12

I would like to know what are the rules to form the plural of a noun plus a noun in possessive case. I am not sure if this is a correct description of what I am interested in let me give an example.

Say, I have the head of a horse, that is "caput equi." What would the plural be? Is it "capita equorum" [both in plural] or "capita equi" [only the nominative in plural] (or still something else)?

I chose the example as it is relatively clear that the idea is one head goes to one horse and there is no head with multiple horses attached or a horse with multiple heads.

I do not care for the particular words, but I wonder if it might depend on whether it is an ad hoc combination or a common combination (like, for example, curriculum vitae)?

Indeed, the motivation for this question derives from a side-discussion on a question related to curriculum vitae on another site, but I would like this question to be focused on the general rules.

  • 2
    I'm no expert, so not offering this as an answer, but think they would have to agree in number. Eg, servi dominorum would mean more than one master and more than one slave, whilst servi domini would be the slave's of one master. Conversely, servus dominorum would mean many masters owned one slave. But I'm quite prepared to be proved wrong! – TheHonRose Sep 22 '16 at 17:32
7

Since you mention "curriculum vitae", I assume you're focusing on metaphorical rather than physical uses, and on a name for something (rather than using it in a sentence)?

When talking about ideas rather than physical objects, it's not uncommon to put the possession in the singular and the possessor in the plural.

Consider:

  • Suetonius' De Vitā Caesārum "on the Life (sg) of the Caesars (pl)"
  • Lucretius' De Rērum Naturā "on the Nature (sg) of Things (pl)"
  • Flaccus' De Verbōrum Significātū "on the Meaning (sg) of Words (pl)"

For actual physical objects, it's more like in English: use the actual number of possessions, and the actual number of possessors.

  • filius senatoris is "the senator's son", one son, one senator
  • filii senatoris is "the senator's sons", multiple sons, one senator
  • #filius senatorum is "#the senators' son", one son, multiple senators (somehow)
  • filii senatorum is "the senators' sons", multiple sons, multiple senators
  • 1
    How do you think this applies to physical objects, like caput equi? I'm inclined to say capita equorum, and I'm pretty sure caput equorum would sound strange to a Latin speaker, so perhaps you could incorporate that into your answer. – brianpck Sep 24 '16 at 18:17
  • 1
    @brianpck Actually, it's an unusual feature of Latin idiom that singular for plural isn't unheard of. Gildersleeve notes it in 204 n. 8, but I seem to recall things like "the soldiers lost their life." I encountered it not infrequently in the Aeneid, and I believe in Caesar as well, whereupon it stopped standing out. – C. M. Weimer Sep 25 '16 at 17:01
  • Thanks for the answer. I upvoted it right away, but did not notice until now the latter addition. – quid Sep 28 '16 at 21:51

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.