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Nouns of Agency

236. Nouns of Agency properly denote the agent or doer of an action. But they include many words in which the idea of agency has entirely faded out, and also many words used as adjectives.

a. Nouns denoting the agent or doer of an action are formed from roots or verb stems by means of the suffixes.

-tor (-sor) [m.], -trīx [f.]
can-tor, can-trīx
can-ere (root CAN)
to sing
vic-tor, vic-trīx
conquerer (victorious)
vinc-ere (VIC)
to conquer
tōn-sor (for †tōnd-tor)
tōns-trīx (for †tōns-trix)
tond-ēre (root TOND)
to shear
pet-ĕre (PET; stem petī-)
to seek

By analogy -tor is sometimes added to noun stems, but these may be stems of lost verbs.

viā-tor  traveller, from via  way (but cf. the verb inviō)

Note 1— The termination -tor (-sor) has the same phonetic change as the Supine ending -tum (-sum), and is added to the same form of root or verb stem as that ending. The stem-ending is tōr- (§ 234.2.15), which is shortened in the nominative.

Note 2— The feminine form is always -trīx. Masculines in -sor lack the feminine, except expulsor (expultrīx) and tōnsor (tōnstrīx).

b. t- (m.) or (f.), added to verb stems makes nouns in -es (-itis; -etis; stem it-, et-) descriptive of a character.

prae-stes, -stitis  guardian
(verb stem from root STA, stāre stand)

teges, -etis  a coverera mat
(verb stem tege-, cf.tegō  cover)

pedes, -itis  foot-soldier
(pēs, ped-is  foot, and ī-, root of īre  go)

c. (Genitive -ōnis, stem ōn-) [m.], added to verb stems1 indicates a person employed in some specific art or trade.

com-bibō  a drinking companion
(root BIB, as in bibō, bibere  drink)

gerō, -ōnis  a carrier
(GES in gerō, gerere  carry)

Note— This termination is also used to form many nouns descriptive of personal characteristics (cf. § 255).

Names of Actions and Abstract Nouns

237. Names of Actions are confused, through their terminations, with real abstract nouns (names of qualities), and with concrete nouns denoting means and instrument.

They are also used to express the concrete result of an action (as often in English).

Thus legiō is literally the act of collecting, but comes to mean legion (the body of soldiers collected); cf. levy in English.

238. Abstract Nouns and Names of Actions are formed from roots and verb stems by means of the endings.

a. Added to roots or forms conceived as roots—

NOM. -or [m.] -ēs [f.] -us, n.
GEN. -ōris -is -eris or -oris
STEM ōr- (earlier ōs-) i- er- (earlier (e/os-)
tim-or  fear timēre  to fear
am-or  love amāre  to love
sēd-ēs  seat sedēre  to sit
caed-ēs  slaughter caedere  to kill
genus  birth, race [GEN]  to be born (root of gignō  bear)

Note— Many nouns of this class are formed by analogy from imaginary roots.

facinus [from a supposed root FACIN]

b. Apparently added to roots or verb stems.

NOM. -iō, [f.] -tiō (-siō) [f.] -tūra (-sūra) [f.] -tus [m.]
GEN. -iōnis -tiōnis (-siōnis -tūrae (-sūrae) -tūs (-sūs)
STEM iōn- tiōn- (siōn-) tūrā- (sūrā-) tu- (su-)


leg-iō  a collecting (levy), a legion leger  to collect
reg-iō  a direction, a region regere  to direct
vocā-tiō  a calling vocāre  to call
mōlī-tiō  a toiling mōlīrī  to toil
scrīp-tūra  a writing scrībere  to write
sēn-sus (for †sent-tus)  feeling sentīre  to feel

Note 1— -tiō, -tūra, -tus are added to roots or verb stems precisely as -tor, with the same phonetic change (cf. § 236.a, Note 1 above). Hence they are conveniently associated with the supine stem (see § 178). They sometimes form nouns when there is no corresponding verb in use.

senātus  senate (cf. senex)
mentiō  mention (cf. mēns
fētūra  offspring (cf. fētus)
litterātūra  literature (cf. litterae)
cōnsulātus  consulship (cf. cōnsul)

Note 2— Of these endings, -tus was originally primary (cf. § 234.2.3); -iō is a compound formed by adding ōn- to a stem ending in a vowel (originally i).

diciō (cf. -dicus and dicis)

-tiō is a compound formed by adding ōn- to stems in ti-.

gradātiō (cf. gradātim)

-tūra is formed by adding -ra, Feminine of -rus, to stems in tu-.

nātūra from nātus
statūra from status (cf. figūra, of like meaning, from a simple u- stem, †figu-s; and mātūrus, Mātūta).

239. Nouns denoting acts , or means and results of acts, are formed from roots or verb stems by the use of the suffixes.

-men, [n.], -mentum, [n.], mōnium, [n.], mōnia [f.]
ag-men  line of march, band root AG, agere  to lead
regi-men  rule
regi-mentum  rule
regi- (rege-), stem of regere  to direct
certā-men  contest, battle certā-, stem of certāre  to contend

So colu-men (pillar), mō-men (movement), nō-men (name), and flū-men (stream).

testi-mōnium  testimony testārī  to witness
queri-mōnia  complaint querī  to complain

-mōnium and -mōnia are also used as secondary, forming nouns from other nouns and from adjectives.

sānctimōnia  sanctity (sānctus holy)
mātrimōnium  marriage ( māter mother)

Note— Of these endings, -men is primary (cf. § 234.2.14); -mentum is a compound of men- and to-, and appears for the most part later in the language than -men.

mōmen  movement (Lucr.)
mōmentum (later)

So elementum is a development from L-M-N-a, l-m-n's (letters of the alphabet), changed to elementa along with other nouns in -men. -mōnium and -mōnia were originally compound secondary suffixes formed from mōn- (a by-form of men-), which was early associated with mo-.

almus (stem almo-)  fostering
Almōn (a river near Rome) 
alimōnia  support

But the last was formed directly from alō when -mōnia had become established as a supposed primary suffix.

