In the English language, the grammatical function a particular noun serves in a sentence is dictated by its position. If a person was to the read the sentence, “The cat climbs the tree,” he or she should know that that the cat is the subject and the tree is the direct object, based on the order in the sentence. Languages such as Latin and Greek, however, use a system of declensions to identify the grammatical function a noun serves in a sentence. In both these languages, a first declension is a set of word suffixes that identifies which grammatical function a particular noun — usually feminine in gender — serves in a sentence.
In languages that use a system of declensions, every noun uses a specific set of endings. With these suffixes — which issue one ending for each grammatical purpose, or case, the word can serve in a sentence — are called declensions. Each word in a language uses one of these declensions, and each is identified by an ordinal number. The number of declensions a language uses can vary. Students who study such languages must memorize every suffix that belongs to each declension.
Nouns belong to different declensions based on the characteristics of the word itself. Words that belong to the first declension in languages like Latin or Greek tend to end with an “a” sound. These words are mostly nouns that are feminine in gender, or masculine words that happen to end with an “a” sound.
The first declension, as with others, typically consists of a specific suffix for each grammatical case the noun can take within a sentence. These cases include:
- accusative — used to show the noun is the direct object in the sentence
- dative — in which the noun is the indirect object in the sentence
- nominative — indicates that the noun is the subject of a sentence
- ablative — indicates the noun is the object of a preposition
- genitive — conveys a noun that is the owner of a particular object
There is a set of suffixes for each case of singular nouns, and a different set for each case of plural nouns, in each declension. The first declension can have separate sets of suffixes for words of the declension that are grammatically male or grammatically female, depending on the language. In Latin, nouns of both masculine and feminine grammatical gender use the same suffixes, while in Greek there are separate declensions for each.