I read that vicis has no singular nominative, but it does have a plural one - vices. I find this very interesting, but hard to understand. It is like if the ontological configuration of space-time does not allow for such case-number to exist. Why would a case exist only in plural but not in singular? So you can only name it as an object in plural? Very odd.

I am trying to understand why such mode-person does not exist. Maybe someone can give me an example in English or Spanish?

I see that vicis derived into the Spanish vez. But vez has a nominative in both singular and plural, as far as I understand: la vez que nos vimos, or las veces que comimos.

Thus, could someone help me make sense how is it that universe forbids the nominative-singular of vicis to exist?

(Related but unhelpful question here)

  • Conversely, it does have a singular genitive, but not a plural one? It should be possible to reconstruct the missing cases by looking at nouns that follow a similar pattern. I think the absence simply means that they do not appear in any surviving Latin text, and most likely Romans simply did not happen use those case/number combinations. Apr 30, 2022 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


Not sure if this is a satisfactory answer, but given that no one has answered in a few days, I think I can write a few ideas.

The explanation is not ontological at all.

If you ask how that came to happen, I do not know the answer. Possibly it is out there, and someone else can give it to us, but probably it is lost in the fog of time.

If you ask how is it possible, the answer is simpler. As conventional as language is, all languages have rules and (most have) exceptions. Those exceptions may or may not have a logical explanation, but are agreed. They are not agreed in the sense that every one is asked whether they like them, but if you want to communicate effectively, you have to accept them or stick to the consequences.

My point is, irregularities like this (vicis having no nominative) are just idiomatic. Probably Romans didn't feel the need to use the word as the subject of the sentence, and whenever someone tried to use it, it sounded foreign to them. Maybe they had other word(s) to use in that case (which I regret I don't know if it's the case, maybe tempus?, occasio?) or they just went without it and had linguistic workarounds. Either they inherited this custom, or they developed the meaning of vicis as a time complement first, which later acquired its other forms.

I can think of a number of analogies in English and Spanish: There are words in English and Spanish that have either no singular or plural form. There are verbs in Spanish that lack some conjugations. Spanish even has a name for that: verbos defectivos.

  1. English nouns that have no singular form: goods, bowels, guts, cattle.
  2. English nouns that have no plural form: news (source. There you can find a lot more examples).
  3. Spanish nouns with no singular: fauces, creces, and also the adj./pronoun ambos(as)
  4. Spanish nouns with no plural: caos, tez, sed
  5. In a sense, Spanish verbs make better analogues to a Latin noun, because of the number of different forms. A noun having no plural/singular in Spanish lacks half of its forms, but are there verbs missing just one of them? The best example I could find was: balbucir as different from balbucear, which doesn't have a 1st pers. sing. present indicative form, but is (customarily) replaced by that of its twin verb.
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    imho pluralia tantum or singularia tantum is different from a defective partial paradigm lacking nom sg but not gen sg etc. just a thought though.
    – Alex B.
    Jul 24, 2018 at 3:55
  • @AlexB I agree. The issue is that luchonacho asked for examples in English or Spanish, which don't decline nouns. That's why I also included an example with a verb in Spanish
    – Rafael
    Jul 24, 2018 at 3:59
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    I see. So there is nothing ontological that caos has no plural.... or maybe there is! Interesting. Thanks for the examples. That's clear enough. (I think goods does have a singular. In economics we normally think in terms of a good).
    – luchonacho
    Jul 24, 2018 at 7:52
  • I can imagine myself saying "teces" if refering to the skin tone of multiple people, and it feels natural (never checked it in a dictionary and I trust you that it does not have a plural...). Almost the same with "sedes". Apr 30, 2022 at 13:18
  • Also, isn't "gut" as in "my gut feeling" or "gut bacteria" the singular of "guts"? Apr 30, 2022 at 13:19

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