Chapter 5: Turning Latin Nouns into Adjectives

§42. Interesting words

As promised earlier, here is a list of animal adjectives, in Latin and in English:

A LATIN BESTIARY < bestiarium (< bestia); cf. E bestial < bestialis
Compound adjectives formed from a noun base and suffix īnus
English meaning: “pertaining to a ——” or like a ——”

horse equus (2) equ- equinus equine
dog canis (3) can- caninus canine
cat feles (3) fel- felinus feline
pig porcus (2) porc- porcinus porcine
sheep ovis (3) ov- ovinus ovine[1]
ox bos (3) bov- bovinus bovine[2]
bull taurus (2) taur- taurinus taurine
donkey asinus (2) asin- asininus asinine
lion leo (3) leon- leoninus leonine
bear ursa (1) urs- ursinus ursine
wolf lupus (2) lup- lupinus lupine[3]
fox vulpes (3) vulp- vulpinus vulpine
eagle aquila (1) aquil- aquilinus aquiline
snake serpens (3) serpent- serpentinus serpentine[4]
elephant elephas (3) elephant- elephantinus elephantine

If you are not surfeited with these words, see if you can identify the meaning of caprine, hircine, corvine, cervine, leporine, piscine, murine, vespine, anserine, delphine, musteline, pavonine, hirundine, and psittacine. (You can blame previous students in Greek and Roman Studies 250, who volunteered many of these.) There are still more to be found![5]

English derivatives from Latin -arius or –arium can be quite surprising. Could anyone possibly recognize ewer (a pitcher) as a doublet for aquarium? The Latin root must have been carelessly pronounced in Gaul (cf. aqua > eau); in Italian, acqua is virtually unchanged, E aquarium is acquario, and acquaio refers to the kitchen sink! Once you’ve learned the etymology of ewer, you may be able to solve the mystery of sewer: it’s from ex-aquarium, a place to take water out. These heavily disguised derivatives are the great joys of word-sleuthing. There is nothing disguised about seminary (< seminarium), but its semantic evolution is remarkable—from “seed-bed” to school for would-be priests. A columbary is a dove-cote or pigeon-house (< columba); the original Latin word columbarium could also have this meaning, but more commonly suggested a sepulchre with niches (“pigeonholes”) for funerary urns, a meaning it still carries today. If you are gregarious (< L gregarius), you want to belong to the flock (grex, greg-is). If you are egregious (< L e-gregius), you stand “out from the flock”—not a good thing, apparently, since we talk only about an “egregious blunder,” an “egregious fool,” and an “egregious ass.” (Does an ass have a flock to stand out from?)

A person who has had a “coronary” (< L coronarius) has suffered a thrombosis in one of the coronary or “crown-like” arteries that join the aorta to the heart (from the Latin 1st declension noun corona, “crown”). Therefore English crown and corona are DOUBLETS, as are coronary and coroner—originally an officer of the crown. (But don’t describe crown and coroner as doublets of each other; their source-words, corona and coronarius, are related but not identical.)

Just as L onerosus (“full of burdens” < onus, oner-is) evolved into E onerous, so ponderosus (“full of weight” < pondus, ponder-is) evolved into E ponderous. We all know about “ponderous pachyderms.” The original Latin adjective survives in the feminine (ponderosa) to describe a species of pine—and to name Ben Cartwright’s ranch, so familiar to insomniacs reduced to watching late-night television reruns.

Ardent feminists will be amused to note the similarity between L vir (“man”) and virus (“poison”)—totally unrelated nouns, as any male linguist will tell you. English has virile (< L virilis), “manly,” and viral (a recent analogous coinage), “pertaining to a virus.” As we saw in §40, virulent (< virulentus) means “full of poison.” Strangely enough, classical Latin had another adjectival form, virosus, which could mean either “longing after men” or “full of slime.” Maybe this ambiguous little item should be revived.

The English adjectives facetious and jocose have virtually identical semantic meanings. How do they differ in modern connotation and usage? The two words conveniently illustrate the twin fates of Latin -osus derivatives in English.


  1. Don’t confuse ovine with oval < ovalis < ovum (“egg”).
  2. Although L bovinus meant “like an ox,” E bovine means also “like a cow.” From L vacca (“cow”) we derive the English word vaccine, which normally has a different pronunciation and meaning.
  3. The flowering plant lupin(e) is a DOUBLET, similarly derived from lupinus.
  4. Possible synonyms for serpentine are colubrine, viperine, and reptilian—but not Draconian!
  5. Some animal adjectives use other Latin suffixes. “Like a monkey” (simia) is simian (simianus). The suffix -anus also explains apian (< apis, “bee”) and avian (< avis, “bird”). An apiary (< apiarium) and an aviary (< aviarium) are places for bees and birds, respectively. “Pertaining to a fowl” is gallinaceous < gallinaceus (gallina/gallus). The columbine is a pigeon-like flower. The porcupine doesn’t belong at all: he is a “thorny pig” (< porcus + spina).


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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