Noun Declension Paradigms

Gothic nouns come in a confusing array of declensions, often cited in lexica with endings that do not resemble the names of the declensions, and/or are not obvious in how they are related to other declensions. This page attempts to clarify the types of nouns and how they got to be so convoluted.

The declensions in Gothic can be grouped by similarity: A and O stems; I and U stems; weak nouns; ND and R stems; consonant declension nouns. Both the A and O declensions are further divided into pure stems, JA/JO stems, WA/WO stems, and the JA and JO nouns occur as short-stem and long-stem forms. It is important to keep this general overview in mind while categorizing the array of noun morphologies into this neat framework.

1.) Overview

It is helpful to have a 20,000 foot view of Gothic noun declensions, with example nouns:

A DeclensionMasculinePure A-Stemsdagsday
hláifsbread, loaf
waírman
freihalsfreedom
JA-StemsShort-Stemniþjiskinsman
Long-Stemƕáiteiswheat
WA-Stemsþius; snáiwsservant; snow
NeuterPure A-Stemswaúrdword
háubiþhead
agisfear
diusbeast, wild animal
JA-StemsShort-Stemkunirace, kind
gawiregion
tauiwork, deed
(Long-Stem)***(not attested)
WA-Stemstriuwood

O DeclensionFemininePure O-Stemsaírþaearth
háimōsvillages (plural forms)
JO-StemsShort-Stemhaljahell
Long-Stemháiþifield
mawi; þiwimaiden; maid servant
frijōndifriend (f.)
þūsundithousand
WO-Stemsfrijaþwalove

I DeclensionMasculinegastsguest
drus; qumsfall; coming
baúrson, child
náuscorpse
Femininedēþsdeed
qiss; usstassspeech; resurrection
laþōnsinvitation
libáinslife
láiseinsdoctrine
háimsvillage (singular forms)

U DeclensionMasc/Femsunus; handusson; hand
Neuterfaíhucattle, wealth

Weak DeclensionMasculinehanarooster
Femininetuggōtongue
áiþeimother
Neuteráugōeye

ND DeclensionMasculinefrijōndsfriend (m.)
R DeclensionMasc/Fembrōþar; swistar; daúhtarbrother; sister; daughter
Consonant DeclensionMasculinemēnōþsmonth
Femininebaúrgscity
nahtsnight
Neuterfōnfire

2.) A-Declension: Masculine

2.1.) Pure A-Stems

These nouns in Proto-Germanic had a nominative singular ending -az, from an earlier Indo-European *-os, which is also the root of Latin second declension nouns in -us, Greek second declension nouns in -ος, and Sanskrit masculin -ah nouns. The Germanic -az ending was reduced to -s in Gothic. Example: *dagaz (day), Gothic dags.

Singular
Nomdags
Voc Accdag
Gendagis
Datdaga
 
Plural
Nom Vocdagōs
Accdagans
Gendagē
Datdagam

The vast majority of masculine nouns in -s are declined like dags.

Some A-stem nouns in -fs, such as hláifs (loaf), láufs (leaf), change the f to b before a vowel. Not only is this parallel to a similar sound change in English, but the b between vowels is pronounced /v/. Here is the declension of hláifs for example:

Singular
Nomhláifs
Voc Acchláif
Genhláibis
Dathláiba
 
Plural
Nom Vochláibōs
Acchláibans
Genhláibē
Dathláibam

Note that not all A-stem nouns in -fs are declined like hláifs; wulfs isn't (its plural is wulfōs).

