Italian is commonly analysed as inheriting the nominative forms of nouns from Vulgar Latin, instead of the accusative ones. But what happened to 3rd declension nouns?

It looks like for the majority of them, due to the irregularity of the sg. nom. forms, the sg. nom. was simply remodelled with the sing. accusative. This explains e.g.

(Latin noun forms in the order of sg. nom., sg. acc., pl. nom./acc.)

voce "voice" from vōx, vōcem, vōcēs,

-trice "-er (f.)" from -trīx, trīcem, trīcēs,

as well as fiume "river" from flūmen, flūmen, flūmina.

Fair processes. Now, what happened to some other Latin 3rd declension patterns?

  1. It. -ione "-(t/s)ion" from Latin -iō, -iōnem, iōnēs,

    • Did the same process happen here as well?
  2. It. -[d/g]ine from Latin -[d/g]ō, -[d/g]inem, -[d/g]inēs,

    • incl. It. voragine "chasm, abyss" from Latin vorāgō, vorāginem, vorāginēs, It torpedine "stingray, torpedo" from Latin torpēdō, torpēdine, torpēdinēs, It. -itudine "-itude" from Latin -itūdō, -itūdinem, -itūdinēs,

    • Same question as above. In addition, is there any particular reason why the Italian reflex is not -[d/g]ene given the short -i-?

  3. It. -ità "-ity" from Latin -itās, -itātem, -itātēs:

    • Wiktionary lists an older reflex of It. -itade.

      • How did this sufix happen, given Italian did not go through the intervocalic voicing of lenis consonants?

      • Naïvely it appears there was a competition between the two forms and -ità won out. Is this the case?

    • It. vertù "virtue" from Latin virtūs, virtūtem, virtūtēs seems to have undergone a similar process, with an older form vertude. Then, how did the -de drop out in this case?


2 Answers 2


First off:

Italian is commonly analysed as inheriting the nominative forms of nouns from Vulgar Latin, instead of the accusative ones.

I don't think I'd quite agree with that. In the plural, the forms are definitely nominative—but in the singular, I'd say they're usually clearly accusative. See for example notte < noctem, which can't possibly be nominative, but also second-declension examples like figlio < filium: if it had come from filius it would instead be something like figlie (because word-final /s/ became /j/, and the diphthong would simplify). There are a few strange cases like uomo that do come from the nominative, but they're rare, and usually have competing forms from the accusative (like uomine).

EDIT: Denis Nardin suggests that the plurals come from the accusative as well; see his answer for details.

For your other questions:

  1. Yep, Latin -iōnem > Italian -ione (via loss of final nasals).
  2. Final nasal loss again: vōrāginem > voragine. There's another phonological process here too: in Italian, /e/ became /i/ in open syllables (compare fenestra > finestra).
  3. When a native Italian word is stressed on the last syllable (marked with an accent), and it has more than one syllable in it, it's always because a Latin final syllable got deleted. In this case, the dropping happened long after Latin: final -te in Old Italian first lenited to -de and then disappeared.
    • This didn't happen everywhere: contrast vite "lives". Instead, it only seemed to happen in derivational endings, like -tà(tem) and -tù(tem). Perhaps singular forms like vita kept the plurals from changing too much? That's why you have amica/amiche instead of the expected *amica/amice.

P.S. For the first declension there's no solid proof about nominative vs accusative, since both would give the same result (-a and -am > -a; -ae and -as > -e). Similarly, the third plural could be either nominative or accusative, since the forms are always the same. But all else being equal, it's more elegant to say everything came from the accusative singular and nominative plural.

  • I don’t think us brcame e in unstressed final syllables in Italian. Us neuters have reflexes in o, I think. Apr 1, 2019 at 7:31
  • Specifical examples are tempus and corpus; lepus has lepre, but the e in that seems to be from an e(m) accusative form, as in latte < lactem. Apr 1, 2019 at 7:37
  • @sumelic Interesting, I figured that was part of the general merger of neuters into the second declension.
    – Draconis
    Apr 1, 2019 at 13:20
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    Thanks! Really answered my questions about the morphological processes. Although I think if everything goes regularly, then Class. Lat. -us -> Vulg. Lat *-os, which should become intermediate *-oj. We do have reflexes of unstressed *-oj (from Class. Lat. -ōs but shouldn't matter because of merger), which show just -o as in no (nos: Mod. It. ci), vo (vos: Mod. It. vi). So the 2nd declension isn't evidence that it came from the acc. I think Apr 1, 2019 at 14:01
  • -tà went most likely -itatem > -itate > -itade > -itaðe > -itað > -ita (very similar to Spanish). Also it is not true that there was no VCV > VGV in Italian - this heavily depends on dialect and in standard Italian, you will find quite a few words like spiegare < explicare , impiegare < implicare, madre/padre < mater/pater_ etc.
    – Eleshar
    Dec 24, 2019 at 20:03

