Some Notes on First Declension Generic Names Ending in -e, and, Declining America
P. M. Eckel
Missouri Botanical Garden
Res Botanica Web Site
February 23, 2004
Ver. 3.

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Some Notes on First Declension Generic Names Ending in -e,
and, Declining America


P. M. Eckel



The following notes concern a relatively unfamiliar paradigm for first declension Latin nouns that end in -e.  The main intent here is to provide assistance in treating generic names in the Latin prose of diagnoses and descriptions.


Generic and some other nouns in Latin, ending in -e are almost exclusively feminine nouns. They represent first declension Greek nouns ending in eta. Normally the standard endings of the Latin first declension present little problem (Rosa, Rosae, Rosae, Rosam, Rosa, etc.) and it is one of the first and hence most familiar of the Latin paradigms presented to the beginning student.


William Stearn (1983), however, in his classic treatise on Botanical Latin, included the following paradigm (p. 70) in his treatment of the first declension:


Stearn's Alternative Paradigm

       Singular  [endings]  



[Galianthe,-es, s.f.I]     [Plural endings are the same as in the

                           standard paradigm (see discussion below)]

Nom.   Galianthe   -e  

Gen.   Galianthes  -es 

Dat.   Galianthae  -ae 

Acc.   Galianthen  -en 

Abl.   Galianthe   -e       


NOTE: The ablative singular ending is the same as the nominative singular (whereas in Greek it would be the same as the genitive singular, the genitive case and the endings associated with it having taken over the function of the ablative in that language).



To remind the reader, the Standard Paradigm for first declension nouns is as follows: 


[Rosa,-ae, s.f.I]


Singular                   Plural


Nom.  Rosa    -a           Rosae    -ae

Gen.  Rosae   -ae          Rosarum  -arum

Dat.  Rosae   -ae          Rosis    -is

Acc.  Rosam   -am          Rosas    -as

Abl.  Rosa    -a           Rosis    -is



The singular endings in the first paradigm example are atypical in both Greek and Latin.


When composing new generic names from Greek words ending in eta, the student has the option of declining such words with a terminal -a, and using the standard Latin first declension paradigm. For example the Greek word 'thece,' meaning a case or capsule, is usually rendered theca,-ae (s.f.I), and the generic names Cleistotheca,-ae (s.f.I), Tetragonotheca,-ae (s.f.I) are declined like Rosa and other typical words of the First Declension.


Generic names such as Aphanothece, Chroothece and Cyanothece , however, are declined as in the alternative paradigm.


Stearn also indicated that certain technical words used in botany are declined this alternative way, using the word raphe (or rhaphe) as an example. Raphe,-es (s.f.I) is used to describe the cord of vascular tissue connecting the base of the nucellus with the placenta in an anatropous ovule. It is also used of the median rib of a valve in diatoms, and also the suture between carpels in species of the Apiaceae (Jackson 1928).


In the glossary that is the triumphant ending to his treatise, however, Stearn indicated raphe (and also pseudoraphe) as a Third Declension noun, yet suggested it also be declined according to the alternative paradigm for the first declension presented above. The unfortunate consequence of this information is the student appears to be  given the option:


1) of using either a strange first declension paradigm to formulate endings of Greek words ending in eta (mostly generic names), or


2) use of the Latin third declension (-e in the nominative singular, -es in the nominative plural), or


3) to transliterate Greek words ending in eta into the standard first declension paradigm with -a in the nominative singular.


Stearn does not give a solution to this dilemma. Why rhaphe should be in the third declension in Latin is also problematic as, in Greek, the word seems to be a standard first declension noun (not the third). The suggested declensional treatment of raphe in Stearn's glossary is "raphe (s.f.III), abl.  sing. raphe, nom. pl. raphes, abl. pl. raphibus ...". The accusative singular is rendered "raphem" among the examples given. One assumes the genitive plural is raphum, and not -ium, as a Latin I-stem noun (i.e. parisyllabics or with a base or stem in two consonants in the nominative plural) would be. The problem with this word is what the singular might be, other than the nominative or ablative, which are the same (raphe), and the accusative (raphem). The genitive singular must be raphis, the dative raphi, to be consistent with standard Latin third declension case endings.


Greenough et al. (1903) in their treatment of First Declension (a-stem) nouns, give numerous variations in the case forms of this declension during various phases of the classical period, including borrowed Greek words. They cite a variety of Greek proper names, familiar to those having read the Aeneid, where a constellation of case endings is possible. In addition to these are nouns, around 35 of them, that have case forms as in Stearn's alternative endings cited above. These alternative endings affect only the singular, not the plural. Plural endings follow the standard case endings for the first declension: that is -ae, -arum, -is, -as,-is, as presented in the standard paradigm above. Presumably, some of the generic names listed below are compounds of two Greek nouns, the second of which is one of these 35 nouns that take the alternative Latin endings in the singular.


Greenough et al., unfortunately, go on to say that "Many Greek nouns vary between the first, the second, and the third declensions" and  give certain proper nouns as examples without further details. Somewhere among those words must occur the noun "raphe" as a third declension noun - hopefully this is the only such noun that must be contended with in the Botanical Latin context.


