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I'm trying to learn the latin names of anatomical entities and I have a hard time remembering whether it's "Os cuneiforme laterale" or "Os cuneiforme lateralis".

In that case it's "laterale". But in a case like "Nervus cutaneus antebrachii lateralis" it's "lateralis". What's the logic here? How do I remember the right one?

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Though I answer the "whats the logic here" part of the question in my answer, I don't really mention how to remember the right one. The simple (but awful) answer is to memorize a ton of Latin (and Greek) grammar and inflection rules and memorize a bunch of declensions ;p. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 31 '17 at 17:56
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This is actually much more of a lesson in Latin linguistics/grammar.

The root, Lateral, comes ultimately from latus meaning “side" or "flank” in Latin. [Source].

  • By adding one of these suffixes we instead create an adjective meaning "of the side."

  • However, the suffixes differ in their inflection (specifically their gender):

    Laterale has the neutral, singular suffix of the nominative 3rd declension.

    Lateralis has the masculine, singular suffix of the nominative 3rd declension.

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    Source: Wiktionary

  • The difference between the gender-assignment of these suffixes is due to Agreement.

    [Agreement] happens when a word changes form depending on the other words to which it relates. It is an instance of inflection, and usually involves making the value of some grammatical category (such as gender or person) "agree" between varied words or parts of the sentence.

    • More specifically, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in case, number, and gender.

Let's break down each of these anatomical structures to understand the agreement-induced inflections [Source]:

os cuneiforme laterale - each of these words is neutral/singular:

  • os = noun, declension 3, nominative, neutral, singular
  • cuneiforme = adjective, declension 3, neutral, singular
  • laterale = adjective, declension 3, nominative, neutral, singular

nervus cutaneus antebrachii lateralis - the 2 adjectives match the masculine/singular noun they describe:

  • nervus = noun, declension 2, nominative, masculine, singular
  • cutaneus = adjective, declension 2, nominative, masculine, singular
  • antebrachii = noun, declension 2, genitive, singular
  • lateralis = adjective, declension 3, nominative, masculine, singular

    Note: you see a shift to the genitive case for antebrachii because in this instance this phrase means "Lateral cutaneous nerve of the forearm."


Latin Linguistics For Dummies:

  1. Declension = category of nouns in Latin and Greek with broadly similar case formation (i.e., they are inflected/conjugated similarly).

  2. Inflection = the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood.

  3. Nominative = The case used to indicate the subject of a finite verb

  4. Genitive = The case used to express some relationship such as possession or origin. It corresponds roughly to the English preposition "of."

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