Some categories of substantive nouns are always feminine, even when they are of the second declension, such as trees.

What other categories are there? And are there also many exocategorical examples? I don't think e.g. alvus (f.) fits into a category, or does it? Cf. uterus (m.).

  • What do you mean by substantive nouns? I'm most used to "substantive" meaning an adjective used as a noun, e.g. bonum "good thing", but trees aren't in this category.
    – Draconis
    Oct 22 '18 at 18:11
  • 2
    @Draconis: "substantive nouns" goes back to traditional grammar where both what we call nouns and adjectives fall into the category "nouns". To distinguish the subcategories, one used "substantive nouns" (or as I remember it, "nouns substantive") and "adjective nouns" (or "nouns adjective".
    – varro
    Oct 22 '18 at 18:41
  • Arbor, tree, is of Third Declension, not Second.
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 22 '18 at 19:06
  • 4
    @TomCotton: Indeed not, but many trees are.
    – Cerberus
    Oct 22 '18 at 21:07
  • @Cerberus You are quite right! +1
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 22 '18 at 21:24

A summary based on a number of sources (Kühner and Holzweissig 1912, Leumann 1977, Tronskii 1960, Weiss 2009/2011)

  • humus, vannus (always feminine);
  • alvus, colus (these two words alternated between feminine and masculine). Weiss notes that even though alvus is regularly feminine in Classical Latin, examples of masculine gender are found in Old Latin (in suom alvom, Plaut. Pseud. 823);
  • tree and plant names: alnus, cornus, corulus, fagus, laurus, malus, ornus, pirus, populus, quercus, taxus etc. (see Kühner and Holzweissig 1912: 265 for further details);
  • some animal names (could be sometimes used as feminine): agnus, porcus (porco femina, Cato R.R. 134), lupus etc.; cf.

... quamquam Varro in eo libro quo initia Romanae urbis enarrat lupum feminam dicit Ennium Pictoremque Fabium secutus (Quint. 1.6)

  • some Greek loans: periodus, dialectus;
  • names of countries (mostly of Greek origin), cities, and islands (with some exceptions): Aegyptus, Peloponnesus; Corinthus; Cyprus, Delus, Rhodus etc.
  • 1
    Great overview, and great quotation. Kühner is so comprehensive!
    – Cerberus
    Oct 24 '18 at 14:10

Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer gives a list of four nouns of the Second Declension ending in -us, which are: alvus, paunch; colus, distaff; humus, ground; vannus, winnowing-fan.

The same source points out that there are several others from the Greek, including arctus, the Bear constellation; carbasus, linen (but in pl. carbasa, n., sails).

[It may be of interest to note that a further category contains neuter nouns in -us:pelagus, sea; virus, venom; and vulgus, crowd, (which is sometimes feminine). All are used only in the singular.]

  • Postgate's The New Latin Primer, p. 131, lists the same plus balanus (ground, balsam, the bear constellation) and "the names of Trees", is this a precursor to Kennedy's?
    – Rafael
    Oct 24 '18 at 12:39
  • I should have thought of humus! Thanks for the other examples as well, like the Greek ones. A comparison with the neuter -us words might be interesting subject matter for a new Question!
    – Cerberus
    Oct 24 '18 at 14:06
  • 2
    @Rafael Mountford's revision of Kennedy was in 1930, Postgate died at about that time, so I guess that K's first edition is much older. All the Latin dictionaries and primers of the 19th C. tend to have many suspiciously similar entries (and plagiarism is not often acknowledged!). Kennedy has memorial lines on gender in his final appendix, which I had forgotten, and from which I should have quoted.
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 24 '18 at 14:47

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