Chapter Akkadian Language, section Akkadian Grammar,
This is subsection Akkadian Nouns

Akkadian noun

This page uses tables which should display well in Netscape, but possibly not in Mosaic.

  1. Noun declension
    1. Case: nominative, genitive, accusative
    2. Gender: masculine, feminine
    3. Number: singular, dual, plural
    4. State of a noun: construct state
  2. Forms of the construct state of the noun
    1. simplest type ;
    2. other types
  3. Adjectives
    1. no degrees of comparison
    2. position
    3. case endings
    4. table of case endings
    5. types
    6. use
  4. Possessive pronouns as suffix
  5. Some type of nouns
    1. Abstract nouns
    2. Nominal typology

Partially underlined words (links) refer to a glossary of terms.

2. Noun declension

Nouns in Akkadian are relatively easy to understand. Akkadian grammar is very regular and for the noun one has only to know a limited number of grammatical forms. Most of the effort in understanding Akkadian goes into the study of the verb.

2.1 Grammatical categories of the noun

In many languages words may change their appearance (form) to express certain particularities. Grammatical changes of a noun are called noun declension or inflection, whereas grammatical changes of the verb are called conjugations.
Adding an s-ending to the word house to form houses is a grammatical form change to indicate that we are referring to 'more than one' house. This grammatical form category of the noun is called number, which in English exists in two forms: singular and plural. A few words, like foot, feet use vowel change as grammatical form to indicate the plural.
Akkadian nouns are inflected. They conform to four different grammatical categories: case, gender, number and the state of a noun. The category 'state of a noun' is characteristic for Semitic languages.

2.1.1 The case of a noun

A grammatical form called the 'case of a noun' indicates the relation of the noun to other nouns or to other parts of the phrase, in particular in relation to the verb.

In English inflection has disappeared for the most part and word order marks the relation between words, e.g.:

houseboat is a kind of boat
boathouse is a kind of building
dog bites man 'dog' subject, 'man' object
man bites dog 'man' subject, 'dog' object

There are still some remaining case inflections in English e.g. for the possessive form (genitive case)
John's book = 'the book of John'
relating the two nouns 'book' and 'John'.
The genitive in English is also seen in forms expressing other relations (e.g. time) like in
a day's work, for heaven's sake, a month's salary
In English other grammatical 'cases' exist in the personal pronouns. The subject pronouns (I, he, she, we, they, etc.) are the nominative case of the personal pronouns and used as subject in the phrase.
The object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them, etc.) are the accusative case (also called object case) of the personal pronouns and used as object in the phrase. The nominative and accusative case thus mark the relation with respect to the verb. E.g. in
I love her
is the subject I the nominative case of the personal pronoun, the one who carries out the action described by the verb.
her is the accusative case of the personal pronoun, object of 'to love'.
Despite the name 'accusative', the referent of 'her' in this phrase is not accused of the verb-action 'love' expressed by the referent of 'I'. The term 'accusative' was in Latin a loan word from Greek and probably rest (I am told) on a wrong interpretation of Greek aitiatikè ptosis ('the case of cause'), as if one had read aitia 'to accuse'.

In Akkadian three cases are mainly used:

The nominative is also used as the unmarked form, e.g. the form in which the nouns appear in a dictionary (citation form), or in an apposition (words not having a grammatical function in a phrase).
In sharrum 'king' is the ending -um for nominative. The stem *sharr- is the word without ending. (An asterisk * denotes nonexisting or reconstructed forms, a general linguistic and very important tool).

sharrum '(the/a) king' nominative (masculine singular)
sharrim '(the/a) king' genitive (masculine singular)
sharram '(the/a) king' accusative (masculine singular)

The case indicators are the vowels u, i and a resp. The mimmation (final -m in the endings) falls into disuse after the Old Babylonian period: sharrum > sharru etc.
Akkadian (unlike some other semitic languages) has no definite ('the') or indefinite ('a', 'an') article. sharrum may be translated 'a king', 'the king' or 'king' as context requires.
(Articles are a relatively late development in English. 'The' evolved from the demonstrative pronoun ('that'), while the indefinite article 'a' is related to 'one'.)
oblique case is the term one uses when the form of the genitive and the accusative case is the same. e.g. in the plural (ä, ï, ü here indicating long vowels):

sharrü nominative (masculine plural)
sharrï genitive or accusative (masculine plural)

The plural thus is characterized by long vowels (often not indicated in de writing) and by the loss of mimmation, the loss of the final m in the case endings. After the Old Babylonian period (no mimmation in the singular) the distiction is mainly the vowel length.
In learning Akkadian one should be able to recognize the forms, but one should realize that the function may be different (e.g. use of the accusative form to express an adverb etc.) One should know the forms and may dispute the function.

