The morphology of classical Latin

4. Adjectival morphology

Adjectives are declined like Nouns, differing from them only by the number of declensions. They have in theory three declensions, whereas nouns have in general one and only one declension. Therefore when we refer to an adjective, we give three forms of nominative, so bon-us, bon-a, bon-um and in a simpler way: bon-us, -a, -um. These three forms are traditionally called the three genders of the adjective. Actually, the adjective has a different form according to the noun which it is combined with. Thus, with the noun puer (m.) “boy”, only the form bon-us of the adjective bon-us, -a, -um is possible; with the noun puella (f.) “girl”, only the form bon-a; and with the noun dōn-um (n.) “gift”, only the form bon-um.

In their inflexion they are either of the second and first declensions, being then called “adjectives of the first class”, or of the third declension, being called “adjectives of the second class”.

  • 4.1. Adjectives of the first class

Adjectives of the first class are declined in the masculine like the noun of the second declension domin-us, in the feminine like the noun of the first declension ros-a, and in the neuter like the neuter noun of the second declension templ-um. Therefore this type of adjectives is mentioned thus:

  • bon-us, -a, -um

Its three declensions correspond to the following table:

+ Plur.
+ Plur.
+ Plur.
NOM. bon-us bon-ī bon-a bon-ae bon-um bon-a
VOC bon-e bon-ī bon-a bon-ae bon-um bon-a
GEN. bon-ī bon-ōrum bon-ae bon-ārumbon-ī bon-ōrum
DAT. bon-ō bon-īs bon-ae bon- īs bon-ō bon- īs
ABL. bon-ō bon-īs bon-ā bon- īs bon-ō bon- īs
ACC. bon-um bon-ōs bon-am bon-ās bon-um bon-a

In the adjectives in -ius the genitive ends in i-ī, and the vocative in -ie, not in , as in nouns; so, the adjective Lacedaemionius in the vocative is Lacedaemoni-e, and in the genitive Lacedaemoni-ī, and that holds even if it is used as a noun. The possessive adjective me-us has regularly , rarely (once in Verg., Aen. 6,835) me-us in the masculine vocative (cf. tu quoque, mī filī).

As the nouns of the second declension, the adjectives ending in r have a morpheme Ø as masculine Nominative segment, like līber, -a, -um “free”, miser, -a, -um “wretched”, asper, -a, -um “rough”, satur, -a, -um “well-fed”, tener, -a, -um “tender”, and the compounds of -fer and -ger, like saeti-ger, -a, -um “covered with coarse hair, bristly”, with the exceptions of proper-us, -a, -um “acting with haste, quick” and mōrigerus, -a, -um “obliging, indulgent”. And when this r final is preceded by another consonant, it shows a syllabic realization [er], as in /nigr-Ø/, which is phonetically realized [niger], of niger, gr-a, gr-um “black”; and so in crēber, br-a, br-um “numerous”, ruber, br-a, br-um “red”, pulcher, chr-a, chr-um “beautiful”, sacer, cr-a cr-um “sacred”, integer, gr-a, gr-um “not previously touched”, sinister, tr-a, tr-um “left”, and the possessives noster, tr-a, tr-um “our” and uester, tr-a, tr-um “your”.

  • 4.2 Adjectives of the second class

These adjectives use the same casual segments as nouns of the third declension. But they are simpler than adjectives of the first declension, having only two declensions, the first for the masculine or feminine, the second for the neuter. They are therefore mentioned with only two terminations, since the masculine and the feminine are the same:

  • fort-is (m) and (f.), -e (n.) “robust”

except if they end in r, because they have then a Ø as a Nominative masculine, which is necessarily different from the feminine. Then they are mentioned with three terminations as adjectives of the first class:

  • celer (m.), -is (f.), -e (n.) “speedy”.

Most of these adjectives ending in r have one or two consonants before the r, like acer, cr-is, cr-e “keen”, uolucer, cr-is, cr-e “flying”, celeber, br-is, br-e “crowded”, salūber, br-is, br-e “salubrious”, equester, tr-is, tr-e “mounted on a horse”, pedester, tr-is, tr-e “pedestrian”, siluester, tr-is, tr-e “wooded”.

The remaining adjectives of the second class are any adjectives with one termination, the neuter, the masculine and the feminine of which are the same. They are nevertheless mentioned in dictionaries with two terminations, like atrōx, ōc-is “frightful” or prūdens, nt-is “aware (of)”, but the apparent second termination is not another nominative, but a genitive which, as in the nouns of the third declension, shows the full signifier of the lexeme: thus

  • atrox = /atrōc-s/, prūdens = /prūdent-s/

with an s as allomorph of the Nominative. The following table shows the declension of the adjectives of two and one termination:

Masc./Fem Neut. Masc./ Fem Neut.
NOM. fort-is fort-e atrox atrox
VOC. fort–is fort-e atrox atrox
GEN. fort–is fort-is atrōc-is atrox
DAT. fort–ī fort-ī atrōc-ī atrōc-ī
ABL. fort–ī fort–ī atrōc-ī atrōc-ī
ACC. fort-em fort-e atrōc-em atrox
NOM. PL fort-ēs fort-ia atrōc-ēs atrōc-ia
VOC.PL fort-ēs fort-ia atrōc-ēs atrōc-ia
GEN.PL fort-ium fort-ium atrōc-ium atrōc-ium
DAT.PL fort-ibus fort-ibus atrōc-ibus atrōc-ibus
ABL.PL fort-ibus fort-ibus atrōc-ibus atrōc-ibus
ACC.PL fort-īs (ēs) fort-ia atrōc-īs (es) atrōc-ia
  • 4.3. Comparison of adjectives

In Latin, as in French, adjectives can have three degrees of meaning:

  • the positive, expressing simply the quality implied by the adjective, like doct-us, -a, -um “learned”,
  • the comparative, introducing a comparison, which can be a superiority, a equality or an inferiority: like doctior “more learned”, tam doctus “as learned”, and minus doctus “less learned”,
  • the superlative, which, in French, is absolute “very learned”, or relative “the most learned”. This semantic distinction isn’t morphologically marked in Latin, both superlatives being said doct-issim-us.