Since Stearn suggests raphe may be declined in the alternative first declension, it is suggested here, following Greenough et al., that an acceptable paradigm  might be:


raphe,-es (s.f.III): raphe (seam or suture):


            Singular    Plural

Nom.        rhaphe      rhaphae

Gen.        rhaphes     rhapharum

Dat.        rhaphae     rhaphis

Acc.        rhaphem     rhaphas

Abl.        rhaphe      rhaphis


This paradigm effectively eliminates the problems in declining this noun in the Latin third declension


The number of generic names ending in -e is quite lengthy as the following short list indicates:


Aeschynomene, Agarocybe, Agastache, Agave, Alsine, Andrachne, Androsace, Anemone, Argemone, Astilbe, Atragene, Buchloe, Cakile, Callirhoe, Callitriche, Calycotome, Campe, Cardamine, Carsiope, Chamaedaphne, Chamaesyce, Chelone, Cleome, Clitocybe, Coryne, Cyclocybe, Daphne, Dicymbe, Diplachne, Elatine, Eleusine, Endogone, Glycine, Helleborine, Hierochloe, Hydrocotyle, Iresine, Jasione, Leucothoe, Orobanche, Othake, Phyllodoce, Pleurogyne, Poecilanthe, Schizachne, Silene, Xenolachne, Xenostele, Xenostigme. Three names used in bryology include Camptochaete, Gymnocybe and Pleurochaete.


Some Greek first declension nouns that comprise the terminal portion of these compound names include achne (chaff), anche (from the verb anchein, to strangle),  chaete (long, flowing hair = coma,-ae in Latin), chloe (grass), cotyle (a flat cup), cybe (the head of a mushroom), cymbe (hollow vessel); daphne (the laurel), Eleusine (derived from the town Eleusis) gone (see, offspring, the womb); gyne (a woman), stache (from stachys, an ear of wheat).


NOTE: Secale L. is a neuter genus, although the word in Greek, both ancient and modern, is feminine - an error on Linnaeus' part but retained in botanical usage.



As some students of genera that have names ending in -e may feel hesitant to attempt to render such a name in a Latin diagnosis or description without a guide, the following examples are provided. The declensional treatment in the examples follow Stearn's alternative paradigm, as it is assumed here that this is the standard that has been established in botanical usage.


Note that when formulating a subgeneric epithet, one option sanctioned by the Code of Nomenclature is that the noun be in the genitive plural. The gentivie plural of names such as those used in the generic names cited above would end in -arum: hypothetically Chamaedaphnarum, Camptochaetarum, Agastacharum, Agavarum. This would also be true if the word used belonged to the standard paradigm (Leptochloa,-ae, but also Buchloe,-es, from Greek chloe (grass), both -chloarum).


Oresitrophe,-es (s.f.I)




Oresitrophe cymosa 1 m altitudine attingens, Oresitrophe cymosa attaining 1 mm in height.


Galianthe boliviana ad subg. Ebelia pertinens, Galianthae cymosae affinis, Galianthe boliviana belongs to subgenus Ebelia, related to Galianthe cymosa.


Elatine latiglumis ad subg. Elatinem pertinet, Elatine latiglumis belongs to subgenus Elatine.




Species Oresitrophes usque ad 5, species of Oresitrophe to 5.


Astilbe orizabensis subgeneris Astilbes antheris poris dehiscentibus distinguenda, Astilbe orizabensis of the subgenus Astilbe is to be distinguished by the anthers dehiscing by pores.


Dative, adjectives such as affinis,-e (adj.B), similis,-e (adj.B),dissimilis,-e (adj.B), simillimus,-a,-um (adj.A) take the dative case without a preposition:


Species nova Oresitrophae cymosae similis, new species similar to   Oresitrophe cymosa.


Orobanche carnosa Orobanchae filiformi arcte affinis, Orobanche carnosa is   closely related to Orobanche filiformis.


Accusative, direct object of a verb form:


Species nova Oresitrophae cymosae similis, new species similar to Oresitrophe cymosa.


Galianthe chiquitana ad subg. Galianthen pertinens, Galianthae verbenoidi affinis, Galianthe chiquitana, belonging to subgenus Galianthe, related to Galianthe verbenoides.


Buchloe foliis lanceolatis Schizachnem contingens, Buchloe by its lanceolate leaves touches Schizachne.


Ablative, usually objects of the proposition 'ab' (generally before vowels, l and r), or 'a' (generally before consonants). This preposition is regularly associated with verb forms expressing difference from. The organs or conditions by which something differs from another thing is also rendered in the ablative case:


Genus ab Oresitrophe cymosa differt imprimis inflorescentia nodoso-, a Glycine filiforme calyce, ab utraque habitu, the genus differs from Orestrophe primarily by the nodose-racemose inflorescence, from Glycine by the calyx, from both by the habit.


Species ab Clitocybe microcarpa sporis alantoideis imprimis distinguitur, the species from Clitocybe microcarpa by the sausage- spores chiefly is to be distinguished.