2.1.2 Gender in Akkadian: masculine and feminine

English has only natural gender (gender, Lat. genus), which involves reference to the sex of real-world entities. French, German etc. have also grammatical gender: each noun belongs to a class with similar groups of grammatical forms, called masculine, feminine or neuter. Although (in Indo-european languages) originally evolved from natural gender, they now may or may not have anything to do with natural gender. In German and Dutch the word for 'girl' is neuter. Grammatical gender is now a formal category and is about to disappear in many languages.
Some languages (like Sumerian) only know animate/inanimate as grammatical gender.

Akkadian (as all other semitic languages) has two genders, masculine and feminine. There is no neuter. The function of the neuter in some Indo-european languages (used for abstract nouns, like 'happiness') is taken by the feminine.

Feminine form

In general the feminine is marked by -t or -at suffixed to the stem. Nouns without this suffix are (almost always) masculine. Thus masculine nomen have no special mark. E.g. with stem *sharr- 'king' + fem. ending -at + nom. ending -um

Akkadian masculine case forms singular
sharrum 'king' nom.sing. sharratum 'queen' nom.sing.
sharrim 'king' gen.sing. sharratim 'queen' gen.sing.
sharram 'king' acc.sing. sharratam 'queen' acc.sing.

A number of words in the oldest vocabulary, like ummum 'mother' are masculine in form, yet they obtain feminine attributes. Also the plural has feminine plural ending ummätum (nominative). In semitic languages probably the grammatical gender is not related to the natural gender, but derives from a special grammatical form that indicates an individual/particular example from a collective name, like 'cow' is an individual from the collective 'cattle'. This use of the -at ending is still common in Arabic. The change of meaning to ''feminine'' would in this theory be caused by the fact that most individuals in herds are female.

2.1.3 Number: singular, dual, plural

Most nouns know a grammatical form in singular (one) and plural (more than one). In most languages the singular is an unmarked form and the plural is indicated with special endings. In Akkadian the forms for masculine plural we have seen already:

Akkadian masculine case forms plural
sharrü '(the) kings' nominative (masculine plural)
sharrï '(the) kings' oblique (=genitive or accusative) (masculine plural)

Masculine plural is characterized by endings with a long vowel. The forms of feminine plural are:

Akkadian feminine forms plural
sharrätum nominative (feminine plural)
sharrätim oblique (=genitive or accusative) (feminine plural)

The feminine ending -ät in the plural has a long a vowel.

In Akkadian (and some other languages, like Greek) there is in addition another form called dual (two, Lat. dualis). Some languages even have a separate form 'trialis' (three) to indicate 'three of a kind'. Akkadian has separate forms for singular, pluralis and dual. Dual is general used to indicate pairs, but already in Old Babylonian limited to nouns denoting or connoting parts of the body, originally symmetric body parts that come in two like 'hands', 'eyes', 'feet' (together with derived meanings like 'foundation' for 'feet') but in an extended sense also other parts (like 'head' and its derived meaning 'top').
The dual is also used when more than one pair is meant (like in 'the eyes of the people'). Dual forms are characterized by long vowels and nunnation, that is a final -n in the endings

Akkadian dual forms
ïnän 'two eyes' (dual nominative)
ïnïn 'two eyes' (dual oblique = genitive or accusative)

After the Old Babylonian period nunnation disappears, and thus the distinction between dual and plural.

Some words occur only in a singular form (Lat. singulare tantum, from Lat. 'tantum' = 'only'). English examples are the mass (or uncountable) nouns, such as
water, snow, sugar (in general substances and food)
fun, happiness, sleep (and many other abstract nouns)
One cannot ask: 'How many are there?' (some are uncountable nouns in English ('advice'), but not in other languages).