When the consonant of the stem is r or s, the nominative -s is lost. For example, waír (man), freihals (freedom):

Sing
Nomwaírfreihals
Voc Accwaírfreihals
Genwaírisfreihalsis
Datwaírafreihalsa
Pl
Nom Vocwaírōsfreihalsōs
Accwaíransfreihalsans
Genwaírēfreihalsē
Datwaíramfreihalsam

2.2.) JA-Stems

Masculine JA-stems are either short-stem or long-stem, which may be distinguished by their endings, either -jis (short-stem) or -eis (long-stem) in the nom. sing. Short-stem and long-stem nouns have the same endings except for in the nom. sing. and gen. sing. For example, niþjis (kinsman) and ƕáiteis (wheat) are declined as:

Sing
Nomniþjisƕáiteis
Voc Accniþiƕáiti
Genniþjisƕáiteis
Datniþjaƕáitja
Pl
Nom Vocniþjōsƕáitjōs
Accniþjansƕáitjans
Genniþjēƕáitjē
Datniþjamƕáitjam

2.3.) WA-Stems

The only known masculine WA-stems are þius (servant) and snáiws (snow), declined as:

Sing
Nomþiussnáiws
Voc Accþiusnáiw
Genþiwissnáiwis
Datþiwasnáiwa
Pl
Nom Vocþiwōssnáiwōs
Accþiwanssnáiwans
Genþiwēsnáiwē
Datþiwamsnáiwam

3.) A Declension: Neuter

3.1.) Pure A-Stems

As in most Indo-European languages, the neuter nominative, vocative, accusative all resemble the accusative of masculine nouns in the singular, and end in -a in the plural. The noun waúrd (word) is declined as:

Sing
NVAwaúrd
Genwaúrdis
Datwaúrda
Pl
NVAwaúrda
Genwaúrdē
Datwaúrdam

Here too are nouns which undergo a consonant change: in háubiþ (head), the þ changes to d before a vowel:

Sing
NVAháubiþ
Genháubidis
Datháubida
Pl
NVAháubida
Genháubidē
Datháubidam

The same change happens in liuhaþ (light), and witōþ (law).

Neuter A-stems can end in almost any consonant: agis (fear); dius (beast); daúr (door); eisarn (iron); tagl (hair); tagr (tear); etc. Nouns of this declension which end in -s are declined one of two ways:

Sing
NVAagisdius
Genagisisdiuzis
Datagisadiuza
Pl
NVAagisadiuza
Genagisēdiuzē
Datagisamdiuzam

Some neuter nouns which were originally WA-stem (see below) have changed to retaining their -w in all numbers and cases, and are declined the same as waúrd. These include fráiw (seed), gáidw (lack, want), hláiw (grave), lēw (occasion), waúrstw (work).

3.2.) JA-Stems

Neuter JA-stems are practically always short-stem. The example of kuni (race) is declined as:

Sing
NVAkuni
Genkunjis
Datkunja
Pl
NVAkunja
Genkunjē
Datkunjam

Some nouns of this declension have a hidden w before the j that changes the vowel in the NVA sing., such as gawi (region), hawi (hay), and taui (deed, work):

Sing
NVAgawitaui
Gengáujistōjis
Datgáujatōja
Pl
NVAgáujatōja
Gengáujētōjē
Datgáujamtōjam

(hawi is declined like gawi.)

3.3.) WA-Stems

The only known neuter WA-stem nouns are triu (wood) and kniu (knee), and they are declined identically.

Sing
NVAtriu
Gentriwis
Dattriwa
Pl
NVAtriwa
Gentriwē
Dattriwam

4.) O Declension: Feminine

4.1.) Pure O-Stems

These nouns are ultimately descended from Indo-European -ā nouns, and are equivalent to Latin -ā feminines, Greek -α/-η feminines, and Sanskrit feminines in -ā. In Germanic, the long vowel of the stem was shortened in some environments; when retained long it underwent a change in value and is attested in Gothic as -ō. Therefore these nouns in all their cases alternate between having a or ō as the vowel of the ending.

aírþa (earth) is declined like so:

Sing
NVAaírþa
Genaírþōs
Dataírþái
Pl
NVA aírþōs
Genaírþō
Dataírþōm

A great many feminine nouns in Gothic belong to this declension and are declined like aírþa.

