Romanian nouns


Romanian nouns

This article on Romanian nouns is related to the Romanian grammar and belongs to a series of articles on the Romanian language. It describes the morphology of the noun in this language, and includes details about its declension according to number, case, and application of the definite article, all of which depend on specific gender and plural formation rules.

Gender

An intrinsic property of Romanian nouns, as in all Romance languages, is their gender. However, while most Romance languages have only two genders, masculine and feminine, Romanian has a third one, the neuter. In Latin, the neuter is a separate gender, requiring all determiners to have three distinct forms, such as the adjective "bona", "bonus", "bonum" (meaning "good"). Comparatively, Romanian neuter is a "combination" of the other two genders. More specifically, in Romanian, neuter nouns behave in the singular as masculine nouns and in the plural as feminine nouns. As such, all noun determiners and all pronouns only have two possible gender-specific forms instead of three. From this perspective, one can say that in Romanian there are really just two genders, masculine and feminine, and the category labeled as neuter contains nouns whose gender switches with the number.

Depending on gender, otherwise similar nouns will inflect differently. For example, the nouns "câine" ("dog", compare Latin "canis") and "pâine" ("bread", compare Latin "panis") have phonetically identical endings in the main form (nominative singular), but the former is a masculine noun, while the latter is feminine. For this reason, when inflected they behave in very different manners:

* definite article: "câinele" ("the dog") - "pâinea" ("the bread");
* plural, with definite article: "câinii" ("the dogs") - "pâinile" ("the loaves of bread");
* genitive/dative: "câinelui" ("of/to the dog") - "pâinii" ("of/to the bread").

Also, the gender of a noun determines the morphology of most determiners, such as articles, adjectives, demonstratives, numerals. The two nouns taken as examples above will give:

* indefinite article: "un câine" ("a dog") - "o pâine" ("a loaf of bread");
* adjective: "câine alb" ("white dog") - "pâine albă" ("white bread");
* determinative demonstrative: "acest câine" ("this dog") - "această pâine" ("this bread");
* determinative possessive pronoun: "câinele meu" ("my dog") - "pâinea mea" ("my bread");
* cardinal numeral: "doi câini" ("two dogs") - "două pâini" ("two loaves of bread"), etc.

While in many cases assigning the correct gender may be facilitated by the noun ending or meaning, the distinction is usually difficult for those learning Romanian as a second language. For natives, the "one-two" test is practically infallible: Saying "un câine - doi câini" makes it clear, by the form of the determining numerals, that "câine" is masculine. When the numerals take the forms "o ... - două ..." the noun in question is feminine, and finally the forms "un ... - două ..." are indicative of a neuter noun.

Gender assignment: phonetic

The following phonetic rules can be used, to some degree, to infer the grammatical gender for nouns when these are in their nominative singular form, and without any determiner that could help in recognizing the gender.

* Nouns ending in a consonant or in vowel or semivowel u are almost always masculine or neuter:
** masculine: "om" ("man, human being"), "copil" ("child"), "bou" ("ox, bull");
** neuter: "ac" ("needle"), "drum" ("road"), "ou" ("egg"), "lucru" ("thing, job");
** feminine proper nouns of foreign origin or diminutives: "Carmen", "Corinuş" (diminutive from "Corina"), "Catrinel", "Lulu."

* Nouns ending in ă are feminine with very few exceptions:
** feminine: "fată" ("girl"), "piatră" ("stone"), "haină" ("coat");
** masculine: "tată" ("father"), "popă" ("priest");

* Nouns ending in "stressed" a (including those ending in stressed ea or ia) are feminine:
** "sofa" ("sofa"), "cafea" ("coffee"), "nuia" ("wicker").

* Nouns ending in e are generally feminine, but many masculine and a few neuter exceptions exist:
** feminine: "carte" ("book"), "femeie" ("woman"), "mare" ("sea"), "cheie" ("key");
** masculine: "frate" ("brother"), "iepure" ("hare, rabbit"), "perete" ("wall");
** neuter: "nume" ("name").

