Robert Grosseteste

On Mountains

Latin Grammar: Derivative Nouns

Est eciam essencialis causa montium terremotus, quo pars terre sursum in eminenciam propellitur. Quid autem est terremotus nisi prosperitatis terrene concussio et perturbacio. Per hanc concussionem et perturbacionem multi de imo vite abiecte et impure ad vite sanctissime celsitudinem propulsi sunt.

The passage above, like many medieval Latin passages, contains some words you probably haven't seen before, like celsitudinem. Medieval Latin was a living, creative language, and many of our authors use rare words like this to express themselves. However, you can often figure out what these words mean even if you haven't seen them before, by getting back to the root they came from and figuring out what has been added. For example, celsitudinem looks like a third-declension accusative singular, so you can get back to the noun celsitudo. Then the beginning might look a little more familiar: celsus, meaning "high." The suffix -tudo is like our suffix "-tude," or "-ness." So that unfamiliar celsitudinem turns out to be "high-ness," or more idiomatically "height."

Besides nouns formed from adjectives, you will also find nouns formed from verbs. These are often formed from the fourth principal part of the verb, the perfect passive participle. So you can look at a word like concussionem and first, get back to the nominative concussio. This looks like concussus, which comes from the verb concutio, "I strike." So it turns out that concussio is an act of striking!

One more thing that can help you with your verbal detective work is the fact that these words often survive in English as cognates. So concussio looks like our "concussion," and that is no accident. These English cognates can be a helpful clue in figuring out the Latin – just check with a dictionary to make sure!

Exercise: Find the second and fourth principal parts (infinitive and perfect passive participle) of the verb that the following words come from.

1. perturbatio
2. unitas
3. impassibilis
4. permixtionem
5. pungitivus

Exercise: Find the nominative singular of the noun or (masculine) adjective that the following words come from.

1. planities
2. humiditas
3. arietinus
4. siccitas
5. tuberositates

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