The Latin word cētus (a whale or some other major sea creature) behaves peculiarly. In singular it is a normal-looking masculine cētus, but in plural it is a neuter cētē. The original Greek word is neuter in both numbers (κῆτος, κήτη). This word came up in the search for neuter animals in Latin.

How is the word cētus declined? If it was reanalyzed as a second declension masculine in Latin, I can guess how the singular endings look like. But how about plural? The ending is highly irregular for a plural neuter in Latin. (The only other one I can think of is pelagē.) The accusative is certainly like the nominative, and dative and ablative should be identical. The question boils down to two forms: What are the plural genitive and plural dative/ablative forms of cētus?

Going by the Latin second declension, cētōrum and cētīs sound likely. But the Greek word seems to correspond better to the Latin third declension, so cēt(i)um and cētibus would make sense, too. Greek style plural endings besides nominative and accusative seem very rare in Latin, but perhaps that could be possible, too.

If the forms are unattested, what should they be by reasonable analogy? Whether or not perfectly justified classically, I would much like to be able to use all forms of the word.

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    A. Be polite but not overly apologetic in doing so.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


The attested nom. sing. is either the Latinised cetus m., or the borrowed cetos n. In the plural only the borrowed cete n., nom./acc. is attested, but by analogy one would expect gen. *ceton and dat. *cetesi. Which does leave us at a loss for the ablative.

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    Need I add that en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cetus , true to the principle that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, does not hesitate to invent a full plural paradigm ceti, cetorum, cetis, etc. All fake.
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 12:19
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    well, while the OLD entry confirms this, but take a look at some interesting data in the TLL entry publikationen.badw.de/en/thesaurus/lemmata#24838
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 14:41
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    @AlexB. Thank you for the information. It appears that ceti, cetorum, cetis, cetibus and acc. pl. cetos can be found here and there in post-classical (mainly Christian) authors.
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 16:18
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    as to be expected from post-classical authors. But in Classical Latin the paradigm was very defective - you're absolutely correct.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 17:35
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    @tony yes, I see your point now. Loanwords that haven't been fully assimilated do indeed quite often have irregular or incomplete paradigms.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 16:19

Slightly idle nonsense on my part but κῆτος behaves exactly like an s-stem like γένος, with an oblique stem kētes-, so if I were a moderately clever/insufferable Roman I'd decline it analogously:

sg. pl.
nom./voc./acc. cētus cētera
gen. cēteris cēterum
dat. cēterī cēteribus
abl. cētere cēteribus

(This obviously risks confusion with the actual word ceterum in some cases.)

While this obviously didn't happen, Roman grammarians were sufficiently astute to notice the connection between γένος and genus even if they didn't fully understand it, so in principle it could have.

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    "I think that the Carthage of the whales should be destroyed."
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 15:35

My copy of Stelten's Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin gives cetion for the genitive plural. Nothing about the ablative, or even dative, though.

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