In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number (at least singular and plural), case (nominative or subjective, genitive or possessive, etc.), and gender. A declension is also a group of nouns that follow a particular pattern of inflection.

Declension occurs in many of the world's languages, and features very prominently in many European languages. Old English was a highly inflected language, as befitting its Indo-European and especially its Germanic linguistic ancestry, but its declensions greatly simplified as it evolved into Modern English.


Modern English

In Modern English, nouns have distinct singular and plural forms; that is, they decline to reflect their grammatical number. (Consider the difference between book and books.) In addition, a small number of English pronouns have distinct nominative and objective forms; that is, they decline to reflect their relationship to a verb or preposition. (Consider the difference between he (nominative) and him (dative or accusative), as in "He saw it" and "It saw him".) Further, these pronouns and a few others have distinct possessive forms, such as his. By contrast, nouns have no distinct nominative and objective forms, the two being merged into a single plain case. For example, chair does not change form between "the chair is here" (subject) and "I saw the chair" (direct object). Possession is shown by the clitic -'s attached to a possessive noun phrase, rather than by declension of the noun itself.

Gender is at best only weakly grammaticalized in Modern English. While masculine, feminine, and neuter genders are recognized, nouns do not normally decline for gender, though some nouns, especially Latin words and personal names, exist in multiple forms corresponding to different genders: Alumnus (male, singular)/Alumna (female, singular); Andrew/Andrea, Paul/Paula, etc. Suffixes such as -ess, -ette, and -er can also derive overtly gendered versions of nouns, with marking for feminine being much more common than marking for masculine. Many nouns can actually function as members of two genders or even all three, and the gender classes of English nouns are usually determined by their agreement with pronouns, rather than marking on the nouns themselves.

Adjectives are rarely declined for any purpose. They can be declined for number when they are used as substitutes for nouns (as in, "I'll take the reds", meaning "I'll take the red ones" or as shorthand for "I'll take the red wines", for example). Some adjectives borrowed from other languages are, or can be, declined for gender, at least in writing: blond (male) and blonde (female) or a bonie lad as compared to a bonnie lass. Adjectives are not declined for case in Modern English, though they were in Old English.

The article is never regarded as declined in Modern English, although technically the words this and that, and their plural forms these and those, are modern forms of the as it was declined in Old English. Certain non-standard regional and economic class-associated dialects do decline the article, either in regular speech or in slang - as in expressions such as "How do you like them apples?" and "Oh, them are nice!" (instead of "those").


An example of a Latin noun declension is given below, using the singular forms of the word homo (man), which belongs to Latin's third declension.

  • homo (nominative) "[the] man" [as a subject] (e.g., homo ibi stat the man is standing there)
  • hominis (genitive) "of [the] man" [as a possessor] (e.g., nomen hominis est Claudius the man's name is Claudius)
  • hominī (dative) "to [the] man" [as an indirect object] (e.g., homini donum dedi I gave a present to the man; homo homini lupus est Man is a wolf to man.)
  • hominem (accusative) "[the] man" [as a direct object] (e.g., ad hominem toward the man, in the sense of argument directed personally; hominem vidi I saw the man)
  • homine (ablative) "[the] man" [in various uses not covered by the above] (e.g., sum altior homine I am taller than the man).

There are two further noun cases in Latin, the vocative and the locative. The vocative case indicates that a person or thing is being addressed (e.g., O Tite, cur ancillam pugnas? O Titus, why do you fight the slave girl?). Though widely used, it differs in form from the nominative only in the masculine singular of the second declension (that is, never in the plural, never in the feminine or neuter, and never in any declension other than the second). The locative case is rare in Latin.


Sanskrit has eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, locative and instrumental.[1] Some count vocative not as a separate case, despite it having a distinctive ending in the singular, but consider it as a different use of the nominative.[2]

Sanskrit grammatical case was analyzed extensively. The grammarian Pāṇini identified six semantic roles or karaka, which are related to the eight grammatical cases, but not in a one-to-one way.[clarification needed][Need quotation to verify] The six karaka are:[3]

  • agent (kartri, related to the nominative)
  • patient (karman, related to the accusative)
  • means (karaṇa, related to the instrumental)
  • recipient (sampradāna, related to the dative)
  • source (apādāna, related to the ablative)
  • locus (adhikaraṇa, related to the locative)

For example, consider the following sentence:

vrikśh[at] parṇ[am] bhūm[au] patati
[from] the tree a leaf [to] the ground falls
"a leaf falls from the tree to the ground"

Here leaf is the agent, tree is the source, and ground is the locus, the corresponding declensions are reflected in the morphemes -am -at and -au respectively.

See also

Declension in specific languages

Latin and Greek

  • First declension
  • Second declension
  • Third declension

Related topics


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • declension — index curtailment, decrease, decrement, degradation, deterioration, rejection, relapse Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Bur …   Law dictionary

  • declension — mid 15c., ultimately from L. declinationem (nom. declinatio), noun of action from pp. stem of declinare (see DECLINE (Cf. decline)); perhaps via French; the form is irregular, and its history obscure [OED] …   Etymology dictionary

  • declension — decline, decadence, *deterioration, degeneration, devolution Analogous words: decaying or decay, disintegration, crumbling (see corresponding verbs at DECAY): retrogressiveness or retrogression, regressiveness or regression (see corresponding… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • declension — ► NOUN 1) the variation of the form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective that identifies its grammatical case, number, and gender. 2) the class to which a noun or adjective is assigned according to this variation. ORIGIN from Old French decliner to… …   English terms dictionary

  • declension — [dē klen′shən, diklen′shən] n. [ME declenson < OFr declinaison < L declinatio, a bending aside, inflection (< pp. of declinare: see DECLINE): ME form infl. by assoc. with L descensio, a descending: see DESCEND] 1. a bending or sloping… …   English World dictionary

  • declension — /di klen sheuhn/, n. 1. Gram. a. the inflection of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives for categories such as case and number. b. the whole set of inflected forms of such a word, or the recital thereof in a fixed order. c. a class of such words… …   Universalium

  • declension — noun /dɪˈklɛn.ʃən/ a) A way of categorizing nouns, pronouns, or adjectives according to the inflections they receive. In Latin, amicus belongs to the second declension. Most second declension nouns end in i in the genitive singular and um in the… …   Wiktionary

  • declension — n. an adjective; noun; strong; weak declension * * * [dɪ klenʃ(ə)n] noun strong weak declension an adjective …   Combinatory dictionary

  • declension — UK [dɪˈklenʃ(ə)n] / US [dɪˈklenʃən] noun Word forms declension : singular declension plural declensions linguistics 1) [uncountable] the process by which the form of nouns, adjectives, or pronouns changes in some languages depending on their… …   English dictionary

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