Erudite English has an interesting practice where the plural form of loanwords may follow the inflectional grammar of the source language. Thus "campi" as well as "campuses", "minima" as well as "minimums", "these kanji were" as well as "these kanjis were". Though this is likely a conscious, artificial scholarly invention, many of these word-forms have been absorbed into the living language, to the point where some plurals all but only occur in the Latin style (algae/??algas, larvae/??larvas, desiderata/??desideratums, nuclei/??nucleuses).

Since speakers are normally unfamiliar with the source grammar, this practice sometimes generates putatively "foreign" plurals that wouldn't be part of the source language: "virii" for what in Latin would be *vira, or "octopi" rather than Greek octopodes (though some people do use the latter). The so-called "fake" or "spurious" plurals might be argued to be evidence of productivity, and thus of an English mini-grammar (in the construction-grammar sense). The implication is that "Latin-style plurals" (at least) are now part of the natural English language, if peripherally (with productive rules like "if a word end in -us, its erudite plural is -i").

I've heard that German, a language with four cases, used to go a step further; I don't know anything about old German practices, but apparently erudite texts used to inflect Latin loans in the corresponding cases whenever appropriate in a German context. It seems that Catholic liturgy still declines Jesus, for example: „daß ihr einerlei gesinnt seid untereinander nach Jesu Christo…“ (where the German preposition nach, which governs the dative, causes the Latin Jesus Christus to be declined in the Latin dative).

Are there more examples of languages where loanwords keep their source-language inflection, even if only in erudite or literary usage?

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    I noticed on her cooking TV show that Giada De Laurentiis used a plural pronoun "they" to refer back to "spaghetti" in a previous sentence.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:39
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    Great question! By the way, comparing the title and the question at the end, it may not be entirely clear whether you are specifically looking for case endingings (probably yes), or whether plurals also 'count'.
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:43
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    Related question on Latin Language: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/2098/… Commented May 5, 2017 at 17:55
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    OK a great many languages use original plurals for at least some borrowed words. E.g. an educated speaker of Dutch is expected to use any kind of plural from English, German, French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese in the manner of the original language, preferably from more languages. If you don't know the plural, you look it up or you work around it.
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 19:22
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    The genitive of Jesus Kristus in Danish is also Jesu Kristi. The ablative Jesu Kristo is now quite thoroughly dead and buried, but it was used up until the nineteenth century, despite the fact that Danish nouns do not inflect for case (apart from the possessive which, as in English, is a clitic rather than a case). [Another case in English which I’ve always liked is seraphseraphim.] Commented May 6, 2017 at 1:33

4 Answers 4


A great number of loanwords from Ancient Greek have been integrated into Czech with great attention to the original forms. For instance, many Ancient Greek nouns from the third (athematic) declension preserve their stem consonants when declined in Czech.

Consider the proper name Paris (the Greek mythological prince). In the table given on the linked page, the forms on the right (Paris, Parise, ...) demonstrate what the regular Czech declension would be, but the ones on the left (Paris, Parida, ...) are the ones that are actually used, to correspond with the original Greek declension Πάρις, Πάριδος, ...

Another common example are loanwords that were originally dental stem neuters, such as δρᾶμα (drama). Such Czech nouns are commonly declined with the irregular interfix -at- (drama, dramatu, ...), so as to approximate the Greek declension δρᾶμα, δράματος, ...

Of course, the prime example is the Greek name Ζέυς, in Czech Zeus. In Ancient Greek, it was declined irregularly as Ζέυς, Δίος, Δίι, Δία, Ζέυ. The Czech loanword faithfully replicates this irregularity and declines as Zeus, Dia, Diovi, Dia, Die, Diovi, Diem.


This is more likely to happen when the original language is fairly well known amongst the community of writers–speakers of the adopting language.

Latin often does it for Greek words. That is, one usually has two options in Latin: either one translitterates the Greek endings directly into Latin, or one Latinises the entire paradigm. Which option is chosen also depends on the word; I believe the Greek word aer "air" always has the (Greek) accusative ending -a in Latin, so it will be aëra in the accusative in Latin, rather than the Latinised ?aerem. Using the Greek endings seems to be most common in poetry.

Jesu happens to be an example of this. In Greek, it is an irregular noun with a nominative singular Iesous, genitive and dative Iesou. Greek ou is normally translitterated into u in Latin (cf. ou-topia "non-place" → utopia), whence Latin Iesus and Iesu. As to the dative ending in Greek, which is highly irregular, it may be an ending borrowed from Hebrew (or a later normalised error).

I also seem to remember that this happens far more often with the accusative and genitive than with the dative, probably also because dative endings are very often (almost) the same between Greek and Latin.

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    You mean the German Catholic practice of declining Jesus might span four morphological paradigms? That's fascinating :) Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:58
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    @leoboiko: Quite so! And, who knows, maybe more...for example, we use German titles in English too, don't we? We could be talking about the Leben Jesu. We could abbreviate it as Jesu and remark that Hegel and Strauss wrote two very different Jesus. And who knows where Hebrew got this word from?
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 19:17

German does so, too.

It preserves plural forms from English (really frequently), Italian, and Spanish; but usually not from French (Garage, pl. Garagen), Latin (Museum, pl. Museen), nor Greek (Thema, pl. Themen)..


Hindi, for sure, English borrowed examples include:

pencils - pencil -ẽ / -õ (depending on use -general pl. marker, -object pl. marker), 3 of them used as the environment demands (English in formal environments, Hindi inflection in informal ones.

cars - car -ẽ / -õ

English word with Hindi inflection like computerõ (कम्प्यूटरों) were the English word “computer” is inflected by the Hindi plural marker –on.

"sab artists ko bulayaa hai" (all artists have been called)

(last 2 from https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/W14-3914)


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