There are some muscle names in New Latin that seem to be nouns as far as I can tell, such as flexor and extensor. However, according to several Wikipedia articles for these muscles, they behave as if they are attributive nouns with a nominative form. For example, in the name musculus extensor digitorum, the digitorum part seems fine to me because it's in the genitive; but the extensor part seems weird because it just gets tacked on to musculus even though it looks like a nominative form, and from what I've heard you're not supposed to just string nominative forms of nouns together in Latin.

So, are phrases like musculus extensor digitorum grammatically correct in proper New Latin?


3 Answers 3


It's valid even in Classical Latin, in fact!

Generally, it's fine to put two nouns together in the nominative (or, rather, in the same case) when one of them gives the general category of a thing and the other gives the name of a specific instance. For example, Caesar often talks about provincia Gallia, and Cicero uses constructions like C. Gallus senator.

This seems to be the same construction: it's a musculus named the extensor digitorum. In fact, I can't think of any other construction that would be appropriate here: there's no obvious way to derive an adjective from extensor, and the genitive makes one subordinate to the other, which is odd when they're two separate descriptions of the same object.

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    Such actor nouns are common epithets if that counts: e.g. Mars ultor.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 17:59
  • Are you certain that provincia Gallia is similar enough to musculus extensor? To cite a parallel in German, in the phrase Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Deutschland is a nominative form placed after Republik, but Bundes is a genitive form placed before (and the genitive case doesn't denote possession here, just a way to used nouns attributively in German). Maybe it's possible that proper names aren't exactly "attributive", Gallia doesn't exactly "modify" provincia. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 2:03
  • An English parallel would be something like the noun phrase 'noun phrase', in which noun is attributive to phrase and placed before it, but 'noun phrase' is not attributive, but some kind of "name", and is placed after. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 2:06
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    @Vun-HughVaw The key is that both nouns refer to the same entity. The place is both provincia and Gallia. The person is both Gallus and senator. The muscle is both musculus and extensor. (Joonas's example: the god is both Mars and ultor.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 2:21
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    @Vun-HughVaw See Allen and Greenough 282 for more examples. Names seem relevant here, imo, because you're asking about the name of a piece of anatomy.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 2:52

Adding to Cerberus's answer, an "attributive noun" is not the same thing as an appositive noun/apposition. Latin has apposition; it does not have attributive nouns.

An attributive noun would be a noun used like muscle in the English phrase muscle pain, which refers to pain of a type that is associated with muscles. You can't use the nominative form musculus in that way.

The usage in musculus extensor digitorum is different because the extensor digitorum is a muscle, it isn't just something associated with muscle(s).


In addition to Draconis's good examples, for linguistic reference, this is normally called apposition:

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side and so one element identifies the other in a different way. The two elements are said to be in apposition, and one of the elements is called the appositive...

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