240. Nouns denoting means or instrument are formed from roots and verb stems (rarely from noun stems) by means of the neuter suffixes.

-bulum, -culum, -brum, -crum, -trum
pā-bulum  fodder pāscere  to feed
sta-bulum  stall stāre  to stand
vehi-culum  wagon vehere  to carry
candēlā-brum  candlestick candēla  candle (a secondary formation)
sepul-crum  tomb sepelīre  to bury
claus-trum (†claud-trum)  bar claudere  to shut
arā-trum  plough arāre  to plough

Note— -trum (stem tro-) was an old formation from tor- (§ 234.2.15), with the stem suffix o-, and -clum (stem clo- for tlo-) appears to be related; -culum is the same as -clum; -bulum contains lo- (§ 234.II.9-10) and -brum is closely related.

a. A few masculines and feminines of the same formation occur as nouns and adjectives.

fā-bula  tale fārī  to speak
rīdi-culus  laughable rīdēre to laugh
fa-ber  smith facere  to make
late-bra  hiding-place latēre  to hide
tere-bra  auger terere  to bore
mulc-tra  milk pail mulgēre  to milk

241. Abstract Nouns, mostly from adjective stems, rarely from noun stems, are formed by means of the secondary feminine suffixes.

-ia (-iēs), -tia (-tiēs), -tās, -tūs, -tūdō
audāc-ia  boldness audāx  bold
pauper-iēs  poverty pauper  poor
trīsti-tia  sadness trīstis  sad
sēgni-tiēs  laziness sēgnis  lazy
boni-tās  goodness bonus  good
senec-tūs  age senex  old
māgni-tūdō  greatness māgnus  great

   1. In stems ending in o- or ā- the stem vowel is lost before -ia (as superb-ia) and appears as i before -tās, -tūs, -tia (as in boni-tās, above).

   2. Consonant stems often insert i before -tās:

loquāx (stem loquāc-), loquāci-tās

mâies-tās (as if from old adjectives in -es)

O after i is changed to e.

pius (stem pio-), pie-tās
socius, socie-tās

a. In like manner -dō and -gō (f.) form abstract nouns, but are associated with verbs and apparently added to verb-stems.

cupī-dō  desire from cupere to desire
(as if from stem cupī-)

dulcē-dō  sweetness, cf. dulcis sweet
(as if from a stem dulcē-, cf. dulcē-scō)

lumbā-gō  lumbago, cf. lumbus loin
(as if from †lumbō, -āre)

Note— Of these, -ia is inherited as secondary (cf. § 234.2.11). -tia is formed by adding -ia to stems with a t suffix:

mīlitia, from mīles (stem mīlit-)
molestia from molestus
clēmentia from clēmēns

whence by analog, mali-tia, avāri-tia. -tās is inherited, but its component parts, tā- + ti-, are found as suffixes in the same sense.

senecta from senex
sēmen-tis from sēmen

-tūs is tū- + ti-, cf. servitū-dō. -dō and -gō appear only with long vowels, as from verb stems, by a false analogy; but -dō is do- + ōn-

cupidus, cupīdō
gravidus, gravēdō (cf. gravē-scō)
albidus, albēdō (cf. albēscō)
formidus  hot, formīdō (cf. formīdulōsus), (hot flash?)  fear

-gō is possibly co- + ōn-; cf. vorāx, vorāgō, but cf. Cethēgus. -tūdō is compounded of -dō with tu- stems, which acquire a long vowel from association with verb stems in u- (cf. volūmen, from volvō):

cōnsuētū-dō, valētū-dō, habitū-dō

whence servitūdō (cf. servitūs, -tūtis).

b. Neuter Abstracts, which easily pass into concretes denoting offices and groups, are formed from noun stems and perhaps from verb stems by means of the suffixes.

-ium, -tium
hospitality, an inn2
hospes (gen. hospit-is)
a guest
a college
a colleague
an omen
auspex (gen. auspic-is)
a soothsayer
to rejoice
to escape
a kindness
to benefit
cf. beneficus
dēsīderāre  to miss
from †dē-sīdēs  out of place
[of missing soldiers]
ad verbum
[added]  to a verb
time of new moon
inter lūnās
between moons
flight of the kings
rēgis fuga
flight of a king
the slave class
a slave

Vowel stems lose their vowel before -ium

collēg-ium, from collēga

Note— -ium is the neuter of the adjective suffix -ius. It is an inherited primary suffix, but is used with great freedom as secondary. -tium is formed like -tia, by adding -ium to stems with t.

equit-ium (cf. exitus, equitēs)

So, by analogy, calvitium and servitium (from calvus, servus).

c. Less commonly, abstract nouns (which usually become concrete) are formed from noun stems (confused with verb stems) by means of the suffixes.

-nia [f.]; -nium, lium, cinium [n.]
money (chattels)
the hush of night
to become still
to increase
latrō  robber
cf. latrōcinor  rob
(implying an adjective †latrōcinus)

For Diminutives and Patronymics, see §§  243-244.



1. So conceived, but perhaps this termination was originally added to noun stems.

2. The abstract meaning is put first.

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.