The comparative and superlative are, in Latin, some bound morphemes, which are added after the lexeme and form a word.

The combination of the lexeme with the morpheme of comparative is declined like an adjective of the second class, and that with the morpheme of superlative, like an adjective of the first class.

  • 4.4.The morpheme of comparative is an alternating suffix -ior- and -ius, the form -ius (= [ijus]) being the phonetical realization of /-ios/, because the neutralization of the opposition /o/ ~ /u/ in final syllable closed by a /s/, and only appearing in Nominative and Accusative neuter. In all the other cases, even in the neuter, the allomorph appears /-io:r-/, which is therefore the unmarked form of comparative; it is phonetically realized [-ijor] because of the neutralization of the quantity opposition before another final consonant than [s].

Thus, the comparative of car-us “dear” is car-ior “dearer”, of leu-is “light” is leu-ior “lighter”, of fēlix “happy” is felic-ior “happier”, of acer, cr-is, cr-e “keen” is acr-ior “more keen”, of miser, -a, -um “wretched” is miser-ior “more wretched”, etc.

These compound adjectives are declined according to the third declension, the forms in -ior- being declined like orātor, tōr-is, tōr-um, and the forms in -ius, like tempus, por-is, por-um , except for the difference of quantity.

Declension of the comparative:

Comp. (m./ .f) + Plur. Comp. (n.) + Plur.
Nom. doct-ior doct-ior-ēs doct-ius doct-iōr-a
Voc. doct-ior doct-ior-ēs doct-ius doct-iōr-a
Gen. doct-iōr-is doct-ior-um doctiōr-is doct-iōr-um
Dat. doct-iōr-ī doct-iōr-ibus doct-iōr-ī doct-iōr-ibus
Abl. doct-iōr-e doct-iōr-ibus doct-iōr-e doct-iōr-ibus
Acc. doct-iōr-em doct-iōr-es doct-ius doct-iōr-a

Some adjectives, which cannot be combined with this comparative suffix, use the morphem magis “more”, which is syntagmatically independent: magis pius “more pious”, magis arduus “higher”, magis idoneus “more suitable”, etc.

For other adjectives, the presence of the comparative morpheme involves necessarily an allomorph. Thus, the comparative of bon-us is mel-ior (not *bon-ior), of mal-us is pēior (=/pei-io:r/, pronounced [pejjor]) (not *mal-ior), of magn-us is māior (= /mai-io:r/, pronounced [majjor]) (not *magn-ior), of paru-us “small” is minor “less”, of mult-ī “many” is plūr-ēs “more”.

  • 4.5. The morpheme of the superlative

It has normally the long form -issimus, like doct-issim-us “very learned”, cār-issim-us “dearest”, superlative of car-us “dear”, leu-issim-us “lightest”, superlative of leu-is, -e “light”, fēlic-issim-us “happiest”, superlative of felix “happy”. It can have the short form without -is, as in maximus “greatest” (= /mag-sim-us/, superlative of magn-us), pessim-us “worst” (= /pes-sim-us/), and in the lexemes ending in /r/ or /l/: acer-rim-us (= /akr-sim-us/, with the syllabic realization of /r/ after a consonant and before a consonant, and the rhotacismus of /s/ between two elements [vocalic] and after a morpheme border in [r]), pulcher-rimus, miser-rim-us, ueter-rim-us (regular superlative of uetus, ter-is, thus = /ueter-sim-us/) or facil-lim-us, difficil-lim-us, simil-lim-us, disimil-lim-us, gracil-lim-us and humil-lim-us (it is the same phonological phenomenon of rhotacismus between two [vocalic] elements, but after a [vocalic] element which is an /l/.

Superlatives with maxime correspond to comparatives with magis: maxime pius “very pious”, maxime arduus “most high”, and maxime idoneus “most suitable“. Irregular superlatives correspond to irregular comparatives: optim-us “best” (melior, bon-us), pes-sim-us “worst” (pē-ior, mal-us), maxim-us “greatest” (mā-ior, magn-us), minim-us “least” (minor, paru-us), plūrim-ī “most” (plūr-ēs, mult-ī). Compounds in -dic-us “saying” and -uol-us “willing” form their superlatives and comparatives from some corresponding participles dīcens and uolens: male-dic-us “slanderous”, male-dīcent-issim-us, male-dīcent-ior; male-vol-us “spiteful”, male-uolent-issim-us, male-uolent-ior. These words were analyzed with an allomorph of the comparative -entiōr- and the superlative -entissim-us, appropriate to compounds. Thus, some compounds in -fic-us, like magni-fic-us “grand”, have magni-fic-entior as comparative, and magni-fic-entissim-us as superlative.

Retour au plan ou Aller au § 5.