4.2.) JO-Stems

Short-stem JO-nouns end in -ja in the nom. sing. and are declined like aírþa. Examples include halja (hell), ludja (face), plapja (street), sunja (truth), and others.

Long-stem JO-nouns have their nom. sing. in -i. Otherwise they resemble aírþa, such as háiþi (field):

Sing
Nomháiþi
Voc Accháiþja
Genháiþjōs
Datháiþjái
Pl
NVAháiþjōs
Genháiþjō
Datháiþjōm

Also included in this declension are frijōndi (friend), which is the feminine of frijōnds (friend), a masculine -nd stem (see below); and the numeral þūsundi (thousand).

Long-stem JO-nouns ending in -wi change their w to u in certain cases, as mawi (maiden), þiwi (maid servant):

Sing
Nommawiþiwi
Voc Accmáujaþiuja
Genmáujōsþiujōs
Datmáujáiþiujái
Pl
NVAmáujōsþiujōs
Genmáujōþiujō
Datmáujōmþiujōm

4.3.) WO-Stems

Nouns such as bandwa (token, sign), frijaþwa (love), nidwa (rust) are declined the same as aírþa.

5.) I Declension

5.1.) I Declension: Masculine and Feminine

These nouns ended in *-is in Proto-Indo-European, and are equivalent to Latin -is and Greek -ις nouns. In Proto-Germanic, the ending changed to -iz, and in Gothic, this was reduced to -s causing the singulars of the I-stems to resemble the pure A-stems. The masculine noun gasts (guest) and feminine dēþs (deed) are declined like so:

Sing
Nomgastsdēþs
Voc Accgastdēþ
Gengastisdēþáis
Datgastadēþái
Pl
Nom Vocgasteisdēþeis
Accgastinsdēþins
Gengastēdēþē
Datgastimdēþim

This declension also includes feminine abstract nouns formed from weak verbs of conjugations II and III, such as laþōns (invitation) from laþōn (to invite); bauáins (dwelling) from bauan (to inhabit); libáins (life), from liban (to live), and many others.

Masculines of this declension also include drus (fall), baúr (son, child), náus (corpse), declined like so:

Sing
Nomdrusbaúrnáus
Voc Accdrusbaúrnáu
Gendrusisbaúrisnawis
Datdrusabaúranawa
Pl
Nom Vocdruseisbaúreisnaweis
Accdrusinsbaúrinsnawins
Gendrusēbaúrēnawē
Datdrusimbaúrimnawim

Since it is impossible to tell from the singular whether a masculine noun is I-stem or A-stem, comparative linguistics are necessary to determine how such a noun declines in absence of the nom./voc. plural. Old English has cyme (coming) and dryre (fall), the y being an umlaut, a fronting of u before a j or i in the next syllable. (We'll see this happen again in the U-declension.) Because of these attested forms, we know that the Gothic equivalents qums and drus are also I-declension.

Nouns ending in a geminate -ss are feminine I-stems derived from verbal roots, such as qiss (speech) from qiþan (to say, queathe); usstass (resurrection) from us-standan (to rise up). Here is the declension of such nouns:

Sing
Nomqiss
Voc Accqiss
Genqissáis
Datqissái
Pl
Nom Vocqisseins
Accqissins
Genqissē
Datqissim

5.2.) Abstract Nouns Formed from Weak Verbs

Abstract nouns formed from weak verbs of conjugation I have their own special declension: they resemble the declension of dēþs, except for the nom. and gen. plurals which they borrow from the o-declension, for example láiseins (doctrine) from láisjan (to teach):

Sing
Nomláiseins
Voc Accláisein
Genláiseináis
Datláiseinái
Pl
Nom Vocláiseinōs
Accláiseinins
Genláiseinō
Datláiseinim

5.3.) Declension of Háims (Village)

The feminine I-stem noun háims (village) has its plurals in the o-declension:

Sing
Nomháims
Voc Accháim
Genháimáis
Datháimái
Pl
NVA háimōs
Genháimō
Datháimōm

6.) U Declension

6.1.) U Declension: Masculine and Feminine

Equivalent to the Latin fourth declension (-us) and Greek third declension nouns in -υς, the u-declension is the most straightforward of the Gothic declensions; masculines and feminines always end in -us in the nom. sing., and these two genders decline identically. The noun sunus (son) is masculine; handus (hand) is feminine:

Sing
Nomsunushandus
Voc Accsunuhandu
Gensunáushandáus
Datsunáuhandáu
Pl
Nom Vocsunjushandjus
Accsununshanduns
Gensuniwēhandiwē
Datsunumhandum

There have been some instances where scribes confused the sounds of u and áu, writing one of these where the other belongs.

Gothic offers a glimpse into an earlier stage of Germanic by not having any trace of umlaut: the English nouns foot and tooth undergo a vowel alteration in the plural, becoming feet, teeth due to an earlier stage of the English language having a y sound in the plural ending, which was lost before the modern language developed. Other Germanic languages also show this umlaut, even languages which retain endings on the nouns, but not Gothic - the equivalent nouns fōtus, tunþus have nom. pl. fōtjus, tunþjus.

6.2.) U Declension: Neuter

Attested neuter U-stems are few and far between, but a paradigm for faíhu (cattle, wealth) has been reconstructed as:

Sing
NVAfaíhu
Genfaíháus
Datfaíháu

No plural forms are known. Declined like faíhu are gáiru (goad) and leiþu (strong drink).

7.) Weak Declension

7.1.) Weak Declension: Masculine

Weak nouns are also called N-stem nouns because they have an -n in the stem which doesn't occur in the dictionary form. However, Gothic N-stem nouns correspond to Latin nouns ending in -ō (-inis/-onis) and -men (-minis) and to Greek nouns in -ων (-ονος), -ην (-ενος), -μα (-ματος). The noun hana (rooster) is actually related to the English word hen; the early Germanic noun occurred in both genders, but English kept only the feminine while Gothic kept the masculine (or possibly both). The declension of manna (man) is similar to that of hana, but with some of the forms simplified:

Sing
Nomhanamanna
Voc Acchananmannan
Genhaninsmans
Dathaninmann
Pl
NVAhanansmannans, mans
Genhananēmannē
Dathanammannam

Masculine nouns ending in -a generally belong to this declension, and are almost always declined like hana. Some of them reduced the gen. and dat. pl.: aba (man) has gen. pl. abnē, dat. pl. abnam; aúhsa (ox) has gen. pl. aúhsnē. Probably this happened first in the genitive plural by contracting the middle syllable to zero, and then extended to the dative plural by analogy, if so, then it might be that aba, aúhsa each exhibit all of these contracted forms.

7.2.) Weak Declension: Feminine

These nouns have one of two long vowels in all their endings: ō or ei. An example of the former is tuggō (tongue); the latter, áiþei (mother):

Sing
Nomtuggōáiþei
Voc Acctuggōnáiþein
Gentuggōnsáiþeins
Dattuggōnáiþein
Pl
NVAtuggōnsáiþeins
Gentuggōnōáiþeinō
Dattuggōmáiþeim

A large number of nouns are declined like tuggō. Nouns declined like áiþei are mostly formed from adjectives, such as diupei (depth) from diups (deep).

7.3.) Weak Declension: Neuter

Neuter nouns ending in belong to the weak declension. Among these are áugō (eye), áusō (ear), haírtō (heart), þaírkō (hole), and others. Here's the declension of áugō:

Sing
NVAáugō
Genáugins
Datáugin
Pl
NVAáugōna
Genáuganē
Datáugam

Diminutives fall into this declension as well: barnilō (small child) is the diminutive of barn (child, bairn), a neuter pure A-stem noun, by addition of the -ilō suffix. Also attested is kaúrnō, a grain of corn; the pure A-stem neuter kaúrn is a mass noun that refers to either a quantity of cereal, or a crop of it growing in a field.

