There are a couple of masculine (or common) nouns of the first declension. Some are from masculine Greek -ês, like poeta, nauta. But others, like collega, advena, parricida, scriba, incola, agricola, indigena, conviva, auriga, assecla/assecula are natively Latin. What is the origin of this native -a? And can the same root be observed in other endings / forms? Judging by parricida, there might be a conexion with masculine -as. But is that also the case with other words?

Lewis & Short:

parrĭcīda (pārĭcīda; old collat. form of the nom. sing. PARICIDAS, Fragm. XII. Tab. ap. Fest. s. v. parrici, p. 221 Müll.)

Another interesting word is *druida, "druid", which, however, seems to be of Celtic origin. It does show that the Romans were quite used to masculine words of the first declension.

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    The native Latin -a seems to come from verbs: -cida < caedere, collega < colligere, advena < advenire, traha < trahere, and so on. The Greek poeta has a verb behind it, but nauta doesn't seem to.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 20:38
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    @JoonasIlmavirta♦: Perhaps so. But the verbal stem on -i- does not appear to be present in advena, so at least it isn't a direct derivation from he ordinary verb. // The Greek words are, I think, unrelated: it is clear where that -a came from.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 21:23
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    The derivative -a might not take the present stem as such. The i is only in the present stem of advenire. I agree that the Greek words are unrelated; the origins of the two examples are clear enough and quite different from the Latin examples.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 21:26
  • @JoonasIlmavirta♦: True! If they're old formations, they need not be derived from existing temporal/supine stems. As to traha, that one's feminine, isn't it?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 1:27
  • Yes, it's feminine. It's also the only one on my list that doesn't mean a person. Perhaps they were originally all feminine or the non-humans became feminine by analogy to the first declension.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 6:42

1 Answer 1


It is generally believed is that

"The Italic "1st declension" continues PIE feminine formations ("ā-stems") built with an invariable suffix *-eh2(-)" (Vine 2017: 755)

cf. Beekes 2011 proposal of an ablauting suffix *eh2(-) ~ *-h2(-)).

Weiss notes that

"Masculine nouns of the first declension that we find in Latin are largely personalizations of feminine abstracts" (p. 228),

cf. Klingenschmitt 1992 ("Die lateinische Nominalflexion" in O. Pangal and Th. Krisch (eds.), Latein und Indogermanisch: Akten des Kolloquiums der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Salzburg 23. - 26. September 1986. Innsbruck, 1992):

"Das Vorhandensein maskuliner ā-Stämme stellt eine nach grundsprachliche Neuerung dar. Die maskulinen ā-Stämme sind, soweit es sich um einheimische Elemente handelt, durch metonymischen Gebrauch ursprünglicher Feminina sekundär entstanden. So sind etwa * skrīfā- 'das Schreiben' oder alte Determinativkomposita wie * agro-kwolā- 'Feldbau' zur Bezeichnung der die betreffende Tätigkeit ausübenden Person verwendet worden, was dann eine Maskulinisierung dieser Wörter nach sich zog (lat. scrība m. 'Schreiber', agricola m. 'Bauer')" (p. 89).

Clackson adds that such nouns are mostly compound (Clackson 2011: 106), cf. advena, agricola, conviva, incola, or indigena. The only simplex native masculine noun is scriba. [will rewrite this section later, based on the discussion in Leumann 1977; this is more complicated than it seems]

Ernout 1952/2014 calls them formes archaïques (p. 12).

Leumann explains it with Greek influence, cf. "muss man die ersten lat. mask. Komposita auf -a als Nachbildung griechischer Muster auffasen" (p. 281). For collega, he proposes an ad-hoc explanation (*lega, from legatus)

Some other cases:

  1. Greek loans: nauta, poeta;
  2. Etruscan names: Caecina, Perpenna (Perperna), Sisenna, Spurinna (Leumann 1977: 279);
  3. loans of uncertain origin: verna 'house-slave;'
  4. Etruscan loans: cacula 'servant', sculna 'arbitrator', verpa 'male member' (Baldi 1999: 317).
  • In addition to scriba, there is traha. It's not a person, but I thought it's morphologically the same.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 14:47
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    @JoonasIlmavirta my dictionary (Castiglioni) says traha is feminine.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 4:07
  • Highly useful comparison of references! Would Catilina also be Etruscan? I think so? // I also wonder about the conexion with -as as mentioned in L&S: pārĭcīda; old collat. form of the nom. sing. PARICIDAS, Fragm. XII. Tab. ap. Fest. s. v. parrici, p. 221 Müll. (added to my updated question above).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 1:14

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