Another question related to my geography of the Roman Empire which I am writing has arisen: during the time of Trajan, 117 AD, there were several provinces which had names in the plural, especially those which bordered or resided on the Alps, to name a few:

  • Alpēs Maritimae
  • Alpēs Cottiae
  • Alpēs Grāiae et Poenīnae

In my geography itself, I have written several phrases similar to the following, note that the verbs are in the singular number:

Prīma hārum prōvinciārum, Alpēs Maritimae, ut nōmen dīcit, plūrimē montēs continet et lītora prope Ligusticum Mare.

I wrote down the verbs in the singular while writing because it made sense to me; despite the fact that the names themselves are in the plural, they refer to singular things, provinces. However, as pointed out by @JoonasIlmavirta in CONLOQVIVM, this might not be the case.

To sum up: when a name (or noun) has a plural form but refers to a singular thing, should any verb of which the name (or noun) is a subject be in the singular or plural?

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Plural place names should have plural verbs. A very simple case of this is Athenae, -arum (Athens). Here's an illuminating example from Cicero:

in quam cum intueor, maxime mihi occurrunt, Attice, et quasi lucent Athenae tuae, qua in urbe primum se orator extulit primumque etiam monumentis et litteris oratio est coepta mandari. (Cicero, Brutus 7)

Translation:

And when I consider it [i.e. Greece], Atticus, your Athens occurs to me first and is like a light. For in this city the orator first arose, and also oratory first began to be preserved in writing and other memorials.

Shortly afterwards, he also uses the phrase non nascentibus Athenis sed adultis (= "in mature, not developing, Athens").

Two notes, then:

  1. Grammatical agreement is preserved with plural place names.
  2. But, as seen in "qua in urbe" above, you can use a singular noun to refer to the plural antecedent. In this case, you would use a singular verb to agree with the new noun.

And, for kicks, here's a pretty amusing example from Plautus that might have been intended for comical effect:

Salvete, Athenae, quae nutrices Graeciae,
sperata erilis patria, te video libens. (Plautus, Stichus V.ii)

Translation:

Hail (pl.), Athens, who are the nurses (pl.) of Greece,
my master's long-desired homeland (sing.). Gladly I see you (sing.).

What you have written is grammatically correct and there is no conflict. The subject of dicit is nomen and of continet is prima (provincia). Your actual question doesn't cover your example, but your request is perfectly clear.

There are two kinds of plural noun. Some, such as hiberna (winter quarters), moenia (town walls) and tenebrae (darkness) are only ever found in the plural form. The others take on a different meaning in the plural from that in the singular, such as castrum (fort) and castra (camp) ; fortuna (fortune, luck) and fortunae (possessions); sal (salt) and sales (wit).

Although we may translate the plurals into singular [English] nouns,in Latin they always have all the attributes of a Latin plural. Plural-form nouns follow the same iron rule as all others : they must agree with their adjectives in number, gender and case.

Thus, in the first category we may find legio XX in nova hiberna contendit (where legio is the subject of a singular verb), but nova hiberna pro legione XX ponuntur (where hiberna is the subject of the plural verb ponuntur in the passive voice).

And in the second category : in duo castra in ripa ponent (where the plural-form castra is the object, and [they] the singular subject of a verb in the singular) ; but castra in ripa ponentur requires a plural verb, because the subject castra is the subject of a verb in the passive voice.

Just an observation : in poetry we sometimes see the plural of words, that are normally used in the singular, used in the plural with singular meaning : sometimes it is a device to conform to standard metrical form, and sometimes it is purely for poetical effect (as we might say, 'whimsical'). This has its counterpart in English, for example ' the snow that is falling' or 'the snows of yesterday'. But the iron rule on agreement still applies : nix cadit or nives cadunt.

  • 1
    Huh, I hadn't taken the time to look back and realize that I had written Alpēs Maritimae in apposition to prīma [...]. Thanks for pointing that out, and good answer! :) – Ethan Bierlein Sep 18 at 15:48

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