* Nouns ending in i are mostly masculine or neuter, with some feminine exceptions:
** masculine: "ochi" ("eye"), "pui" ("chicken"), "unchi" ("uncle");
** neuter: "unghi" ("angle"), "ceai" ("tea"), "cui" ("nail"), "nai" ("Pan's pipe");
** feminine: "zi" ("day"), "tanti" ("aunt").

These rules can be further refined when the noun is recognized as being derived from other words by use of specific endings, as follows:

* Masculine nouns:
** -ist: _ro. "chimist" ("chemist"), _ro. "jurnalist" ("journalist");
** -an, -ian: _ro. "american" ("American"), "fizician" ("physicist");
** -or, -tor: _ro. "profesor" ("teacher, professor"), "muncitor" ("worker");
** -ez: "englez" ("Englishman"), "chinez" ("Chinese");
** -ar: "demnitar" ("statesman"), "fierar" ("blacksmith");
** others: "geamgiu" ("glazier"), "paznic" ("guard"), "frizer" ("hairdresser"), "român" ("Romanian"), etc.

* Neuter nouns:
** -ism: "capitalism" ("capitalism"), "arhaism" ("archaism");
** -ment, -mânt: "amuzament" ("amusement"), "abonament" ("subscription"), "învăţământ" ("education") - but "ferment" ("ferment") is masculine;
** -ut, -it, -at, derived from the past participle of verbs: "început" ("beginning"), "trecut" ("past"), "sfârşit" ("end"), "morărit" ("milling"), "uscat" ("land"), "oftat" ("sigh");
** -aj: "sondaj" ("poll"), "garaj" ("garage"), "afişaj" ("display").

* Feminine nouns:
** -oare, -toare: "onoare" ("honor"), "înotătoare" ("swimmer") - but "soare" is masculine;
** -are, -ere, -ire, -âre, derived from the long infinitive of verbs: "salvare" ("ambulance"), "plăcere" ("pleasure"), "amintire" ("recollection"), "hotărâre" ("decision");
** -siune/tiune, abstract nouns: "emisiune" ("broadcast, TV show"), "versiune" ("version"), "dimensiune" ("dimension"), "chestiune" ("question");
** -tate, abstract nouns: "libertate" ("liberty, freedom"), "greutate" ("difficulty"), "calitate" ("quality"), "rapiditate" ("quickness");
** -tudine, abstract nouns: "longitudine" ("longitude"),"latitudine" ("latitude");
** others: "bucurie" ("joy"), etc.

Gender assignment: semantic

Rules other than phonetic can be used when the meaning of the noun is known or at least its semantic group is recognized. In this category obvious examples are proper names of people, or nouns designating nationality, profession, etc. Nouns referring to animals and birds are always specific to their biological gender, and often occur in pairs the same way as we have "cow" and "bull" in English. Less obvious situations are described below.

* Masculine nouns:
** most tree names: "brad" ("fir"), "stejar" ("oak"), "mesteacăn" ("birch"), but some are feminine: "salcie" ("willow"), "magnolie" ("magnolia");
** mountains and mountain chains, often in the plural: "Carpaţi" ("Carpathians"), "Bucegi," "Retezat," "Făgăraş". (Because mountains are naturally referred to as, e.g., "the Carpathian mountains", and "mountain" is masculine, its gender "bleeds" to the proper noun, as if it were an adjective; it is possible to construct feminine versions of these names, though they are not used. This often happens for other notable reliefs.)
** others: months of the year, letters of the alphabet, musical notes, figures, etc.

* Feminine nouns:
** names of countries and continents when they end in a: "Franţa" ("France"), "Japonia" ("Japan"), "America" ("America"), otherwise they are neuter: "Mexic" ("Mexico"), "Vietnam" ("Vietnam");
** the seasons of the year: "vară" ("summer"), "iarnă" ("winter");
** the days of the week: "luni" ("Monday"), "duminică" ("Sunday"). (The word for "day" is feminine, "zi".)

