Chapter 2: The Latin Noun (Declensions 1 & 2)

§14. Patterns of Change in Form

The vocabulary of this chapter has shown various degrees of change that Latin nouns may undergo in becoming English words. We can establish a sort of spectrum of MORPHOLOGICAL CHANGE, ranging from the least modified to the totally transformed.

1. The Latin word appears in English without any change in form:
arena, camera, campus, circus, forum, odium

2. The Latin noun base becomes the English derivative:
L. forma > E form, L campus > E camp, L signum E sign

3. The Latin word is modified on consistent principles:
a. The English word is the Latin base plus silent -e
L causa > E cause, L fortuna > E fortune, L modus > E mode
b. Latin -tia or –tium or –cium becomes English –ce[1]
L gratia > E grace, L vitium > E vice, L officium > E office
c. Latin –ia or –ium becomes English –y
L gloria > E glory, L lilium > E lily

4. The Latin word undergoes a major and unpredictable change in form:
L. camera > E chamber, L radius > E ray, L. granum > E grain

As you may have surmised, most of the changes in types 2 to 4 occurred during and after transmission through French. Many lst declension nouns, for example, survive as French words in –e (type 3.a); cf. L terra > F terre, L luna > F lune. In the Old French period (12th century), words like gloria, memoria, and victoria had assumed the form glorie, mémorie, and victorie, whence English glory, memory, and victory (type 3.c). Later they evolved into modern French gloire, mémoire, and victoire. At a fairly recent date, English borrowed the word memoir from modern French. Thus memoir and memory are English doublets.

  1. Latin -gium might also become English -ge, as L vestigium (“footprint”) > E vestige, and L collegium (“guild”) > E. college.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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