1. Declension Patterns and Gender
  2. Nominal Declension


PIE-0 nouns and adjectives ("nominals") had a simpler declensional pattern than they did at later stages of the common language. There were only two genders: animate (source of the later masculine) and inanimate (source of the later neuter). Feminine gender arose later as a coalescence of animate nouns with stems ending in -x and of inanimate collective plurals. Animate and inanimate are approximate terms, by the way: although almost all living things are animate, this category also included many nouns that we would consider inanimate. Inanimates were essentially passive objects, incapable of being action agents.


Two other categories were important: number and case. As to number, a nominal could be in the singular, the dual (when there were two of something) or in the plural. As far as case is concerned, evidence points at eight cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, ablative and instrumental. Case markers, however, showed a lot more uniformity than at later periods - indeed, one could almost say that we are dealing with an agglutinative language (like Hungarian, Finnish or Turkish) where the suffix associated with a particular case is usually the same.

The main characteristic of inanimate nominals is the fact that they never distinguished between the nominative and accusative cases. This is probably because inanimates, as I said above, were passive objects that could not serve as subjects of transitive verbs.


Some time before the stage PIE-0, the language had probably been of the "ergative" type. Ergative languages, exemplified by Basque, Georgian and Sumerian, have two direct cases: ergative, which serves as the subject of transitive verbs, and absolutive, which serves as the direct object of transitive verbs and as the subject of intransitive verbs. Ergative languages are thus markedly different in syntactic structure from so-called "accusative" languages, such as most IE languages today (as well as most Uralic, Altaic and Afroasiatic languages). The best argument for ergativity in early PIE is the existence of the -om marker in inanimate (later, neuter) thematic nouns and adjectives. Here, an ending that normally characterized the accusative also served as the nominative ending. This is best explained by deriving the accusative ending from an earlier "absolutive" ending, at least for thematic nominals.

For ergativity in general, see Dixon (1994). For IE as an ergative language, see Uhlenbeck (1901), though this is disputed by Dixon.

Whether earlier PIE had, or had not, been an ergative language, it is clear that by the stage PIE-0 it had become an "accusative" language. Typical declensional patterns are given below.


As can be seen from the paradigms presented below, PIE-0 nominal morphology was quite predictable. At a period preceding the PIE-0 stage, most of the endings were probably postpositions.

cons. stems(ending ina stop) cons. stems(ending ina nasal) cons. stems(ending in e + x) cons. stems(ending in i + x) (with derivativefeminine suffix) cons. stems(ending in i + ɣ) cons. stems(ending in s) cons. stems(ending in r)
SINGULAR Nominative pod-s 'foot' kuon-s 'dog' gwenex-s 'woman' deywix-s 'goddess' dhiɣ-s 'thought' xewos-s 'dawn' paxəter-s 'father'
Vocative pod kuon gwenex deywix dhiɣ xewos paxəter
Accusative pod-əm kun-əm gwenex-əm deywix-əm dhiɣ-əm xewes-əm paxəter-əm
Neuter Nom./Acc. - nomən 'name' - - nebhos 'cloud' -
Genitive ped-os / ped-es kun-os / kun-es gunex-os / gunex-es deywix-os / deywix-es dhiɣ-os / dhiɣ-es xus-os / xus-es paxətr-os / paxətr-es
Dative ped-ey kun-ey gunex-ey deywix-ey dhiɣ-ey xus-ey paxətr-ey
Locative pod-i kun-i gwenex-i deywix-i dhiɣ-i xewos-i paxəter-i
Ablative ped-os kun-os gunex-os deywix-os dhiɣ-os xus-os paxətr-os
Instrumental ped-'e kun-'e gunex-'e deywix-'e dhiɣ-'e xus-'e paxətər-'e
DUAL Nom./Voc./


ped-'e kun-'e gunex-'e deywix-'e dhiɣ-'e xus-'e paxətər-'e
Neuter Nom./Voc. - nomən-i' - - - nebhes-i' -
Gen./Loc. ped-ows kun-ows gunex-ows deywix-ows dhiɣ-ows xus-ows paxətr-ows
Dat./Abl./ Instr. ped-bhyoH kun-bhyoH gunex-bhyoH deywix-bhyoH dhiɣ-bhyoH xus-bhyoH paxətər-bhyoH
PLURAL Nom./Voc. pod-es kun-es gwenex-es deywix-es dhiɣ-es xeus-es paxəter-es
Accusative pod-əns kun-əns gwenex-əns deywix-əns dhiɣ-əns xeus-əns paxəter-əns
Neuter Nom./Voc. - nomən-əx - - - nebhes-əx -
Genitive ped-om kun-om gunex-om deywix-om dhiɣ-om xus-om paxətr-om
Dat./Abl. ped-bhyos kun-bhyos gunex-bhyos deywix-bhyos dhiɣ-bhyos xus-bhyos paxətər-bhyos
Locative ped-su kun-su gunex-su deywix-su dhiɣ-su xus-su paxətər-su
Instrumental ped-bhis kun-bhis gunex-bhis deywix-bhis dhiɣ-bhis xus-bhis paxətər-bhis

NUMBER CASE cons. stems(heteroclitic, with r/n alternation) i-stems i/ei-stems u-stems (ending in e + x) diphthongal stems (ending in -ew) diphthongal stems (ending in -ey) o-stems
SINGULAR Nominative - ɣewi-s 'sheep'   sunu-s 'son' dyew-s 'god'   ɣerbh-o-s 'orphan'
Vocative - ɣewey   sunu dyew   ɣerbh-e
Accusative - ɣewi-m   sunu-m dyew-əm   ɣerbh-o-m
Neuter Nom./Acc. wodor 'water' mori 'sea'   gonu 'knee' -   yug-o-m 'yoke'
Genitive weden-os / weden-es ɣewy-os / ɣewy-es   sunow-s / sunw-os diw-os / diw-es   ɣerbh-o-s(yo)
Dative weden-ey ɣewy-ey   sunow-ey diw-ey   ɣerbh-o-oy
Locative wodon-i ɣewi-i   sunew-i dyew-i   ɣerbh-o-y
Ablative weden-os ɣewy-os   sunow-s diw-os   ɣerbh-o-od
Instrumental weden-'e ɣewi-'e   sunow-'e diw-'e   ɣerbh-o-'o
DUAL Nom./Voc./Acc. - ɣewi-'e   sunow-'e diw-'e   ɣerbh-o-'o
Neuter Nom./Voc. wodon-i' mori-i'   gonw-i' -   yug-o-i'
Gen./Loc. weden-ows ɣewy-ows   sunw-ows diw-ows   ɣerbh-o-yoH
Dat./Abl./Instr. weden-bhyoH ɣewi-bhyoH   sunu-bhyoH diw-bhyoH   ɣerbh-o-bhyoH
PLURAL Nom./Voc. - ɣewy-es   sunow-es dyew-es   ɣerbh-o-os / ɣerbh-o-y
Accusative - ɣewi-ns   sunow-əns dyew-əns   ɣerbh-o-ns
Neuter Nom./Voc. wodon-əx mory-əx   gonw-əx -   yug-e-x
Genitive weden-om ɣewy-om   sunow-om diw-om   ɣerbh-o-om
Dat./Abl. weden-bhyos ɣewi-bhyos   sunu-bhyos diw-bhyos   ɣerbh-o-bhyos
Locative weden-su ɣewi-su   sunu-su diw-su   ɣerbh-o-ysu
Instrumental weden-bhis ɣewi-bhis   sunu-bhis diw-bhis   ɣerbh-o-ys

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