know all of them by heart, test yourself with Latin exercises. You will find tons of these on the internet which will allow you to read Latin texts to enrich your Latin vocabulary, improve your Latin syntax, but most importantly, make sure you know your declensions.
On the website latinedisce.net, you can browse through basic Latin-English dictionary as well as do exercises and tests to practise Latin vocabulary, the verbs and declensions.
Another great resource for Latin games and quizzes is latinteach.com which is a fun learning website for all levels. Learn through flashcards, crosswords, games and puzzles to master latin grammar.
Do you know about Latin's linguistic legacy?
Latin Declensions: Study with a Private Tutor!
If you get stuck and find learning Latin a real ordeal, you should consider taking private Latin lessons for beginners.
A private teacher is there just for you and to meet your needs as a student. If your difficulties come from learning the declensions, a tutor will have a range of learning techniques to help you memorise them.
Learning Latin with a private teacher is usually more motivating too. You will have goals to reach every week and you have no excuses not to do the work. Generally, you will not want to disappoint your teacher, who you can form a relationship with and who is likely to be much more interesting than your Latin teacher at school!
On Superprof, there are tons of Latin teachers offering lessons for all levels, as well as thousands of other teachers in all Latin languages. They each have a different experience, from retired teachers to classical literature students to passionate mythology, ancient Greek and Latin students.
A private class doesn't have to break the bank! With Superprof, Latin prices start at around fifteen pounds. Of course, it depends on your level, your location and the teacher's experience. A beginners class will definitely cost less than a college course in Latin anyway!
So, are you ready to test yourself on the Latin declensions?
Now find the answers to all of your questions about the Latin language...
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