The first mnemonic for Latin case ending I learnt was that for neuter words, the accusative form is always identical to the nominative form. This applies even to exotic word endings like animal or id, and so far I am not aware of any counterexample to this.

This always struck me to be an odd rule. Thus, I am curious:

  • Do we have any idea why this is the case?
  • And related: How strong is this rule? Are there any known exceptions?

Related question on Linguistics SE: Why do neuter nominative and accusative always agree in IE languages?


5 Answers 5


I believe there are no exceptions to this rule. That's what I have always read, and I have never encountered any, neither in Greek nor in Latin, nor even in German.

There is an hypothesis about the cause of this phenomenon. Neuter words were historically limited to inanimate objects or things that cannot act. In a basic sentence, it was rarely or never the neuter thing that acted, and therefore you didn't need case to distinguish between agent and patient/theme (between "acting" and "being acted upon"). So, if you just have a transitive verb and a neuter word, there is only one possibility: the neuter thing is acted upon. With an intransitive verb, there is no object, so it is even less necessary. So semantics make case redundant for neuter words.

This hypothesis is inspired by our knowledge of ergative–absolutive languages, in which the 'subject' of an 'intransitive' verb and the 'object' of a 'transitive' verb take the same case (the absolutive case), as opposed to the 'subject' of a 'transitive' verb (ergative case, from ergon "work, deed, action", related to work). In other words, the primary complement of a verb is the thing that does not act; and only some verbs have a secondary complement, which is a thing that acts.

(This contrasts with nominative–accusative languages, such as the main European languages, in which the subject of an intransitive verb takes the nominative, but the object of a transitive verb takes the accusative case. Our primary complement is the subject, which often acts; and only some verbs have a secondary complement, the direct object.)

Of course this is an hypothesis, so take it with a grain of salt. But it's the only one I've ever heard.

  • 4
    There is a singular exception to the rule that nom. and acc. neuter plurals in Latin end in -a. The relative pronoun qui, quae, quod has quae — but it is NOT an exception to the rule under discussion!
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 16:25
  • 5
    @TomCotton: Ah, good point. And haec. It could be argued that those are contractions of qua and ha with deictic particles -e [i] and -c(ce), which would not be part of the ending. Cf. Greek -i after some forms of houtos.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 17:43
  • @TomCotton Those neuter plurals don't end in -a, yet they still follow the pattern of "nominaccusative neuter plural = nominative feminine singular" of first/second declension. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 13:40

To answer your second question, this rule is completely exceptionless, not only in Latin but in all Indo-European languages (that is, those that have a neuter gender at all).

neuter gender always had identical nominative, accusative and vocative forms in all three numbers

Wiki link

Archaic Syntax in Indo-European

  • 13
    Sources for this statement (which I believe is correct) would be helpful.
    – brianpck
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 19:04
  • 1
    @aper I rejected your edit because it was in conflict with what TKR wrote. Disagreement is allowed and even encouraged, but your opinion should not appear with someone else's name. Please write your answer as a separate answer. That way people can vote and comment on various different answers. Yours looked very interesting, and I have an upvote waiting with your name on it. You can access what you wrote here if you want to copy and paste it to a new one.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 11:16
  • 3
    This is wrong. Hittite is an indo-european language for which the rule of neuters doesn't hold: the nominative of a neuter noun for a transitive verb is different from the accusative. The source given 'Archaic Syntax in Indo-European' by Brigitte Bauer refers to proto-indo-european, not to its derivatives, latin, russian, hittite, etc
    – aper
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 7:32

For the sake of completeness, it seems worth noting that there's one odd exception.

The gerund is a noun derived from a verb, representing an action (for example, volāndum "flying"). For the most part it acts as a regular second-declension neuter.

However, the gerund lacks a regular nominative, and instead uses the regular present active infinitive of the verb (volāre, "to fly").

So in this one particular case, volāre is nominative, and volāndum accusative.

  • 5
    To be more precise, I would add that also volare can be the accusative. It depends on whether a preposition is used. This answer relies on the combination of infinitive and gerund being treated as a single noun, which it kind of semantically is. From another perspective, one could argue it isn't. Either way, this is a very worthwhile remark.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 3:28

This rule applies to Russian, Germanic languages, Latin and ancient Greek as far as I know. So I suspect that it's a feature of the proto-IE language.

  • Welcome to the site! This is indeed a reasonable thing to suspect. Do you happen to know of any sources that give more details on this?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 4:40

Feels a little cheap as an answer here, but the auto-generated Related Links suggests to me the excellent Was “Pascha” ever used as a neuter first-declension noun? which provides a possible example of an exception here. Absolutely none of this answer is original research, I am merely reporting what I see in that question and its answers.

Notably, the question notes the issue of neuter nominative/accusative agreement, and quotes Richard Haynes as citing Pascha as possibly the only exception to this rule. The querent, on the other hand, seems to feel the existence of Pascham instead suggests that the word is actually feminine and not neuter in the first place.

As Pascha means “Passover,” it is of course Ecclesiastic Latin and not Classical Latin. The question there goes into a lot of detail about its history and etymology, and the word seems to simultaneously exist as a 1st-declension neuter word, a 1st-declension feminine word, and a 3rd-declension neuter word (Pascha, Paschatis).

The answers to that question provide a number of examples showing its use as a first-declension neuter word, in agreement with neuter adjectives (e.g. sancti Paschae in the genitive). It also includes examples of the Pascham accusative form being used—but in agreement with feminine adjectives (e.g. totam Pascham). None of the examples show Pascham being in agreement with a neuter adjective in the accusative.

Finally, at least one source (in the question) states that the accusative form of Pascha is, in fact, Pascha, despite otherwise describing first-declension inflection. This would, of course, be an excellent example in the reverse—even in this exceptional case of a first-declension neuter noun, at least some authors still felt the need to maintain this rule over the need to maintain the usual declension of first-declension nouns, and so an otherwise-unused “first-declension neuter” inflection was invented.

Since none of the examples there show Pascham being used as a clearly-neuter word, however, additional research on this topic would be appropriate. Unfortunately, I’m completely unequipped to do so.

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