As TKR mentions, third-declension nouns in Latin have stems ending with a consonant (*). Off the top of my head, I can think of stems ending in various different consonants: rex, for example, has a G in its stem (reg-em), while dux has a C (duc-em).

How many different consonants can appear in these stems? This question was inspired by this one, which is looking for neuter M-stems in particular.

(*) I'm ignoring the I-stems here, since they're not relevant to the question.


The definition of "I-stems" is relevant

Although the question said to ignore i-stems, I think it's actually necessary to discuss them, because many Latin nouns of the third declension have a mix of i-stem and consonant-stem forms (to the extent that the division of nouns into these two categories is fairly problematic). And i-stem nouns, as the name implies, can be thought of as having a stem ending in I, which is not a consonant. So to answer this question, it's necessary to resolve the issue of which nouns should be thought of as having stems ending in I.

  • I-stems and consonant-stems always take the same endings in the dative singular (), dative/ablative plural (-ibus), and nominative masculine/feminine plural (-ēs), so those forms can't be used to distinguish i-stem nouns from consonant-stem nouns.

  • Accusative singular -em and ablative singular -e forms are so commonly found with nouns that are otherwise i-stems that I think that these endings are not considered to be unique to consonant-stem nouns in the Classical Latin time period. But it seems consonant-stem nouns never take -im in the accusative singular.

  • Because of the somewhat complicated formation of Latin nominative singular forms in the third declension, it can be difficult to analyze the nominative singular form in terms of a root + suffix. We can often figure out the origin of the form from comparative linguistics or internal reconstruction, but the etymological analysis may not always be the one that makes the most sense from a synchronic perspective.

  • A fair amount of third-declension nouns take the i-stem ending -ium in the genitive plural. My understanding is that the presence of -ium in the genitive plural is enough to categorize a noun as being (at least partially) an i-stem.

In this post, I will take the most conservative interpretation of your question and only include nouns that have attested -C-um genitive plural forms. (Or when those are exceptionally difficult to find, I may resort to a neuter nominative/accusative plural in -a as an example of a form that is clearly built on a consonant stem.)

Most consonants can occur at the end of a noun stem

A noun stem can end in almost any consonant. It's easier to list the consonants that don't appear at the end of noun stems.

No noun stem ends in /j/ or /h/, and it seems doubtful that any could

I would say the clearest absolute gaps that I know of are /j/ (consonantal I) and /h/ (H): I'm pretty certain that no native Latin noun stem ends in either of these consonants, and I think it's also unlikely that stems ending in these consonants would show up in any pre-modern word of foreign origin. Both of these sounds have particularly restricted distributions in Classical Latin.

  • J: In Latin, /j/ is mostly restricted to two positions: word-initially (also in prefixed or compound words built from a word starting with /j/), or as part of an intervocalic geminate /j.j/.

    Traditionally, "ae" and "oe" are analyzed as diphthongs, but even if you analyze them as VC sequences /aj/, oj/, I don't know of any noun with a stem ending in "ae" or "oe". Ancient Greek seems to have some nouns with stems that (from an etymological perspective at least) end in -οι- (Wikipedia gives the example ἠχώ), but the /j/ is lost through contraction in all forms except for the vocative singular, so it seems impossible for Greek to be a source of Latin nouns with stems ending in /j/.

  • H: In Latin, /h/ is rare outside of morpheme-initial position. H doesn't act like a consonant for the purposes of certain phonological rules: in V̆ChV sequences (between words or produced by combining a prefix ending in V̆C with a base starting with hV) the first syllable scans as short (as in V̆CV sequences), and in VhV sequences the first vowel is regularly short (as in VV sequences) and there is sometimes the possibility of contraction to one syllable.

    Although there are some Latin words with non-morpheme-initial intervocalic H, like veho, there doesn't seem to be any native Latin noun stem ending in H. As far as I know, Greek also has no stems ending in /h/. ("Interaspiration" in Greek seems to only be attested in the word ταὧς, and possibly in compounds/prefixed words.)

No commonly encountered noun stem ends in Z or F. This seems to be a predictable result of historical processes, but not necessarily an active restriction

There are clearly no noun stems ending in Z or F in native Latin vocabulary, but there do seem to be very marginal examples of stems ending in these sounds in words of foreign origin (see the section below on "Stems ending in unusual consonants").

  • Z is absent in general from native Latin words (as Joonas mentioned), so the Z gap is not really something specific to stem-final position.

  • F in native Latin words is almost completely confined to the start of morphemes as the result of certain historical sound changes, so the gap in F at the end of noun stems can also be seen as just a specific case of a more general pattern to the distribution of this consonant sound. The existence of morpheme-medial F in non-native Latin words like rūfus and būfō shows that this pattern doesn't represent any absolute synchronic constraint that was active in Classical Latin.

Now, it could be argued that Latin wouldn't tolerate Z or F in word-final position or pre-consonantal position as easily as it tolerated them in intervocalic position. But if there was a phonological restriction like that, it would only be relevant to the nominative singular form of third-declension words. Although the historically expected nominative singular suffixes for the third declension are -s and -#, some Classical Latin nouns that otherwise declined as consonant-stems had a nominative singular form ending in -is or -ēs. A Z- or F-stem noun that took one of these nominative singular endings would not violate any phonological rule against word-final or pre-consonantal Z or F.

