E.g Is the legal term essentialia negotii correct use of the grammar(declension, agreement, word order) rules or not?

Should it not be negotiorum essentialium so that the case, the number and the gender agree? Since Aspects are Plural I expect to use Plural and not Singular.

Negotium is a Masculine noun Negotii is the Genitive Singular.

Essentialia is the Neuter adjective Nominative or Accusative or Vocative Plurar.

2 Answers 2


The prosaic word order in Latin—that is, the ordinary, normal, unremarkable word order—goes like this:

      noun modifier

The noun comes first, and the modifier comes right after. The modifier can be any of:

  • an adjective, as in canis ruber (a red dog);
  • a noun in the genitive case, as in canis Georgii (George's dog);
  • (rarely) a noun in the same case, as in canis amicus (the dog that is also a friend)

When the modifier is an adjective, it must agree in gender, number, and case with the noun it modifies. When the modifier is a genitive noun, it need not agree in any way with the modified noun. And when the modifier is a noun in apposition, it must agree in case with the modified noun, but it has its own gender and number.

Species names in biology follow exactly this pattern: a noun (for the genus) followed by a modifier (indicating a characteristic that distinguishes the species from others of the same genus). Three species names corresponding to the above are: Canis aureus (the golden dog), Canis hallstromi (Hallstrom's dog, i.e. the dog species discovered by Hallstrom), and Canis lupus (the wolf-dog, i.e. the wolf).

Following that pattern, your example should be essentialia negotii (the essentials of a contract) since essentialia here is the main noun, modified by the genitive noun negotii. In Latin, it's not unusual to use an adjective "substantively", i.e. as a noun itself, without providing a noun for it to modify. We do this sometimes in English, too. In fact, the word "essential" works the same way in English: it's primarily an adjective, but we also use it as a noun, as in "essentials". An adjective used substantively modifies an implied noun of "things", "stuff", "people", or the like—not important or interesting, hence omitted.

HOWEVER, Latin grammar is extremely flexible regarding word order. You can put the modifier first, or even separate the two words by a long distance in the sentence, and the result is still grammatically correct. Different word orders change the emphasis or make clear what the listener is supposed to already know and what is new information, or indicate what is being referred to and what is being asserted about it. A few modifiers, like hic (this), come prosaically before the noun.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Google turns up hits for both essentialia negotii and negotii essentialia, but far more hits for the former. This book has both on the same page, one in the main text and one in a footnote, which nicely illustrate the flexibility of the word order and its uses:

Essentialia fere omnis negotii spectant ad personam contrahentium, ad rem et ad formam (5).

(5) Hoc loco quae ad singula juris negotii essentialia spectant enumerare non possum.


The essentials of almost every contract pertain to the character of those contracting, the matter, and the form (5).

(5) In this place, I am not able to enumerate, down to each each individual point, what the "essentials" of the law of contract pertain to.

In English, in the last sentence, we would make emphasis comparable to that of the Latin by wording it like this: "…what, in contract law, are considered the essentials."

  • negotiorum essentialium de trānsāctiōnum would most probably be wrong then? negotiorum essentialium de trānsāctiōnum. I would translate it as essential things of transactions. In greek we have most cases(4 out of 6) but we use Adjective Noun. In portuguese(&Italian, Spanish, French had to study all of them at some point) we lost declension and kept Noun Adjective. How could we say das(de+as) translating of the? Sep 11, 2019 at 11:40
  • @GeorgeNtoulos Yes, negotiorum essentialium de trānsāctiōnum would be wrong. in Latin is used much more narrowly than in the Romance languages; it does not introduce a genitive (even though de_+noun replaced the genitive in Romance). For Portuguese _das+noun, you just say the (plural) genitive noun, e.g. pila puellarum = "the girls' ball" (a bola das meninas).
    – Ben Kovitz
    Sep 11, 2019 at 12:51
  • @GeorgeNtoulos For "the essentials of transactions", you would say essentialia negōtiōrum. The real legal phrase, though, uses the singular (negōtiī) to refer to a business deal in the abstract. The essentialia are the elements of a single deal without which the law says that no deal really exists, such as a specific price paid and a specific product or service bought. I think Latin prefers the singular for this.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Sep 11, 2019 at 13:20
  • So essentialia negotii is transaction's essentials. How would one say The transaction's essential things, transactions' essential things, essential things of the transaction and essential things of the transactions? Why wouldn't one use the plural since the essential things are needed for all transactions(to each its own, each transaction needs its own essential things but all need their's)? Doesn't latin make use of the definitive article? How is the genitive formulated(is it not optionally accompanied by an article)? Sep 11, 2019 at 20:01
  • 2
    The only rule about the positioning of the Latin adjective is that it should occur in the same sentence as its noun. Indeed, one of the reasons for all those run-on sentences in Latin verse is to be able to put modifiers as far away from their heads as possible!
    – C Monsour
    Sep 12, 2019 at 5:16

To answer the question from the title, after is somewhat more common than before, but both are perfectly acceptable. Most authors choose the order based on what sounds better, or what they want to emphasize. (Putting the adjective first puts more emphasis on it.)

To answer the question from the body, though: syntactically, there are no adjectives in this phrase!

Essentialia here is a "substantive", an adjective used as if it were a noun. (Compare English "the good, the bad, and the ugly": three adjectives treated like nouns.) As you mention, it's in the nominative neuter plural: "essential things".

Negotii is then a genitive of possession: the essential bits of the transaction.

Like with adjectives, genitives in Latin can come before or after the nouns they modify. After is a bit more common, but before isn't incorrect; in this case, it just emphasizes the "of the transaction" more than the "essential things".

  • Since the genitive modifies an adjective used as a noun shouldn't Essentialis be in the genitive? Or shouldn't both be in the nominative? Can the noun be Neuter while the Modifier Masculine? Why not plural? The current situation emphasizes more "of the transaction" or putting negotium after would emphasize "of the transaction" more. In portuguese we would say negócios essenciais (de) since we lost cases.Does negotti modify the 'noun" or does it belong to the transaction(thence the genitive). negotiorum essentialium de trānsāctiōnum. Sep 11, 2019 at 1:56
  • @GeorgeNtoulos Only the possessor uses the genitive case; the thing possessed goes in whatever case it would normally use. Similarly, there's only a single negotium, so it's singular. Making it plural would be "the essential points of the transactions".
    – Draconis
    Sep 11, 2019 at 3:08
  • @GeorgeNtoulos Only when an adjective modifies a noun is there agreement in case, number, and gender (similar to Portuguese). A genitive noun in Latin is like de before the noun in Portuguese. The genitive still modifies the noun, like os fundamentos do negócio in Portuguese.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Sep 11, 2019 at 3:11
  • @Draconis Does the current wording(essentialia negotii) emphasize more "of the transaction" or putting negotium after(negotti essentialia) would emphasize "of the transaction" more? Sep 11, 2019 at 11:33
  • @GeorgeNtoulos Without a full sentence, I don't think one can say which is emphasized more. Here is strong emphasis on negotii: Essentialia huius desunt negotii. This is complex enough that you might want to post a separate question about it.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Sep 11, 2019 at 13:32

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