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    Latin for Moms: What Does Declining Mean?

    April 18, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    These initial terminology lessons (cases, declining, etc.) may seem simple enough. But, as someone who has been trying to teach herself Latin for a number of years, I can say that they trip people up. At least, they tripped me up. It was all Greek to me, you know? Only it was Latin, which was even more confusing.


    So today we’re going to talk about the word declining. Sometimes, in Latin textbooks, you’ll be given the assignment to “decline the Latin words such-and-such” and so it helps to know what a declension is and what is means to decline.

    In short, if you have ever learned a foreign language, or even studied one in school, you are going to have the advantage here. Essentially, declining is a lot like conjugating, only declining is done with nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, while conjugating is for verbs.

    So do we decline our nouns in English? Well, a tiny bit.

    Declensions fit with the idea of cases. We already talked about cases, but if you didn’t read it, you need to go back and do so to understand this lesson.

    As a brief review, the five main cases are: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and ablative. These correspond to the different functions nouns can serve within a sentence, even an English sentence: subject, possessive, indirect object, direct object, and within by/with/from prepositional phrases.

    So, in English, we can “decline” a singular noun, but the word won’t change much at all:

    What you see above is the declension of boy. It gives the form of the word for each of the major cases. Obviously, English isn’t a highly inflected language and doesn’t really have cases, but I think seeing it in English sometimes helps, so stay with me here.

    When you decline a Latin noun, you find the stem of the word and then list all the case forms for it. This is the one thing that is hard to show in English because other than adding apostrophe and s in the possessive, our words remain the same. But still, this is why I said it is something like conjugating verbs, if you ever did that for Spanish of French in high school.

    Don’t worry. We’ll come back to declensions in the future, but this is a good place to stop for today.

    Read More in this Series:

    Lesson 1: Understanding the Five Basic Cases
    Lesson 2: What Does Declining Mean? ←you are here
    Lesson 3: A Preposition Inside the Genitive Case
    Lesson 4: A Preposition Inside the Dative Case
    Lesson 5: How to Determine the Gender of a 3rd Declension Noun (A Flow Chart)

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  • Reply Danielle August 20, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Thank you! This was so helpful!

  • Reply Free Latin Resources to Get You Started - Classically Homeschooling March 30, 2015 at 5:51 am

    […] Latin for Moms: What Does Declining Mean? […]

  • Reply Anonymous April 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Okay, you are awesome! My two oldest boys, ages 9 and 10, are on Lesson 21 of Visual Latin, and thankfully have been able to figure it all out on their own, because I am not as quick as they are! I DO want to learn though, and your series is just what I need. I made up my flashcards today! Thank you for the inspiration…I needed it! Julie in St. Louis

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Hi Julie! I’m excited you are studying with me. 🙂 It’ll be fun. 🙂

      • Reply Samantha March 31, 2020 at 9:10 am

        Oh my goodness, THANK YOU! I’m in a mess and learning a new language because the world’s Corona Virus crisis has had my son at home with Me! I’m lost and he’s fighting me on his schooling every step of the way. Most especially in Latin. Me, A high school graduate who’s studied four years of Spanish without a recollection for any of it, I’m barely a good candidate for teaching my son any language especially Latin.
        So while struggling in Latin today ..yes-again, sigh.. we had issues with “what is/how to decline” a Latin particular word & I found this blog. I would like to thank you, it has helped.. Anyway, I’m posting this (I don’t do ‘posts’) to express my appreciation. You made sense and I understood. That’s a feat in and of itself! lol.
        God bless xoxo
        Sam J.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel March 31, 2020 at 9:41 am

          I’m so glad it helped! ♥

        • Reply Brandy Vencel March 31, 2020 at 10:25 am

          ps. Hang in there. Jumping into school at home is hard on both of you, I’m sure! ♥

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