Number

Like all Indo-European languages, Romanian differentiates morphologically the singular and the plural number of nouns. Within the Romance languages, regarding the plural formation, Romanian falls in the group East from the La Spezia-Rimini line together with Italian. As such, the plural is formed by the addition or change of the final vowel of the singular noun, very often accompanied by other vocalic and/or consonantic shifts in the noun stem, consonant deletion, and/or the interposition of other phonemes. Occasionally, the plural noun has the same form as the singular. A few nouns are defective by missing either the singular or the plural. Finally, some nouns can form the plural in several ways, depending on the meaning. To illustrate, here are just a few examples:

* simple vocalic addition: "elev" - "elevi" ("school student");
* simple vocalic replacement: "mamă" - "mame" ("mother");
* vocalic shift in the stem: "măr" - "mere" ("apple");
* consonantic shift in the stem: "perete" - "pereţi" ("wall");
* consonant deletion in the stem: "cal" - "cai" ("horse");
* interposition of other phonemes: "cap" - "capete" ("head");
* plural identical with singular: "unchi" - "unchi" ("uncle");
* only singular: "rouă" ("dew");
* only plural: "grâne" ("grain/crops")
* multiple plural forms: "cap" - "capete" / "capi" / "capuri" ("head" / "leader" / "cape");

Most Romanian plural nouns, in their nominative non-articulated forms, end in "i" with another large category ending in "e". Only some recent borrowings make up the very few exceptions to this rule, which seems to be a very stable feature of the language. Among the old Romanian nouns the only exception is "ou" IPA|/oǔ/ ("egg"), which due to its particular phonology makes the plural as "ouă" IPA|/'o.ǔə/. Comparatively, the phonetically similar adjective "nou" IPA|/noǔ/ ("new") forms its plural as "noi" IPA|/noǐ/ at all genders, but such a pattern could not be applied to "ou" since "oi" IPA|/oǐ/ was already the plural of the equally old noun "oaie" IPA|/'ǒa.ǐe/ ("sheep").

Morphologically, the plural is built by using one of the following four endings: -i, -uri, -e, and -(e)le. Of these, the last one used to have few representatives, such as "stea" - "stele" ("star") and "nuia" - "nuiele" ("wicker"). Subsequent borrowings enlarged this group, in particular a series of nouns from Turkish ending in stressed "a" which were assigned to the feminine gender (although Turkish nouns do not have gender).

Plural formation

Like the gender, the plural formation is an intrinsic property of the noun, and is acquired by native speakers one by one together with the respective noun. The tables below show the plural formation modes for nouns according to their gender, in the non-articulated nominative/accusative case. The asterisc (*) indicates irregular plural formation, requiring the insertion of consonants belonging neither to the stem nor to the plural ending, the deletion of stem consonants, or some unusual vocalic shifts.

Pronunciation of plural endings

In writing, all masculine nouns and part of the feminine and neuter nouns end in letter "i" in the plural. However, this letter can correspond phonetically to either vowel IPA|/i/, semivowel IPA|/ǐ/, or non-syllabic IPA|/ʲ/ (see Romanian phonology). The exact pronunciation depends on the preceding phonemes:

* after a vowel, it is pronounced as semivowel IPA|/ǐ/, as in
** "lei" IPA|/leǐ/ ("lions"),
** "văi" IPA|/vəǐ/ ("valleys"),
** "exerciţii" IPA|/eg.zer'ʧi.ʦiǐ/ (exercises);

* after a consonant or consonant group, it is pronounced as non-syllabic IPA|/ʲ/, as in
** "fraţi" IPA|/fraʦʲ/ ("brothers"),
** "bărci" IPA|/'bərʧʲ/ ("boats"),
** "locuri" IPA|/'lo.kurʲ/ ("places");

* after a consonant group, in nouns that require an additional syllable, it is pronounced as vowel IPA|/i/. The need of an additional syllable is phonetic, and is indicated in the masculine singular by the presence of vowel IPA|/u/. Examples:
** "codru" IPA|/'ko.dru/ - "codri" IPA|/'ko.dri/ ("forest"),
** "zimbru" IPA|/'zim.bru/ - "zimbri" IPA|/'zim.bri/ ("aurochs"),
** but "tanti" IPA|/'tan.ti/ (both pl. and sg., "aunt").

The plural ending "e" is always a vowel and does not represent a pronunciation problem.

Despite many plural endings changing the number of syllables in the nouns, the word stress does not generally shift. The only exceptions are a few irregular nouns such as: "soră" IPA|/'so.rə/ - "surori" IPA|/su'rorʲ/ and ("sister"), "noră" IPA|/'no.rə/ - "nurori" IPA|/nu'rorʲ/ ("daughter-in-law").