Stearn also mentioned that America "often has the genitive singular Americes instead of Americae" without further elaboration. The name America derives from Americus Vespucius, according to one dictionary, or Amerigo Vespucci, 1454-1512, an Italian navigator of Florence. It is obscure how "America" can be construed as having Greek roots such that the word might apply to the alternative paradigm, as a genitive singular in -es would suggest.


Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin published in 1760 a text in which the genitive singular "Americes" appeared in the title: 


Enumeratio Systematica Plantarum quas in insulis Caribaeis vicinaque Americes continente detexit novas, a systematic enumeration of the plants which he discovered as new on the Caribbean Islands and the adjacent vicinity of America.


The following, however,  is a treatment of the noun America,-ae (s.f.I), treated as a standard Latin first declension noun throughout Bentham and Hooker's Genera Plantarum. It is provided here since the Americas are often referred to in distributional contexts in Latin prose sentences, but there are few references to the noun in major Latin manuals:


America,-ae (s.f.I)      

Singular                 Plural:     


Nom.  America   -a       Americae     -ae

Gen.  Americae  -ae      Americarum   -arum

Dat.  Americae  -ae      America      -is

Acc.  Americam  -am      Americas     -as

Abl.  America   -a       Americis     -is


The following examples are from Bentham and Hooker's Genera Plantarum.


Genitive singular/plural:


Per tractus montium et fluviorum Americae aequinoctialis, through the region of mountains and rivers of equatorial America.


Species 1, Americae tropicae incola, species 1, native of tropical America.


Species ad 13, Americae tropicae incolae, species to 13, natives of tropical America.


Species ad 7, Americae borealis incolae, species to 7, natives of North America.


Species ad 26, Americae australis centralisve incolae, quarum una etiam in America boreali late dispersa, species to 26, natives of South or Central America, of which one is also broadly dispersed in North America.


Species 1, civitatum australiorum Americae borealis nec non regni chilensis incola, species one, an inhabitant of the southern states of North America and also of the kingdom of Chile.




Per totum Americam septentrionalem temperatam tenus Canada boreali habitat, it grows throughout temperate North America as far as (to) boreal Canada. 


Per omnem Americam, meridionalem, australem, through all South America.


Caeterae omnes a Patagonia usque ad Americam borealem dispersae, all of the remaining dispersed from Patagonia to boreal America.


Species unica in Americam maxime boreali-orientalem vagans, a single species ranging into America, mostly northeastern.




Species 4 inter tropicos vigentes, 2 in America, 2 in Asia, 1 etiam in Africa, species 4 flourishing amid tropical regions, 2 in America, 2 in Asia, 1 also in Africa.



The United States of America

To render the "United States of America" it is first necessary to remember that a "state", in the United States, is a 'republic'. Republic is actually a conflation of two words: res (s.f.V), a feminine noun of the fifth Latin declension, and the modifying feminine singular form of the adjective 'publicus': res publica. Sometimes the two Latin words are run together, but, regardless, each one is declined separately.


The declension of 'res' is like that of 'species':


Res publica (literally the public business or public affair):


Singular                 Plural:


Nom.  Res       -es      Res          -es

Gen.  Rei       -ei      Rerum        -erum

Dat.  Rei       -ei      Rebus        -ebus

Acc.  Rem       -em      Res          -es

Abl.  Re        -e       Rebus        -ebus


Res Publicae Foederatae Americae, the federated states of America (United States of America): the states, or republics, are written in the plural as they are in English.


Specimina Exsiccata Muscorum in Americae Rebuspublicis Foederatis Detectorum, Dried Specimens of Mosses found in the United States of America (the title of an exsiccat). 


NOTE: the above examples derive from the exsiccata of American botanists. Bentham and Hooker use civitas,-atis (s.f.III) for state:


Species 1, civitatis Ohio Americae borealis incola, one species, native of the state of Ohio (note no attempt to Latinize 'Ohio'. the genitive singular of which is usually rendered 'Ohionis' by American authors), of North America.


Species 1, civitatum australiorum Americae borealis nec non regni chilensis incola, species one, an inhabitant of the southern states of North America and also of the Kingdom of Chile.




I thank Dan Nicolson for assuring me that this alternative first declension is a valid Latin form and Tom Zanoni, editor of Brittonia, for providing me with unpublished manuscripts to analyze, one of which included new combinations or taxa in the genus Galianthe. Bill Buck kindly provided bryological generic names ending in -e. I am very grateful to Mark A. Garland of Gainesville, Florida, for providing the information regarding N. J. Joachim and for providing key grammatical references. I am grateful for comments by made various readers on the first version of this essay.


Literature Cited


Greenough, J. B., G. L. Kittredge, A. A. Howard and Benjamin L. D'Ooge, eds. 1903. Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Ginn and Company. New York, section 40 and following:


Jackson, B. D. 1928. A Glossary of Botanic Terms with their Derivation and Accent. ed. 4. Hafner Publishing Co., Inc., New York


Stearn, William T. 1983. Botanical Latin. ed. 3. David & Charles, London.


Keyword: botanical latin.