The Nominative Case


  • You have just been introduced to the various cases of Latin nouns, the most basic of which is the nominative.
  • What does the nominative do, exactly? If a noun is in the nominative case in Latin, it either is the subject of a sentence or agrees with the subject of that sentence.
  • Remember that both adjectives and nouns can be in the nominative case. Consider the sentence below:

Psittacus est amīcus callidus.

  • When we say that “The parrot is a clever friend,” psittacus is in the nominative because it is the subject of the sentence. However, we have also stated here that the parrot is amīcus callidus, a clever friend, and the adjective callidus and the noun amīcus are in the nominative because they are equivalent to the subject.

The grammatical term in Latin for amīcus callidus is the predicate nominative. This adjective and noun combo gives further information on what the subject is, and so is also expressed in the nominative.

Recall from the lesson on sentence structure that word order in Latin is less important for understanding the meaning of a sentence than those words’ endings! The sentence “Canem amat fēlēs” still means the same thing, that the cat loves the dog. In English, the meaning of this sentence would be very different if the word order changed to “The dog loves the cat”! To change the meaning of the sentence in Latin, you would have to change the cases of the two nouns, switching canem to the nominative and fēlēs to the accusative.

  • Consult the table below to see nominative endings for both the singular and the plural of nouns and adjectives in the first three Latin declensions:
Nominative EndingsSingularPlural
1st Declension-a-ae
2nd Declension-us/-um-ī/-a
3rd Declension-ēs

For the second declension singular, you might notice that -us/-um and -ī/-a are both given as possible nominative endings. The distinction between the two is that -us and -ī are more commonly seen for masculine nouns, while -um and -a are more often used for neuter nouns. It is also possible to encounter masculine second declension nouns that have a nominative ending -r, although they otherwise decline in exactly the same way.

No ending is given outright for the third declension singular because this declension of nouns has such a wide variety of possible nominative singular endings that no one option can be given outright.

It is not possible to identify the subject of a sentence based purely on word order! There is no rule that states that a Latin subject must be the first word in the sentence. You can only know for sure whether or not a noun is in the nominative based on its declined form. Consider the sentence below:

Multōs amīcōs habet psittacus.
The parrot has many friends.

Neither word in the phrase multōs amīcōs is in the nominative, as you can see from those words’ endings; the subject of the sentence is in fact the psittacus, although that word comes at the end of the sentence.