Irregularly, the noun watō (water) has dat. pl. watnam, and namō (name) NVA pl. namna. It is conceivable that here too, like the masculines described above, trisyllabic forms were reduced to two syllables, i.e. *watanē -> *watnē and then watnam, *watna, *namnam, namna by analogy.

8.) ND Declension

These nouns descend from earlier participle forms ending in -ns. In the Germanic languages, this ending changed in certain ways, becoming -nds in Gothic. The declension of frijōnds (friend) is as follows:

Sing
Nomfrijōnds
Voc Accfrijōnd
Genfrijōndis
Datfrijōnd
Pl
NVA frijōnds
Genfrijōndē
Datfrijōndam

Most of the endings resemble the masculine A-stems, except for the dat. sing. and NVA pl. Most likely all of the nouns in this declension are masculines; see the long JO-stem nouns for the declension of the feminine frijōndi.

9.) R Declension

Kinship terms in Indo-European languages often descend from preforms formed with the special *-tēr suffix. In Germanic languages, the *t derived to þ (th) except in consonant clusters, which we see today in English in father, mother, brother; but daughter, sister. However, these nouns were diminishing in usage at the time Wulfila wrote his manuscripts, with fadar (father) occurring only once and *mōdar (mother) not at all. The surviving R-stem nouns are swistar (sister), brōþar (brother), daúhtar (daughter), and are declined as:

Sing
NVAswistarbrōþardaúhtar
Genswistrsbrōþrsdaúhtrs
Datswistrbrōþrdaúhtr
Pl
Nomswistrjusbrōþrjusdaúhtrjus
Voc Accswistrunsbrōþrunsdaúhtruns
Genswistrēbrōþrēdaúhtrē
Datswistrumbrōþrumdaúhtrum

The kinship terms which have replaced fadar and *mōdar are the weak nouns atta, áiþei.

10.) Consonant Stems

10.1.) Masculine

Not many masculine nouns or forms thereof are attested for this declension. What little we do have comes from mēnōþs (month), reiks (ruler), weitwōds (witness), and consists of:

Sing
Nommēnōþsreiksweitwōds
Voc Acc??weitwōd
Genmēnōþsreikis?
Datmēnōþreik?
Pl
Nom Vocmēnōþsreiksweitwōds
Acc???
Gen?reikēweitwōdē
Datmēnōþumreikam?

Evidence from other Germanic languages would suggest accusative plurals *mēnōþuns, *reikuns, *weitwōduns, assuming the acc. pl. forms are not identical to the nom. pl. forms, as they are in feminines of this declension (below).

10.2.) Feminine

Feminine consonant stem nouns are a bit better attested, as in baúrgs (city) and nahts (night):

Sing
Nombaúrgsnahts
Voc Accbaúrgnaht
Genbaúrgsnahts
Datbaúrgnaht
Pl
NVA baúrgsnahts
Genbaúrgēnahtē
Datbaúrgimnahtam

In particular, nahts is unique in having assimilated the same dat. pl. as dags by analogy. All other feminine consonant stem nouns decline like baúrgs. Two other nouns, dulþs (feast) and waíhts (thing) may be declined either as consonant stems or as i-declension feminines. It would seem from comparative linguistics that the former was originally an I-stem and the latter a consonant stem, but that the two declensions had begun to merge.

10.3.) Neuter

Only one neuter consonant stem noun is known, and only in the singular: fōn (fire).

Sing
NVAfōn
Genfunins
Datfunin


Table of Contents


This site is copyright © 2016-2018 Julie Gagnon. You may download, store, print, and disseminate these lessons for educational use provided you do not charge a fee or any other remuneration. Additionally, lexical entries sourced from Wiktionary retain the same CC-BY-SA license as the original. All other rights reserved.
Background image: St. Joseph's Oratory, Montréal, QC.
The Hrabnaskufta font is licensed under the SIL Open Font License OFL-1.1.