Are there other ways to organize declensions other than the traditional numerical method? If so, what are the pro and cons of that system as compared to the standard system of the first declension, second declension, etc.

  • 2
    for a historical review see Taylor 1991 Latin declensions and conjugations: from Varro to Priscian persee.fr/doc/hel_0750-8069_1991_num_13_2_2334
    – Alex B.
    May 18, 2021 at 16:06
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    Note that "the traditional numerical method" is anglophone. Studying Latin in Germany, I never heard about "first", "second" etc. declensions, only about a-, o-, consonantal etc. declensions. May 18, 2021 at 19:40
  • @StephanKolassa I don't think it's anglophone. The terms declinatio prima/secunda etc." were used by the ancient Roman grammarians (Varro, Probus, Priscian etc.), and the best German grammars of Latin I have all refer to them as "die lateinischen fünf Deklinationen" e.g. Die lat. 1. oder ā-Deklination etc." (Leumann et al.) or see Kühner and Holzweissig 1912 or Neue and Wagener 1902 - they all use numbers (e.g. die erste, zweite, dritte, vierte, fünfte Deklination or Declination).
    – Alex B.
    May 18, 2021 at 21:05
  • @StephanKolassa That being said, perhaps the numerical terminology is not that common in pedagogical German grammars of Latin?
    – Alex B.
    May 18, 2021 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


It is not an ordering, but it is common in the context of historical linguistics or comparative Indo-European linguistics to categorize nouns by the ending element of the stem:

  • first declension is ā-stem nouns*
  • second declension is o-stem nouns
  • third declension is consonant-stem and i-stem nouns (consonant stems can be divided into t-stems, c-stems etc.)
  • fourth declension is u-stem nouns
  • fifth declension is ē-stem nouns*

*The treatment of length may vary, as there are not really any noun stems that differ solely in terms of length of the stem-final vowel. The first declension stem vowel was historically long, but was shortened in Latin in many contexts, including the nominative singular form.

An example reference that discusses this kind of categorization: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272789273_The_phonological_basis_of_Latin_case_patterns_1

  • This method has the benefit of being more memorable; this label, unlike a number, carries a meaning. But it can be slightly confusing to students that the second declension has O rather than U as the label.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 17, 2021 at 18:10
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    this labelling also has the advantage of being commonly used across Indo-European languages, making similarities in the declension more apparent (although in some branches shifts can lead to the labels being different, e.g. the Germanic equivalents of ā-stems are the ō-stems, and the equivalent of the o-stems are the a-stems)
    – Tristan
    May 18, 2021 at 9:03
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    This is the system used in German schools to name the declensions. I heard of first, second, ... declension, but it is unfamiliar to me. But we never really spoke about what exactly is ment with this names.
    – K-HB
    May 18, 2021 at 13:37
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    @K-HB The German system is still a little different, because it splits the third declension into three different ones: i-Deklination, konsonantische & gemischte Deklination. Someone should write an answer about that ... May 18, 2021 at 17:28
  • 1
    Naming by vowels becomes a little confusing with the Greek names of the first declension. Some of them (Anchises, Circe) have a stem in E but are not of the fifth declension. But there's no reason to bend over backwards to accommodate this into the labeling scheme, given the rarity.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 19, 2021 at 17:40

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