Some words occur only in plural form (Lat. plurale tantum), like in English
odds, regards, thanks, stairs (and many tools and clothing)
In Akkadian the plural-only form is seen in words that indicate a collective (for which English sometimes has no plural), like

nishü 'people'
The singular of such nouns is not attested.

2.1.4 State of a nomen: the construct state

A fourth category of grammatical forms is the so called state of a nomen. This is new for most students knowing only about Indo-eurepean languages. It is a common feature in semitic languages.
In some languages compound nouns are easily formed, sometimes simply by placing them together without any change of form (either written as one word, with a hyphen or as two words), like in English
landlord, steam engine, fire-insurance
Some languages (French, Latin) have more difficulties in forming compounds. A concept is described, like in French
l'assurance contre l'incendie'(''Insurance against the fire'')
In Greek the making of long compounds is very flexible, a feature used for many (new) scientific terms.

If in Akkadian two nouns are combined to form a compound, the first part (that identifies the object/person) is written in a special grammatical form, called the construct state (Lat. status constructus). The second part (a further specification) could be a noun in the genitive.
'Landlord' would in Akkadian be written as 'lord land', with bëlum 'lord' in the construct state bël and bïtum 'land' in the genitive bïtim: 'lord of the land':
bël bïtim
The form of the construct state often is the shortest form of the noun which is phonetically possible, e.g. the construct state of sharrum 'king' is shar

shar sharrï 'king of the kings'

(with long i, here written as ï, the genitive masc.plural)

In general: the construct state is used when the noun is further specified and immediately followed by:


2. Forms of the construct state of the noun

2.1 Simplest type of the construct state

Construct state of the noun, simplest types
example with genitive with suffix

nominative accusative genitive nominative accusative genitive
bëlum singular bël älim bël-ï bëli-ja
('lord') bël-shu bëli-shu
plural bëlü älim bëlï älim bëlü-'a bëlï-ja
bëlü-shu bëlï-shu
ashshatum singular ashshat awïlim ashshat-ï ashshati-ja
('wife') ashshassu ashshati-shu
plural ashshät awïlim ashshätu-'a ashshäti-ja
ashshätu-shu ashshäti-shu


2.2 Other types of the construct state

3. Adjectives

An adjective is a type of word that expresses a quality or attribute to a noun, in general a word that modifies the meaning of a noun ('the big man'), either by attributing the specification to the noun, or by describing the noun using a verb ('the man is big'). As always we should know the grammatical forms of the adjective and may dispute the actual function/use of the adjective.

In English adjectives are invariable: they do not change their form (no case endings, no distinction between singular/plural etc.). English adjectives have no particular form (except in comparative and superlative), however in English there are a set of suffixes added to a (special type of) noun, (a special type of) verb or other adjectives to make new adjectives. Some suffixes are frozen, but some are dynamic and may still be used to form new adjectives not (yet) found in a dictionary (the suffix -less is dynamic: 'a handless telephone').

some formations of English adjectives
suffix added to meaning to form adjectives like:
-y noun having the quality of foggy, cloudy, hairy, healthy
-able verb able to do this admirable, drinkable, variable
-ive verb performs the action of attractive, explosive, possessive
-ish adjective more or less reddish, youngish, fattish

In English an adjective may show contrast of degree ('great', 'greater', 'greatest') which are expressed by special endings (-er, -est). It is in general a characteristic of adjectives, however:

3.1 No degrees of comparison.
In Akkadian there are no degrees of comparison expressed by special endings. Adjectives like rabû 'great' must sometimes be translated as 'greater', depending on the context.

3.2 position of the adjective.
In Akkadian the (attributive) adjective normally follows the noun it modifies.

sharrum dannum 'the strong/powerful king' (nominative)
awïlum kabtum 'an important man' (nominative)

In English the adjective follows the noun in some fixed expressions (remnants of an old stage of the language):
'a court martial', 'the Attorney General', 'the president elect'
In Akkadian one also finds the inverse order (here the adjective preceding the noun) when the adjective is intimately related to the noun, like

ellum Anum 'the pure/holy god Anum' (1)
ezzütu shärü 'wild/turbulent winds
erishtu Mami 'the wise goddess Mami'

(1) proper names usually have no case endings.

