Latin has/had noun cases, while modern Romance languages don't. I wonder if the transition can be observed in written forms. Are there examples from different historic moments?

A side question: unlike English and German, (as far as I know) all Romance languages seem to have dropped noun declension all together. So, did this happen early, before divergence?

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    Romanian nouns are inflected for case, although not as much as in Latin. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 9:34
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    This is a bit nit-picky but: "all Romance languages seem to have dropped noun inflexion all together" - that's not strictly true since plural marking is still nominal inflection just not declension.
    – Miztli
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 12:35
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    Also nitpicking, but, I definitely wouldn't say English has not dropped noun inflection, especially compared to German or even Romanian... The genitive 's may have arisen as inflection, but that's not really a convincing synchronic explanation, as now it can be applied to entire phrases where the actual words it get tucked onto may not even be a noun at all. That's again aside from plurals of course.
    – LjL
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 14:49
  • @Miztli you're right. I thought infleciton only means declension. Will correct the question text.
    – culebrón
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


It differs from language to language but in general, it is attributed to the case forms becoming too similar to maintain the distinction due to various sound changes.

E.g. in Old French, this is typically explained as a result of the Germanic invasion in Gallia. The Germanic languages of the day are estimated to have had a dynamic accentuation, meaning that accented syllables were pronounced "stronger", while the unaccented ones were somewhat reduced (the result of this is well visible in today's English where most unaccented vowels merge into schwa).

It is estimated that Old French developped a similar feature under the influence of Frankish and given the way Latin accentuation (accent typically on the penultimate or antepenultimate syllable) and Latin declension (cases are expressed by endings, mostly monosyllabic ones) work, the loss of declension seems like a fairly natural result - post-accentual vowels were reduced/lost and with them most of the endings. The noun forms became too similar and the number of cases dropped to two: subject case (orig. nominative) and oblique case (orig. accusative) and they were distinguished mostly in masculine (the evolution pathways are tentative, I do not have immediate access to sources):

nom.sg. mur-s ( < mur-ə-s < mur-o-s < mur-u-s), nom.pl. mur ( < mur-ə < mur-e < mur-i) acc.sg. mur ( < mur-ə < mur-o < mur-u < mur-u-m), acc.pl. mur-s (< mur-ə-s < mur-o-s)

With the loss of final -s, the case syncretism would be complete in nouns.

Other Romance languages had different reasons and slightly different results but to my knowledge, they are not as well explained, but similar reason would apply - case syncretism due to phonological change, even though the sound change is different in its nature.

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    Yup. The loss of the the gender/number/case paradigms is one of the poster children for the Grammaticalization hypothesis.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 1:44
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    @jlawler: I know both Spanish and Brasilian Portuguese, both still use the usual future patterns: -ré/-ras/-rà/-remos/-reis/-ran, and -rei/none or -ras/-rà/-remos/-reis/-rão. Spanish has ir+infinitive, but not haber (probably, you confused it with the compound past), and Portuguese as well has this ir+infinitive construct. But both languages still use the normal future and they're interchangeable.
    – culebrón
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 17:39
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    @jlawler On a second thought, the old pattern is indeed rarely used, and to natives, I suppose, might seem bookish. But just a few days ago, I did notice and was surprised to see a Brasilian in a chat writing "faremos", rather than "vamos fazer" (the new compound fututre), or "a gente vai fazer" (new compound + "the people" in 3rd pl. for "we"). It might have to do with the length. "Faremos" is much shorter.
    – culebrón
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 17:53

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