It seems to me that in Latin the case endings in singular and plural have very little in common. For an example of singular–plural pairs: puella–puellae, puellam–puellas, puellae–puellarum, puellae–puellis, puella–puellis.

This is in sharp contrast to Finnish, where there is a plural marker i/j before the case ending in plural, and the endings in the two numbers look very similar. Some example cases of the corresponding Finnish word: tyttöä–tyttöjä, tytölle–tytöille, tyttöön(<tyttöhön)–tyttöihin, tytöksi–tytöiksi.

Are there any similar examples in Latin where the singular and plural endings are pretty similar? Are such similarities or plural markers isolated or found in many places in Latin? I expect that this is a question of etymology, as the endings by the time of classical Latin do not seem to have this feature.

  • 4
    Well, Latin and Finnish are very different typologically (traditionally Finnish is described as an agglutinating language). If I understand you correctly, in Finnish you have what sometimes is known as sequential exponence, i.e. each grammatical meaning is expressed by a different affix, wheres in Latin (like in Russian) cumulative exponence is very common, i.e. one affix may express several grammatical meanings (e.g. -am in rosam is both ACC. and SG.). This criterion is known as formative exponence. wals.info/chapter/21
    – Alex B.
    Feb 3 at 14:05
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    @AlexB. Interesting! The phenomenon is not entirely alien to Latin, as the stacking of affixes around -i- to produce abiturus shows. But it indeed seems to be absent in declension in both Latin and (what little I remember of) Russian. That a typological difference gives a reason to not expect sequential exponence in Latin declension would actually make a nice answer. Even if there is something with a trace of separate number and case markers somewhere, it does not undermine the general argument that it should be rare if even that.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Feb 3 at 14:37

At an earlier stage the connection between singular and plural forms was sometimes clearer, with -s serving as a straightforward plural marker in at least some of the cases. Sound changes and analogical levelling have made that much harder to see, though.

Possibly the clearest view is in the masculine thematic nouns (Latin second declension). Consider e.g. hortus 'garden', from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰórtos (the * indicates these are forms that have been reconstructed based on comparative evidence, not actually attested):

Latin sg. PIE sg. Latin pl. PIE pl.
nom. hort-us *ǵʰórt-o-s hort-ī *ǵʰórt-o-s-s > *ǵʰórtōs
voc. hort-e *ǵʰórt-e-∅ " "
acc. hort-um *ǵʰórt-o-m hort-ōs *ǵʰórt-o-m-s
gen. hort-ī *ǵʰórt-o-si̭o hort-orum *ǵʰórt-o-om > *ǵʰórtōm
dat. hort-ō *ǵʰórt-o-ei̭ hort-īs *ǵʰórt-o-mos
abl. " *ǵʰórt-o-ot > *ǵʰórtōt " "
instr. N/A *ǵʰórt-o-h₁ N/A *ǵʰórt-o-oi̭s > *ǵʰórtōi̭s
loc. N/A *ǵʰórt-o-i̭ N/A *ǵʰórt-o-i̭su

(The PIE forms consist of a stem (*ǵʰórt-) and a termination comprising a thematic vowel (-*o- or -*e-), and an ending (null in the case of the vocative), but in Latin the thematic vowel is not so obvious anymore, so the termination is typically just glommed together and called the ending.)

Not all of these forms are without controversy, but they're not random guesses either; some, like the nom. sg. in -os, the acc. sg. in -om, and the gen. sg. in -osio are even directly attested in Old Latin. It's clear that Classical Latin has undergone a good deal of restructuring, though, innovating new endings (the gen. sg. is a particularly famous one, shared with Celtic) or borrowing them from other cases or paradigms (the dat. and abl. sg. are borrowed from the PIE instrumental case, where the regular loss of the laryngeal *h₁ led to a compensatory lengthening of the thematic vowel; gen. pl. -orum is just the expected -om > -um genitive, except with the last part of a stem from somewhere stuck to the front). The accusative plural -ōs reflects PIE *-oms (with a loss of the *m and compensatory lengthening of the *o), but sound changes have rendered its relationship to the singular less than obvious (it remains only slightly more obvious in the first-declension forms -am/-ās).

But what's also clear is that even in Proto-Indo-European, -s for plural only held up in the nominative and accusative, and even there it was already beginning to fail. Maybe it was more general in an earlier stage of the language, but that's not one we can reach through the comparative evidence.

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