Case

Syntactically, Romanian nouns can be in any of five grammatical cases:

* nominative, when the noun is the subject;
* genitive, when the noun shows the possessor;
* dative, when the noun shows the receiver of an action;
* accusative, when the noun is the direct object, often also required by prepositions;
* vocative, when the noun shows the (usually animate) addressee of what is said.

The short definitions above are only an approximate indication of the actual usage. Here are some examples with the noun "băiat" ("boy") in the various cases:

For the vocative, the square brackets are used where the respective forms can be imagined, but are not normally used. Additionally, some nouns can have two versions of vocative which can express slightly different attitudes toward the person (animal, thing, etc.) that is being addressed. For example, "iubit" ("lover") has two vocative forms: "iubite" and "iubitule". The first sounds more direct and might be found in poems and song lyrics ("Oh, my darling!"), while the second sounds more natural in everyday life ("Honey!").

The genitive/dative forms require a special mention in the case of proper nouns representing people's names. For men's names, the inflection is replaced by placing the article lui "before" the noun, as a separate word.

* Am citit poeziile lui Eminescu de nenumărate ori. ("I've read Eminescu's poems countless times.")
* I-am dat lui Mihai prăjitura ta. ("I gave your cake to Mihai.")

The same construction is sometimes applied to women's names, but the practice is considered by prescriptive grammar as incorrect, with the exception of feminine proper nouns that have a masculine-like ending:

* fusta Mariei / *fusta lui Maria ("Mary's skirt")
* fusta lui Carmen / *fusta Carmenei ("Carmen's skirt")

For proper nouns other than those referring to people, the genitive is constructed by inflection, like the common nouns.

Case usage

The following subsections describe the usage of each case.

Nominative

Nominative is the case of the subject and of the predicate nominal. Here are some examples:

* Subject:
** Apa trece, pietrele rămân. ("Water passes, rocks stay.")
** Poştaşul sună întotdeauna de două ori. ("The postman always rings twice.")
** Mă doare capul. ("I have a headache." - lit. "The head hurts me.")
** Îmi plac merele. ("I like apples" - lit. "Apples are likable to me.")

* Predicate nominal:
** Fotografia este o artă. ("Photography is an art.")
** Ochii sunt oglinda sufletului. ("The eyes are the soul's mirror.")
** Roma a devenit un imperiu. ("Rome became an empire.")

Genitive

Genitive usually indicates "possession" or "belonging", but is also used to show "origin" and others kinds of relationship. Additionally, while most prepositions require the noun they determine to take the accusative, there are some exceptions in which the genitive (or the dative) is required.

The genitive is most often used in the pattern "noun for possessed + noun for possessor", with the noun denoting the possessor in the genitive case, like for example "balonul copilului" means "child's balloon" (lit. "the balloon of the child"). In such a construction, if the possessed ("balonul", "the balloon") has the definite article attached to it—the most usual situation—and the possessor ("copilului", "of the child") comes immediately after, no other words are necessary to express the genitival relationship.

* Ochii bunicului sunt albaştri. ("Grandfather's eyes are blue.")
* Fiul vecinilor intră mereu în bucluc. ("The neighbor's son always gets into trouble.")

In any other construction involving the genitive, the so-called genitival article (also named possessive article) must be used, corresponding roughly to the English "of the". This can happen (1) when the possessed has the indefinite article, (2) when other words intervene between the two parts, or (3) when the possessed and possessor switch order in the sentence. The genitival article must agree in number and gender with the possessed, and has the forms below.

Words requiring the dative

Although most prepositions require the noun they determine to be in the accusative case, a few must be followed by a noun in the dative. Similarly, the dative is required by some adjectives, many of which conveying the general idea of being (or not) beneficial, or having derived from verbs that themselves require the dative. A few adverbs showing comparison fall into the same category. Examples:

* Prepositions:
** datorită ("owing to"): Am reuşit datorită ajutorului tău. ("I succeeded owing to your help.");
** mulţumită, graţie ("thanks to").

