Tuesday’s Tips: A Little Latin Lesson

English is such a mongrel language; starting from a Germanic root, we’ve added on words from nearly every branch on the language tree. These additions can be confusing for English speakers, native or not. Some of the earliest adoptions into English are Latin words, usually used within the fields of science, law, and academia.

Latin, like its descendant languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese), assigns all nouns a masculine or feminine gender (or sometimes, neuter, but that’s not important here). Let’s use the Latin word for “graduate” as an example:

  • A single male graduate is an alumnus. A single female graduate is an alumna.
  • Several male (or mixed-gender) graduates are alumni. Several female graduates are alumnae.

So, other masculine Latin words and their plurals are:

  • One syllabus, several syllabi
  • One cactus, several cacti
  • One focus, several foci

Other feminine Latin words with their plurals:

  • One antenna, several antennae
  • One vertebra, several vertebrae
  • One labia, two labiae

Tune in next week for help with Greek words and their plurals.


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