Before today, I thought that there was no neuter substantive1 noun with a nominative singular in a and a genitive singular in ae. However, I have encountered references to a possible exception: some sources indicate that the noun pascha/Pascha, referring to Passover or Easter, could inflect according to the first declension and at the same time be neuter in gender. I'd like to see if I can verify this surprising fact.

How the word pascha entered Latin

This is supposed to be explained by the background of the word: it comes from a masculine Aramaic word via Greek πάσχα, which is indeclinable and neuter.

Apparently, in Latin, the word came to be declined, but retained the neuter gender of the Greek noun. It is supposed to have also developed a consonant-stem declension by analogy with Greek -ma neuter nouns, gaining a stem paschat- with unetymological -t- that was used to form genitive singular paschatis, genitive plural paschatum etc.

The first-declension forms: sometimes feminine—ever neuter?

It's fairly easy for me to find examples of the first-declension forms: e.g. "pascharum" in "pascharum diem" seems to be a first-declension genitive plural. But it's harder to find evidence supporting the idea that these forms are ever grammatically neuter rather than grammatically feminine.

In fact, it seems that it must have been possible for pascha to be a feminine noun in at least some situations, because the accusative singular form pascham seems to exist: this could not be neuter because it would violate the rule that neuters are always identical in nominative and accusative.

And in accordance with the form pascham, two sources list pascha, paschae as a feminine noun, and not as a neuter noun (reserving the neuter gender for the paradigm of pascha, paschatis): Lewis and Short and Félix Gaffiot.

However, as I mentioned at the start, I have also found sources that say that the noun could be neuter when declined according to the first declension:

  • Nouvelle méthode pour apprendre facilement la langue latine, 12th ed., by Claude Lancelot (? et al?) (1761) says

    Pascha, est du Neutre. : Pascha próximum, Pâque prochain; & se décline de la premiere ou de la troisiéme: Pascha, æ, Pascha, ătis. [...]

    les Grecs l'ont fait Neutre, parce qu'ils l'ont pris comme indéclinable [...] les Latins les ont suivis dans le Genre, quoiqu'ils ayent décliné ce nom, ou de la premiere, ou de la troisiéme

    (p. 49)

    The bolded part says "the Latins followed the Greeks [in making the gender neuter] whether they inflected the noun according to the first or third declension".

  • I found a text that gives an entire declension in the neuter (for the singular only), but it looks a bit suspicious. Unfortunately, I don't have full access to the text; I just saw a page through Google Books. The text is given in Donati Graeci: Learning Greek in the Renaissance, by Federica Ciccolella (2008); if I understand correctly, the Latin is the original, so it shouldn't have been erroneously influenced Greek grammar. Ciccolella says "version a [...] probably originated as a simple word-for-word translation of the Latin textbook for Greeks who wanted to learn Latin. During the fifteenth century, this version, perhaps originally written in the interlinear spaces of a Latin text, became an independent grammar and was used to learn Greek; apparently, Greek Donatus a did not undergo the process of adaptation of Latin morphology to the "target language" that led to the composition of Donati in modern languages" (p. xvi).

    Nominativo hoc Pascha, genitivo huius Paschae, dativo huic Paschae, accusativo hoc Pascha, vocativo o Pascha, ablativo ab hoc Pascha, pluralia non habet.

    (Donatus graecus a, "De Nomine", lines 53-55, p. 271 in Donati Graeci)

    The corresponding lines in Greek (53-55, p. 270) use the indeclinable form πάσχα, but as I mentioned above, it doesn't seem like the Greek translation could have influenced the Latin text because the Latin is supposed to be the original.

    The statement that plural forms do not exist seems to be false for at least some stages of the language, since as I mentioned above, the genitive plural form Pascharum seems to have been used sometimes.

  • Perhaps there is only one instance of a neuter noun of the first declension: viz., pascha—the passover

    (p. 12, A Commentary on the Eton Latin Grammar, by Richard Haynes, 1843)

The kind of evidence that I think would work

Is it true that pascha can be a "neuter noun of the first declension", or are these three sources wrong? Aside from the declension explicitly given by the quoted Donatus, I suppose that the only way to clearly show that it is a neuter noun is to find an example in text where it triggers neuter agreement: for example, if Paschae in the genitive singular were modified by an adjective ending in -i. Are there any such examples when the word has a clearly first-declension form?


  1. I specified "substantive" because I had heard of some common-gender adjectives ending in -a in the nominative singular that allegedly could modify neuter nouns; e.g. advena (mentioned in an answer by fvogel) and apparently also verna (see this passage in Beiträge zur Griechischen und Römischen Literaturgeschichte, Volume 2). I'm not sure whether these unusual adjectives were defective in some cases/numbers; it seems plausible to me (although I haven't checked) that they were defective at least in the neuter nominative/accusative plural, because it seems to have been fairly common for even the more typical third-declension adjectives of a single ending to lack a neuter plural in -a.
  • 1
    This question reminds me of varium et mutabile semper femina. Agreement might suggest that femina is neuter but it isn't. This doesn't undermine your question, but reminds to put some care into analyzing possible examples.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 4 '19 at 7:35

Actually Du Cange (Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis) records a lot of examples of the neuter form Pascha, -ae, which he seems to prefer.

