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Some paradigms I have seen give the dative plural of anima as animis.

However, other word lists claim that anima, filia, famula and dea are irregular and that the dative and ablative plural are animabus, filiabus, famulabus, and deabus.

Which is right?

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Both are correct, but there are limited use cases for -abus. The chief form used across all authors for all words ends in -is, as in anima, animis (fem. dat/abl. pl.).

The only two general exceptions are dea and filia, which regularly use the form deabus and filiabus, and were created (Sihler § 265.3.b) to distinguish them from their masculine counterparts of deus and filius. Words like animabus are comparatively rare (and in the example of animabus, are almost wholly confined to a single late Latin author). Famulabus doesn't appear at all; it is always famulis.

Thus Allen and Greenough summarize it thus:

But, except when the two sexes are mentioned together (as in formulas, documents, etc.), the form in -īs is preferred in all but dea and fīlia.

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  • Perhaps comparing this to the business of arcibus/arcubus would be useful?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 15 at 13:42
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Good suggestion. I have to run at the moment, but I'll circle back to it later.
    – cmw
    Sep 15 at 13:48
  • 2
    Just one elaboration; animabus becomes a common though still not predominate form in later Latin. I got over 3,000 hits in the Corpus Corporum database. Sep 15 at 17:41
  • 1
    Re: almost wholly confined to a single late Latin author, it seems to me it escaped its confinement later on in ecclesiastical Latin 😊, where anima is a rather common topic. At least, miserere clementer animabus parentum nostrorum in the responsum is on top of my mind when the issue shows up.
    – Rafael
    Sep 16 at 10:12
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The regular dative and ablative plural for first-declension nouns is -is, but in contexts where it's desirable to stress the gender, the alternative termination -abus can sometimes be used. This only happens when there's a masculine second-declension noun whose dative and ablative plural would be homophonous with the first-declension feminine.
Well-known instances include filiis et filiabus 'sons and daughters' (rather than the unhelpful filiis et filiis) and the fixed expression dis deabusque 'gods and goddesses', but you see it for any feminine form of a word that's typically more common in the masculine and liable to get confused for it, like equa and mula. It's not usually obligatory (except in the case of deabus), but it is more common than Allen & Greenough realised.

Note that it only applies to nouns referring to persons or person-like entities: animabus only ever means 'souls' or 'spirits', not 'breaths'—that would be animis.

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