No noun stem ends in a consonant spelled with the letter K or Q, but these letters don't really correspond to distinct consonant sounds of their own

I agree with Joonas that the letter K seems to never be used to spell a stem-final consonant, but I wouldn't consider this to be a true gap, as K was just a variant spelling for the /k/ sound that was usually represented by the letter C. I also agree with Joonas about the lack of stems ending in Q(V), but that only counts as a gap if you analyze QV as a consonant of its own (/kʷ/) rather than as a replacement spelling for a CV (/kw/) cluster.

Examples for the rest of the consonant sounds

The examples for C, D, G, L, M, N, R, T, V in Joonas's answer all work.

  • P: in the genitive plural, apis can take either the consonant-stem form apum or the i-stem form apium. The form apum, which is clearly built on a stem ending in P, does seem to be more common (Zumpt 1836, p. 28). Another example would be *ops, which forms opum.

  • B: plēbs takes the i-stem form plēbium. There are certainly many nouns that take -bem in the accusative singular and -be in the ablative singular; I had some trouble finding a third-declension noun with a genitive plural form ending in -bum, but I think Arabs (from Greek Ἄραψ) may count as an example, since it seems to have as its genitive plural the form Arabum.

  • S: For S, it's hard to find a good example because original s-stem nouns generally turned into r-stems in Classical Latin because of rhotacism. Despite having ossium as the usual genitive plural form, os does clearly show a consonant-stem form in the nominative/accusative plural ossa, so it's not a bad example.

  • X: I don't know of any pure consonant-stem third-declension nouns with a stem ending in X. That said, X is just a replacement spelling for CS or GS, so I wouldn't necessarily treat X as a distinct consonant: it's a cluster ending in S.

  • H: As I mentioned above, I would say that Latin has no H-stem nouns. If we distinguish PH, CH, and TH from P, C and T, I would consider each to be a single consonant of its own that does not contain the consonant phoneme H. PH-, CH- or TH-stem nouns would probably only be possible as loans from Greek: see below for possible examples.

Stems ending in unusual consonants (mostly from Greek):

  • Aspirated plosives:

    • PH: Gryps, from Greek γρύψ, might count as a PH-stem. I don't think the genitive plural form can be used as a criterion because it's not clear what it is: Zumpt 1836 says that the genitive plural of gryps "does not occur" (p. 29).

    • CH: sardonyx, from Greek σαρδόνυξ, seems to decline as a CH-stem.

    • TH: Tiryns, Tirynthis, from Greek Τίρυνς, seems to decline as a TH-stem (Zumpt 1836, p. 21). Since it is a proper noun, I don't think any attested genitive plural form exists.

  • F: If you include Ecclesiastical Latin, than the word scinifes/cinifes might count, as it apparently has a genitive plural form (s)cinifum. A variant spelling with ph also seems to exist.

  • Z: If you include proper nouns and don't worry about the issue of i-stems vs. consonant-stems, the name Gōtarzēs (from Greek Γωτάρζης) would probably count. It seems that in Latin, it has a third-declension genitive form Gōtarzis that could be seen as being built on the stem Gōtarz-. (I asked a separate question about the declension of masculine nouns like this from Greek nouns ending in -ης.)

Works cited

Zumpt, C.G. 1836. Grammar of the Latin Language.


Here are some examples of different stem-final consonants:

  • B: plēbs, plēb-
  • C: dux, duc-
  • D: lapis, lapid-
  • G: rēx, rēg-
  • H: Iphis, Iph-
  • L: sōl, sōl-
  • M: hiems, hiem-
  • N: nōmen, nōmin-
  • P: apis, ap-
  • R: ōs, ōr-
  • S: os, oss-
  • T: mīles, mīlit-
  • V: Iuppiter, Iov-
  • X: axis, ax-

I found nothing with F. I am not aware of any third declension nouns whose stem ends in a consonantal J. It can be argued that the stem of Gaius ends so, but examples like this seem to be in the first two declensions. K is too rare a letter. Q does not appear without U, and I am not aware of any third declension nouns with a stem ending in QU. Z is not a very Latin letter. All other letters are covered in the list above.

  • @sumelic At least hiems is a clear case, so I have no objection to it. But out of curiosity, what makes you say vermis is an i-stem? Only because of the plural genitive -ium? The morphology seems to be equal to pellis. (From a practical usage point of view, I would see the stems as verm- and pell-, but this includes no claim of etymology.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 1 at 7:46
  • @sumelic I see. I think we should wait for Draconis to weigh in on how to count i-stems in this question. To be honest, I don't think plural genitive -ium is enough to classify something as i-stem, as I wouldn't say that pars has the stem parti- (I couldn't explain the nominative). I was taught rules to decide whether the plural genitive is -ium or -um. But I do recognize that my way of thinking is not the only way, and probably not the most historically accurate one. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 1 at 8:18
  • It does seem to be the case that from a historical standpoint, pars comes from sycope of partis. But I wouldn't object to classifying nominative singular pars as a consonant-stem form from a synchronic perspective. With vermis, the nominative in -is also looked like a distinctively "i-stem" form to me, but I'm not sure how accurate my impression was. There's the famous "parisyllabic" rule according to which vermis "should" be an i-stem, but I don't know how well regarded that rule is today. – sumelic Mar 1 at 8:25

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