Nouns are divided into two grammatically distinct categories:
Although these categories are referred to as “genders”, the semantic dividing line between them is a question of personhood, not sex (bulls are “neuter”, eunuchs are “epicene”), and is entirely predictable (not, as for Spanish or German genders, largely arbitrary). Just to make sure things are clear, all the nouns in the lexicon (see XII, XIII) are specifically labelled as either “E(picene)” or “N(euter)”.
A noun's gender naturally makes a difference to the pronouns that refer back to that noun (“it” or “he/she”), but gender also determines the pronoun‐suffixes that attach to associated verbs, postpositions, or “possession” nouns (see VIc), and the pattern of its case‐endings (below).
Nouns and pronouns (along with their accompanying adjectives) signal their role in a sentence partly just by obeying word‐order rules (see IXa), but also by means of case‐marking suffixes. To take a classic example sentence, saiók kua·da ilunsu·es means “a dog bites a man” (literally, “dog man bites”). In English, rearranging the words is enough to change the meaning and produce a much better news item – “MAN BITES DOG”, where the attacker (subject) and victim (object) have exchanged roles. But for that headline to work in a language like this one, reordering the words wouldn't be enough – you'd also need to put the nouns in the right cases and make sure the verb has the right agreement with the subject of the sentence: kua saiók ilunsu, “a man bites a dog”. This shouldn't seem too unfamiliar – after all, it's very like the way English pronouns behave (“I love her”/“she loves me”), but applied to nouns as well.
A side‐effect of this extra marking is that it's often possible to emphasise an object noun by pulling it to the start of the clause: saiók kua ilunsu is “a man bites a dog!” The lack of ·da and ·es endings keeps it quite clear who did the biting.
Classicists might prefer the labels “Nominative”, “Accusative”, and “Dative” for these cases, but I'm avoiding them because they're less widely understood.
Nouns do not normally show any sign of being singular or plural (see IIIa), and there are no “articles”; the noun ianúr can mean “a leg”, “the leg”, “legs”, or “the legs”. This vagueness is cheerfully tolerated; the demonstratives “this/that” are available, but they are not normally used as stand‐ins for our articles “a/the”.
What nouns are accompanied by are pronoun‐suffixes which distinguish “my leg(s)” from “your leg(s)”; see VIc. However, since the third‐person suffix for epicene‐gender agreement is zero, it tends to increase rather than reduce the confusion for English‐speaking learners – ianúr can mean any of “his leg(s)/her leg(s)/their leg(s)” as well as the senses listed above.
Nouns also carry case‐marks which show their role as participants in the action of the sentence, and take the following forms (depending on the noun's gender):
These case suffixes are appended to nouns after any pronoun‐suffixes; the d vanishes if the last letter before the suffix is a consonant, except that …m·d… becomes …nd…, …n·d… becomes …nn…, …r·d… becomes …rr…, and …l·d… becomes …ll…. Thus “the king” is ji as subject, ji·da as object/oblique; “our horse(s)” is kéntha·m as subject/object, kéntha·n·don as oblique.
A glance at the table in the previous section will show that neuter nouns have identical subject and object forms, while epicene nouns have identical object and oblique forms. However, there are a handful of irregular epicene nouns which behave differently, with special forms for each case. The only ones still in common use are:
All the other ‐(i)én agentives (see Xa) have vestigial irregular forms in the same pattern as this last. None of these irregularities persist when pronoun‐suffixes intervene, and they affect only the nouns themselves, not any accompanying adjectives.