I want to say "My favorite animal is..." and then give the animal. But "animal" is neuter, so I'll end up with a predicate nominative that doesn't agree in gender with the subject! "Meum dilectum animal est avis". Is this possible? What's the solution?


The gender of a predicate noun can differ from the gender of the subject

There is no problem with a predicate noun having a different gender from the subject. Predicate adjectives are grammatically required to agree with the subject in gender and number, but predicate nouns are not required to agree in either of these categories.

In some cases, a noun of a certain gender might be inappropriate as a predicate with a certain subject for reasons other than gender agreement. Some nouns have meanings that are specialized to male or female beings, and in that case, you should use the appropriate noun. For example dea is a noun (grammatically feminine) with the meaning "goddess", while deus is a noun (grammatically masculine) with the meaning "god". Just as it would be false or a mistake to say "Mars is the goddess of war" in English, it would be false or a mistake to say "Mars est dea belli" in Latin. But this is a mistake of word usage, not of grammatical gender agreement.

Other nouns such as animal can refer to male or female beings, but only have one grammatical gender (in this case, neuter). Nouns like this can be used freely as a subject or predicate with another noun of a different grammatical gender. For example, "Homo est animal bipes rationale" is a grammatically correct Latin sentence that gives a well-known proposed definition of the word homo, a grammatically masculine noun meaning "human" or "man" (not "man" as opposed to "woman", but "man" as opposed to "god" or "beast", so not exclusively male in meaning).

Your sentence: "Meum dilectum animal est avis"

Based on the above, I feel confident that "Meum dilectum animal est avis" has no errors of agreement. You have put the attributive adjectives meum and dilectum in the nominative neuter singular, agreeing in case, gender and number with their associated noun animal, and the predicative noun avis in the nominative singular, agreeing in case (but not in gender or number) with the subject.

I don't know enough Latin to be able to tell you whether your sentence is an idiomatic way to say what your favorite animal is. I think it would be worthwhile to post another question about how best to express the idea "My favorite ... is..." in Latin.

  • It may be noted that regarding this aspect of grammar, modern languages do not differ from what is described here. E.g., in German "Mein Vater ist eine Koryphäe auf seinem Gebiet" or "Meine kleine Schwester ist ein Satansbraten" – Hagen von Eitzen May 24 '20 at 14:47

As Asteroides points out, a predicative noun can freely differ in gender and your suggestion is correct. I want to add that it goes in fact further: in (very) rare cases a predicative adjective can have different gender too.

In the Aeneid (4.569–570) you can find the expression varium et mutabile semper femina. It is a complete sentence with an implicit est. The typical way to say that a woman is changing and fickle, you would say varia et mutabilis est femina with feminine adjectives. With the neuter the adjectives can be thought to be substantivized so that it means "woman is a changing and fickle thing".

  • That's really a case of the adjectives being in agreement with an omitted predicate noun. This isn't a "rare case", just an application of the rule that the nouns needn't agree with each other and the rules about omitting nouns. – C Monsour May 25 '20 at 12:51
  • @CMonsour I don't actually think there is an omitted noun here. I think this is just a neuter adjective standing on its own as "a fickle thing". Of course in cases like this supplying an omitted noun is a possible reading, but no noun jumps to me here. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 25 '20 at 12:54
  • I guess I should have said "omitted substantive". I didn't have a specific noun in mind. We're describing the same phenomenon in different ways. – C Monsour May 25 '20 at 14:09
  • @CMonsour: I don't feel that there was such a strict distinction between adjectives and substantives in Latin, nor in Greek. – Cerberus May 27 '20 at 13:22
  • @Cerberus Good point. I think I should probably reexpress my point. The function of varium and mutabile in the sentence Joonas gives is as predicate nouns. In some other situations the non-agreeing adjectives may be functioning as ordinary adjectives modifying an omitted predicate noun. But the non-agreeing adjectives are never functioning as predicate adjectives as in that case they would agree with the subject. – C Monsour May 29 '20 at 10:56

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