* Adjectives:
** favorabil ("favorable"): Am primit numai mesaje favorabile proiectului noastru. ("We received only messages in favor of our project.");
** folositor, util ("useful"), propice ("propitious"), recunoscător ("grateful"), dăunător ("harmful").

* Adverbs:
** asemenea ("like"): De atâta fericire faţa ei strălucea asemenea soarelui. ("With so much happiness her face was shining like the sun.");
** similar ("similarly"), conform ("according to"), contrar ("contrary to").

Depending on the sentence syntax, the adverbs above can also work as adjectives, nevertheless requiring the dative.

Accusative

The accusative is mainly the case of the direct object, but other nouns can take the accusative form: those indirect objects which aren't in the dative case, as well as most circumstantials and attributes built with prepositions. Examples:

* Direct object::Am spart o farfurie. ("I broke a plate."):Cunoşti un profesor de chitară? ("Do you know a guitar instructor?")

* Indirect object::Fiul meu vorbeşte tot timpul despre avioane. ("My son always talks about airplanes."):Mă gândesc adesea la copilăria mea. ("I often think about my childhood.")

* Circumstanţial::Am ajuns în sfârşit la gară. ("We finally arrived at the station."):Ne ducem la mare cu trenul. ("We're going to the sea by train.")

* Attribute::Am găsit numărul ei în cartea de telefon. ("I found her number in the phonebook."):Oamenii de la munte sunt duri. ("Mountain people are tough.")

A particularity of Romanian is that the direct object is marked in certain situations by the preposition "pe", which in such constructions loses its original meaning ("on", "above"). The usage rules for this marker are complex and insufficiently codified; both semantics and morphology comes into play. Examples of direct object with marker "pe" are given below.

* When the noun designates a person or a personified animal/object::L-am văzut ieri pe Mihai. ("I saw Mihai [person's name: Michael] yesterday."):L-a împuşcat pe lup în cap. ("He shot the wolf in the head.")

* When the noun designates an inanimate object, if the subject and the direct object are the same noun and they precede the verb::Cui pe cui se scoate. (Proverb: "A nail takes out a nail.")

* When the noun is preceded by the comparative adverb "ca" (like)::M-a privit ca pe un străin. ("He looked at me as if I were a stranger.")

The same preposition "pe" is used not only with nouns in accusative, but also with other words having the role of the direct object: pronouns (personal, interrogative, relative, demonstrative, indefinite or negative), numerals acting as pronouns, etc.

Vocative

As the vocative case gives the noun a distinct charge of familiarity, directness, and immediateness, nouns in the vocative are rarely used alone, except when addressing or calling someone. Most of the time, and particularly in writing, such nouns are used together with specific adjectives such as "drag" (dear) and "stimat" (respected, dear). Also, such adjective+noun constructions often include a possessive pronoun. Examples:

* Vocative alone:
**Băiete! ("You, boy!" or "Waiter!")
**Măi, Ioane, unde eşti? ("Hey, Ion, where are you?") - "măi" is one of a series of interjections used to address someone
**Bleguţilor! ("You, little silly buggers!")
**Eleno! ("Elena, dear!")
**Doamnelor! ("Ladies!")

* Vocative with adjective:
**Dragă bunico, ("Dear Grandma")
**Stimate domnule director, (used to formally address in writing the manager of an institution)

* Vocative with possessive pronoun and adjective:
**Dragul meu Radu, ("My dear Radu")
**Scumpii noştri prieteni, ("Our beloved friends")

References

* James E. Augerot, "Romanian / Limba română: A Course in Modern Romanian," Center for Romanian Studies (2000) ISBN 973-98392-0-7.
* Laura Daniliuc and Radu Daniliuc, "Descriptive Romanian Grammar: An Outline," Lincom Europa, München, Germany (2000) ISBN 3-89586-637-7.
* Gheorghe Doca, "Romanian language. Vol. I: Essential Structures," Ars Docendi, Bucharest, Romania (1999).
* Gheorghe Doca, "Romanian language. Vol. II: Morpho-Syntactic and Lexical Structures," Ars Docendi, Bucharest, Romania (2000).
* Liana Pop, Victoria Moldovan (eds), "Gramatica limbii române / Grammaire du roumain / Romanian Grammar," Echinox, Cluj-Napoca, Romania (1997).


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