3rd declension nom. sing. -es: is it long or short?

Serenus

legātus armisonus
I have long had headaches with 3rd-declension words ending in "-es", since I couldn't make sense of how they sometimes have a long -ē- and sometimes a short -ĕ-. This stuff matters in poetry, since you need to get the -es right when the next word starts with a vowel. Here is a guide to them.

Words that just have a very easy nominative -es and genitive -is, with no consonants inserted, pretty much always have -ēs (long e) and -ĭs (short i). Including many Greek names! There are many of these words. Some of them may allow a nominative -ĭs too.
- Euphrātēs Euphrātĭs m. 'the Euphrates river'
- fēlēs fēlĭs f. 'cat'
- lābēs lābĭs f. 'a fall, a falling'
- mēlēs/mēlĭs mēlĭs f. 'badger' (also spelled maelēs/maelĭs maelĭs)
- nūbēs nūbĭs f. 'cloud' (the nominative sing. is also nūbĭs and even nūbs in pre-Classical Latin)
- pūbēs pūbĭs f. 'pubic hair'
- Sōcrătēs Sōcrătĭs m. (a philosopher)
- sordēs sordĭs f. 'filth; stinginess'
- vallēs/vallĭs vallĭs f. 'valley'
- vātēs vātĭs 'soothsayer; poet' (also vātĭs in pre-Classical Latin)
- verrēs verrĭs m. 'boar'
- vulpēs vulpĭs f. 'fox' (also spelled volp-)

Words that have nom. -es and gen. -ĭtis pretty much always have -ĕs (short e). There are many of these words too.
- ālĕs ālĭtĭs 'winged' (an adjective)
- cŏmĕs cŏmĭtĭs m./f. 'companion'
- dīvĕs/dīs dīvĭtĭs 'rich, wealthy' (note: genitive dīvĭtum, ablative dī(vĭ)tĕ...)
- fōmĕs fōmĭtĭs m. 'tinder, kindling wood'
- līmĕs līmĭtĭs m. 'path; boundary (possibly walled)'
- mīlĕs mīlĭtĭs m. 'soldier'
- pĕdĕs pĕdĭtĭs m. 'soldier on foot'
- vēlĕs vēlĭtĭs m. 'warrior, untrained lightly-armed soldier; (in plural) guerrilla, skirmishers'

But beware the following special cases. And this list is not exhaustive (but hopefully covers all common words).

Words that use consistent length of e (in nominative and declining stem):
- hĕbĕs hĕbĕtĭs 'dull, not sharp' (an adj.)
- hērēs hērēdĭs m./f. 'heir(ess)'
- lĕbēs lĕbētĭs (< λέβης λέβητος) m. 'cooking cauldron'
- lŏcŭplēs lŏcŭplētĭs 'opulent' (an adj.)
- quĭēs quĭētĭs f. '(some) calm'

Words that shorten the e in the declining stem (or, lengthen the e in the nominative singular):
- ăbĭēs ăbĭĕtĭs f. 'silver fir tree'
- ărĭēs ărĭĕtĭs m. 'ram'
- Cĕrēs Cĕrĕrĭs f. (a goddess)
- părĭēs părĭĕtĭs m. 'wall'
- pēs pĕdĭs m. 'foot'
- pūbēs pūbĕrĭs 'ripe, becoming adult' (an adj.)

Note: the digitized Lewis & Short by the Perseus Project on UChicago's Perseus/Logeion reports genitive ărĭētis at the present moment (Nov. 2020), but this is a typo. The typo is not present in the main Tufts site. All three of the Oxford Latin Dictionary, the Gaffiot 2016, and Forcellini say the declining stem has a short -ĕ-.

Also, Vergil sometimes turns ă-bĭ-ĕt- and ă-rĭ-ĕt- into ab-jĕt- and ar-jĕt- to deal with the sequence of three short vowels in dactylic poetry: ab-jĕ-tĕ (Vergil, Aeneid 2.16), ab-jĕ-tĭ-bus (Aeneid 9.674; Flaccus, Argonautica 7.405), ar-jĕ-tĕ (Aeneid 2.492). And surely this is an option for pă-rĭ-ĕt- too (so, par-jĕt-).

Hope this helps!
 
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Hemo Rusticus

Lounge Lizard
I frankly didn't know that (many) of the dental stems have short nom's, like fomes. Seems strange.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
And surely this is an option for pă-rĭ-ĕt- too (so, par-jĕt-).
Yes. E.g.:

parietibusque premunt artis et quattuor addunt (Verg. G. IV. 297)

The OLD also mentions a couple of examples in the Aeneid.
 

Serenus

legātus armisonus
I frankly didn't know that (many) of the dental stems have short nom's, like fomes. Seems strange.
Yeah. I mentioned this to some Indo-European nerd, and he wondered whether this shows the original nominative singular *-ets of these words became [ɛss] (like how Oscan shows a final geminate -ss in some inflections: meddíss 'meddĭx', teremníss < *-ibʰs 'terminibus', víass < *-āns 'viās'), thus also evading the short e > i rising that you see in Old Latin (genitive) SALVTES > salūtĭs.

Except for *-iets words somehow, which underwent compensatory lengthening, e.g. *ariĕts > ariēs.
 
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