3.3 case endings (see table)
In Akkadian the (attributive) adjective has in most cases the same endings as the noon, as is often the case in languages to indicated the close relation between noun and adjective (not in English though: 'the intelligent boy/boys/girl/girls' is the same in singular and plural).
sharrum dannum 'the strong/powerful king' (nominative, e.g. as subject, like in sharrum dannum conquered the enemy')
ana sharrim dannim 'to the strong/powerful king' (genitive used after prepositions).
sharram dannam 'the strong/powerful king' (accusative, e.g. as object, like in 'He conquered the sharram dannam')

In masc. plural the case ending is slightly different (see table: -ütum for nominative and -ütim in the oblique case = both in the genitive and accusative case).
In Old Babylonian the adjective has no dual: an adjective modifying a dual stands in the plural case.

3.4 Table of endings

endings of the Akkadian adjective
(endings are like nomen rectum except dual and pl.m.)
masculine feminine
sg. nominative -um -(a)t-um
genitive -im -(a)t-im
accusative -am -(a)t-am
dual nominative -ütum -at-um
oblique -ïtim -at-im
plural nominative -ütum -ät-um
oblique -ütim -ät-im

3.5 types of adjectives.
There are several types of adjectives. Two important ones are

3.6 use of adjectives
In English an adjective may be attributive, like 'good' in 'a good book', but it may also be used after a verb (like 'the book is good') in which case the term is predicative adjective. Not all adjectives are of both types (compare 'a major question' with *'the question is major', others may be used only predicatively like 'he is ill/glad' and not very well *'the ill/glad person').

(with damqum an adjective 'good', a so called verbal adjective). We note that in Akkadian (and other semitic languages) there is no formal distiction between the two types of use. An adjective like 'good' is at the same time a verb 'to be good' (a so called state verb, describing a state and not an action or process).


4. Possessive pronouns as suffix

Possessive pronominal suffixes
1 sg. -ï, -(j)a 'my'
2 sg. m -ka 'your' (m.)
f -ki 'your' (f.)
3 sg. m -shu 'his' (m.)
f -sha 'her' (f.)
1 pl. -ni 'our'
2 pl. m -kunu 'your' (m.pl)
f -kina 'your' (f.pl.)
3 pl. m -shunu 'their' (m.)
f -shina 'their' (f.)


5. Some type of nouns

5.1 Abstract nouns.

Abstract nouns (nouns lacking physical reference, but describing a quality or an idea like 'information', 'love', 'kingship', 'length', as contrast with concrete nouns) are in many languages often formed with special affixes.

English abstract nouns formed with suffixes
suffix added to examples
-tion verb information, situation definition
-ment verb judgement, argument, arrangment
-ness adjective sadness, usefulness, redness
-th adjective long-length, wide-width, deep-depth
(often with vowel change)
-ship noun scholarship, kingship, relationship

5.1.1 Abstract nouns with -ütu(m) endings

Some abstract nouns with -ütu(m) endings
Akkadian abstract noun meaning -ütu(m) added to: meaning
älikütu (function of) messenger äliku he who goes
bëlütu lordship/rule bëlu lord
dannütu fortress/stronghold dannu strong
dajjänütu function of judge dajjänu judge
Enlilütu Ellil-ship (supreme rule) Enlil Enlil, the supreme god
errëshütu agriculture errëshu farmer
eTlütu ''youngstership'' eTlu young man
ilütu deity, divinity ilu god
malikütu sovereignty malku king
mälikütu function of adviser
mu'errütu chairmanship mu'erru principle
räbiSütu watchman, guard räbiS u he who watches
(abstract noun from participle: the activity of a guard)
sharrütu kingship sharru king
shïbütu testimony shïbu witness

(see spelling examples in cuneiform with -ütu ending)

5.1.2 Abstract nouns as fem. or fem. plural nouns.


5.1.3 Abstract nouns as purs-type noun.


5.1.4 Abstract nouns, writing as logogram.


5.2 Nominal typology.

6. Terminative


Chapter Akkadian Language, section Akkadian Grammar,
This is subsection Akkadian Nouns
These pages are under (slow) development.
Maintained and updated by John Heise
lu2.shab.tur shumallû 'pupil'
last modification on Feb 10, 1996