"Orat. et prec. de Pascha annotino"

"Micrologus de Eccles. observ. cap. 56 : Romani Annotinum Pascha, quasi anniversarium Pascha dicunt, quia antiquitus apud illos qui in priori Pascha baptizati erant, insequenti anno, eadem die, ad Ecclesiam convenere, suæque regenerationis anniversarium diem cum oblationibus solenniter celebraverunt."

"Charta Radulfi de Castro Port. in Chartul. Campan. fol. 223. r° : Actum anno gratiæ M. CC. XVI. in die magni Paschæ."

Some other examples from Corpus Corporum (University of Zurich), http://www.mlat.uzh.ch/MLS/

Rabanus Maurus, Liber de computo, 107, 0720B (auctor 780-856):

De nostro ergo Pascha valde desidero ut plenam rationem reddas.

Ado Viennensis, Chronicon, 123, 0104D (auctor -875):

Desperatione deposita reditur ad Ecclesiam, in eaque vigiliarum nocte sancti Paschae, concepit animo Rogationes, atque ibi cum Deo tacitus definivit quidquid hodie psalmis ac precibus mundus inclamat.

Albericus Aquensis, Historia expeditionis Hierosolymitanae, 166, 0625A (auctor 1095-1125):

In qua septem dies commorantes, et Sabbato sancti Paschae ignem de coelo operientes, sanctam civitatem in orationibus et eleemosynis perlustraverunt.

Du Cange also records:

  • the neuter Pascha, -atis:

"propter Paschatis diversos in singulis annis dies"

"officium seu Missa Paschatis Annotini"

"Quatuor in Paschate, et totidem in Pentecoste dies celebrandos statuit Concilium Exoniense"

  • the feminine Pascha, -ae:

"Missa matutinalis per totam Pascham"

"Kalendarium editum ab Allatio lib. de Dominicis et hebdomad. Græcor. n. 37 : Dominica Octava Paschæ ad Lateranis... in Pascha Annotina, in illo tempore erat homo ex Pharisæis."

Some authors seem to use more than one declension:

Petrus Comestor, Historia scholastica, 198, 1554D (auctor -c.1178):

Et secundum hoc vixit Iesus tantum triginta duobus annis, et dimidio; quia eadem die revoluto anno convertit aquam in vinum, et sequenti Pascha, id est in Pascha tricesimi primi anni, incarceratus est Ioannes, et in Pascha sequenti, id est tricesimi secundi anni, decollatus est, et in tertio Paschate, id est tricesimi tertii anni, passus est Dominus, et ita vixit Dominus triginta duobus annis integris, et de trigesimo tertio quantum fluxit temporis a Natali usque ad Pascha, quod pro dimidio anno computatur.

Some 9th-11th-c. treaties preserved in manuscripts (which have as a starting base Priscian, Instítutio de nomine, pronomine et verbo) seem to record both the neuter and feminine forms in the first declension:

Prima igitur declinatio habet litteras terminales duas, a et s, terminationes vero tres, a as es : a ut poeta, as ut Aeneas, es ut Anchises. [...] In prima declinatione, masculina propria Graeca in a inveniuntur, ut Iugurtha ; appellativa Graeca masculina, ut hic citharista ; propria feminina, ut haec Eleana ; appellativa, ut haec syllaba [...] Alii dicunt neutra Graeca in a, ut hoc pascha et hoc manna, quae alii Hebraica et feminini generis esse dicuntur [...].

The paragraph appears apud Colette Jeudy, L'Institutio de nomine, pronomine et verbo de Priscien: manuscrits et commentaires médiévaux. In: Revue d'histoire des textes, bulletin n°2 (1972), 1973. pp. 73-144; https://www.persee.fr/doc/rht_0373-6075_1973_num_2_1972_1071

For a lot more examples (sometimes with the mention of the year when they where written, especially for more obscure texts or manuscripts) see: http://ducange.enc.sorbonne.fr/pascha and Corpus Corporum (University of Zurich), http://www.mlat.uzh.ch/MLS/

  • Nice answer! Welcome to the site! Hope to see you often contributing with your valuable knowledge!
    – Rafael
    May 4 '19 at 23:02
  • @sumelic. Not at all. Go ahead and use them. May 9 '19 at 13:09

Never realized that, but you have an example (nominative-only, though) in ecclesiastical Latin in the hymn Lauda Sion:

In hac mensa novi Regis
Novum Pascha novae legis
Phase vetus terminat

Translation (lyrical):

On this table of the [new] King,
Our new Paschal offering
Brings to end the olden rite.

So I did the exercise and searched for examples in genitive:

  • Saint Robert, Abbott (XI Century) in his comentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew uses sacramentum novi Paschae.
  • Here is also conformari observantiae novi Paschae by St. Thomas Aquinas (XIII Century).
  • A Google search of "novi Paschae" gives a few more results (from later times).
  • 1
    Thanks! The nominative example isn't quite what I'm looking for because "Novum Pascha" could potentially be interpreted as a third-declension form (even though that would be a bit odd given the use of "Paschae" elsewhere in the hymn), but "sacramentum novi Paschae" seems quite unambiguous.
    – Asteroides
    May 4 '19 at 20:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.