Actually, it seems that the most common modern point of view is that most Italian plurals come from the accusative plural, after the regular transformation that turned final /s/ into /j/. This explains perfectly also the third declension (so the ending -es became -ej>i). For example, from Martin Maiden's A linguistic history of Italian, section 2.12

An alternative [to the derivation of plurals from nominative], and in our view more plausible, approach is to view inflectional -e and -i as phonetic developments of the unstressed vowels, triggered by original final [s]. Inflectional -s survives intact in Ibero-Romance, Gallo-Romance and Sardinian. Traces of inflectional -s also appear in some northern Italian dialects. After a stressed vowel, [s] has generally become [i] in Italo-Romance: noi ‘we’ < NOS; voi ‘you’ < UOS; poi ‘then’ < POS(T); crai ‘tomorrow’ < CRAS (in southern dialects); stai ‘you stand’ < STAS. This lends weight to the view, proposed, for example, by Reichenkron (1939) and Lausberg (1965: 431–3), that unstressed final [as] and [es] yielded *[ai] and *[ei] (Lausberg actually proposes *[ai] and *[ei]), which subsequently monophthongized, to [e] and [i].


The facts are strongly consistent with the hypothesis that inflectional -e and -i do not directly continue Latin inflections containing front vowels. There is no palatalization whatsoever of velar consonants before the feminine plural inflection (nor before the second person singular indicative inflection -e of the OTuscan first conjugation): e.g., aˈmiːka ‘friend’, aˈmiːke; ˈgrɛːka ‘Greek’, ˈgrɛːke; ˈfiːzika ‘physical’, ˈfiːzike; ˈlarga ‘broad’, ˈlarge; ˈbjaŋka ‘white’, ˈbjaŋke. This absence of alternation in the feminine is repeated throughout the modern Italo-Romance dialects.

To address your other point, some kind of intervocalic voicing of consonants happened, most notably in Northern Italy, but really across the whole peninsula: for example see strada (from stratam), lago (from lacum), riva (from ripam), etc. so cittade is not really that much of an outlier (but cfr. with virtute). Maiden, in section 2.7, says about intervocalic voicing:

Voicing of intervocalic short voiceless consonants is a characteristic of northern Italian dialects. [...] That some instances of intervocalic voicing in Tuscan may be attributable to borrowing from northern Italian dialects of words containing voiced consonants is entirely plausible. [...]

A number of words showing intervocalic voicing are so rooted, semantically, in the ground of everyday life that an exotic origin is implausible. [...] A further argument against the hypothesis of a northern origin for consonant voicing is the striking absence of words displaying that shortening of long consonants (see section 8) which characterizes all northern dialects, and which some scholars group with northern Italian voicing under the general label of ‘lenition’. [...] So the problem of intervocalic voicing remains unsolved.

  • Thanks! The voicing part is really helpful. The argument of inheriting acc. only doens't really hold imho. The lack of palatalisation is limited to 1st declension, easily explained by Vulgar Latin 1st. pl. nom. *-as <- *-ās. Palatalisation happens in 2nd declension, which would be unexplainable. In addition, we do have reflexes of *-oj <- -ōs in Old Italian, which show up as just -o, such as in no (nos), vo (vos), replaced in Modern Italian by ci vi. Apr 1, 2019 at 14:07
  • @Rethliopuks I encourage you to read the whole section 2.12 of Maiden's book, which is precisely about this problem. He makes a convincing case for the accusative as the main source of Italian noun endings. Apr 1, 2019 at 19:18
  • I'm not convinced by his argument that 2nd pl reflex -i is based on analogical extension from 3rd pl and "vestigial -i" of 2nd declension. I have no knowledge of OTuscan, but the convincing piece would be attestation in OT of 2nd pl -o as we have for 4th pl -o: la mano, le mano. The rarity of palatalisation he claims in "unambiguously native and non-learned" words can simply be attributed to analogical levelling, which is not unconvincing especially since he is resorting to analogical extension, which is in some way more constrained and more weakly motivated. Apr 1, 2019 at 19:51
  • @Rethliopuks Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but Maiden is not positing any analogical extension. He is positing an evolution -os > -oj > -i in the second declension (while for example the OTuscan plural of 4th declension mano is supposed to originate via manus > manui > manu > mano). Apr 1, 2019 at 19:56
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    Italian reflex of unstressed Vulg. Lat. -os is -o, e.g. meno "less" from Lat. minus, meglio "better" from Lat. melius. My reference is Alkire & Rosen, Romance Languages: A Historical Introduction (2010) Ch. 8 endnote 7 (as well as Sec. 6.3.2, 8.4.1, 8.8.1) Apr 1, 2019 at 20:16

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