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Learn to Read Latin says on p276 in Section 109. Comparison of Adjectives and Adverbs:

Comparative Degree of Adjectives

All regular first-second and third-declension adjectives in Latin form the comparative degree in the same way. The comparative degree of every adjective in Latin is a third-declension adjective with two forms in the nominative singular. The endings -ior (m./f.), -ius (n.) are added to the stem of the positive degree of the adjective. For example:

Positive degree: pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum

Stem for forming the comparative: pulchr

Comparative degree: pulchrior, pulchrius

Stem of the comparative adjective: pulchrior

For example, the comparative degree of the adjective pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum is declined as follows: ... (A table of the declension of the comparative adjective)

Observations:

  1. The stem of adjectives in the comparative degree is obtained by dropping the ending of the genitive singular. For example: genitive singular = pulchrioris; stem = pulchrior.

Given pulcher, pulchra, and pulchrum, the nominative singular forms of the positive adjective, how is pulchrior, the stem of the comparative adjective, derived?

  • Is it derived from pulchrior and pulchrius, the nominative singular forms of the comparative adjective? (If yes, the book doesn't explain it.)

  • Is it derived from pulchrioris, the genitive singular form of the comparative adjective? If yes, how has the genitive singular form of the comparative adjective been obtained from the nominative singular forms of the positive adjective? (The book doesn't explain it.)

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    Your quote says "The endings -ior (m./f.), -ius (n.) are added to the stem of the positive degree of the adjective." and then proceeds to give an example with pulcher: the positive stem is pulchr and you add ior to get the comparative stem pulchrior. The book might not be perfect but it is doing a better than average job explaining it.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 10 at 17:30
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    It might make it easier to write useful answers to these recent questions if you add more context about why you are interested in formal rules about finding the stems of various words. In the context of acquiring Latin language proficiency, procedures for consciously creating inflected forms by chopping up the forms in a dictionary according to memorized rules are not much more than a stop-gap aid until the learner begins to acquire an intuitive feel for Latin inflection patterns.
    – Asteroides
    Commented May 11 at 3:04
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    If you have some additional or separate goal other than gaining proficiency, it would help to know what that is (are you working on some project that requires a formal treatment of Latin inflection?).
    – Asteroides
    Commented May 11 at 3:06
  • @Asteroides I am a self learner without a goal
    – Tim
    Commented May 11 at 5:33
  • @Tim: Got it, thank you for adding the context!
    – Asteroides
    Commented May 11 at 6:44

2 Answers 2

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Latin teachers typically use the word "stem" to refer to the portion shared in common at the start of all of the 'oblique' inflected forms of a noun or adjective. 'Oblique' in this context means that we ignore nominative singular forms.

Method 1: Take the comparative adjective's genitive singular form and remove -is from the end

The standard rule for finding this oblique stem is to start with the genitive singular form, and remove what Latin teachers regard as the "ending": -ae, -ī, -is, -ūs, or -ēī/-eī, depending on the declension. Actually, you could also find it by removing endings from another oblique form, but using the genitive singular is conventional (most dictionaries don't supply any other oblique form) and convenient because the genitive singular has less variation in endings than other oblique forms.

(How words are divided into stems, suffixes and endings may have different answers depending on if you're a Latin teacher or a historical or theoretical linguist).

This applies equally to nouns, positive adjectives, and comparative adjectives: in all cases, the oblique stem is equivalent to the genitive singular with -ae, -ī, -is, -ūs, or -ēī/-eī removed:

  • amīcus (masculine noun) has the genitive singular amīcī and the stem amīc-
  • pulcher (masculine positive adjective) has the genitive singular pulchrī and the stem pulchr-
  • pulchrior (comparative adjective) has the genitive singular pulchriōris and the stem pulchriōr-

So if you have the genitive singular, you can find the oblique stem per the above process.

Method 2: Take the positive adjective's feminine nominative singular form, remove -a or -is from the end, then add -iōr- OR Take the positive adjective's genitive singular form, remove -is from the end, then add -iōr-

For adjectives other than third declension adjectives "of one ending", dictionaries typically supply two or three nominative singular forms.

In this context, you can find the oblique stem by removing -a or -is from the feminine nominative singular form. As I discussed in response to your previous question, the feminine nominative singular does not in general have a special relationship with the oblique stem of a word; the only reason you use it in this case is because dictionaries conventionally list it, and for adjectives of these types it has a predictable relationship to the stem. You could find the stem equally well by removing the ending from the positive adjective's genitive singular form, if you knew what it was (which is why dictionaries list the genitive singular for adjectives like audāx, audācis).

Once you have the oblique stem of the positive adjective, you add -iōr- to it to form the oblique stem of a regular comparative adjective. Thus, pulchr- + -iōr-, giving us pulchriōr- as the oblique stem of the comparative. Adding -is to this gives us pulchriōris, the genitive singular form of the comparative. The masculine/feminine nominative singular of the comparative differs in vowel length: pulchrior, and the neuter nominative/accusative singular is pulchrius. Latin teachers normally just treat the nominative singular forms of third-declension words as something for learners to memorize in addition to the oblique stem, although nominative singular forms do follow largely predictable patterns.

Regular comparative adjectives always have an oblique stem ending in -iōr-, a masculine/feminine nominative singular form ending in -ior, and a neuter nominative/accusative singular form ending in -ius.

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  • Is the stem of a comparative adjective always its masculine and feminine nominative singular form? –
    – Tim
    Commented May 11 at 10:09
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    @Tim: It depends on whether you pay attention to vowel length. They differ in that the masculine and feminine nominative singular form ends in -or with short /o/ whereas the oblique stem ends in -ōr- with long /oː/.
    – Asteroides
    Commented May 11 at 10:33
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Is it derived from pulchrioris, the genitive singular form of the comparative adjective? If yes, how has the genitive singular form of the comparative adjective been obtained from the nominative singular forms of the positive adjective? (The book doesn't explain it.)

Yes.

For example, the comparative degree of the adjective pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum is declined as follows: ... (A table of the declension of the comparative adjective)

This is the explanation. The table shows how to get the genitive singular from the nominative singular. (Just add -is to the masculine or feminine nominative singular.)

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