The Sumerian Noun, an Introduction

Sumerian is an agglumative language, that is, adding elements to Sumerian words build the sentence. This, paired with the fact that Sumerian doesn't have words for "the" or "a" results in Sumerian sentences often consisting of 2 or 3 very long words. Despite forming sentences by slapping elements on to nouns (and we'll learn later this applies to verbs too), the order in which one applies these elements to the noun still matters. Let's look at a layout of the order and structure of a theoretical noun that has ALL the elements added onto it:

Root Possessive/Demonstrative Root Plural Genetive case Genetive Plural All other cases Enclitic Copula

Before I explain what each of these mean, notice "All other cases". This implies that there is some exclusivity when it comes to Sumerian cases, which is true. It is impossible to have multiple cases on one noun, the only exception being the Genetive case. So, at maximum, a noun can have one Non-genetive case and any number of copies of the genetive case on it. You may be thinking "what?" when it comes to that last part. The genetive case is "special" and it'll get a lesson all to itself. I won't be teaching in depth about these elements on this page. I will teach them on other pages. For now, I'm giving a *gasp* introduction!

Root (√)

The Root is the core of the noun. It is the "word" that is effected by the other elements. Here's some examples:

Lu = man   Lugal = king   e2 = house  

The root seems simple enough, however, by reduplicating the root (repeating it twice) you can add a plural. Keep in mind, this is only one way (of many) to indicate plurality in Sumerian. This specific method tends to carry the connotation of "all of the". Here's an example using reduplication:

e2 = House   e2.e2 = Houses/All of the houses


The possessive are things like "my, your, his", while demonstratives are things like "this, that, that out yonder" (Modern English only has "that" and "this", but Portuguese has "aqui, la, ali"). Here are some examples:

Root Plural

What's the difference between "King" and "Kings"? The plural! Just put an ".ene" on it. Here's an example:

Lugal.ene = lugal-le-ne = Kings

You can also duplicate the root, however, this usually has the connotation of "all of the" or "many". For example: = ki-ki = all of the lands / the many lands

Genetive case

The genetive case, ".ak" is similar to the English word "of" or "'s". It is somewhat of a "fussy child" of the language, so it will have it's own page that goes in depth with all of its niche uses. When it falls at the end of a word, the "k" in "ak" is dropped. In it's most simple use, here's some examples:

At the end of a word:

Lugal-la -> lugal.ak

Say an element, "ta", is a part of this word and comes after the genetive:

Lugal-ak-ta -> Lugal.ak.ta

As you can see, the "k" is preserved

Now with a transliteration/translation:

If there are multiple nouns in a sentence, you can show the genetive on both in 2 ways. Put ".ak" on each, or put multiple ".ak" on one. Note how the ".ak" behave like mathematical brackets (which I've included to further illustrate the point). There are semantic differences that I will illustrate below:

compare this to the use of all the genetive cases on one (the last) noun, which comes AFTER the root genetive:

As you can see, using the root genetive on multiple nouns in a sentence ties smaller clauses together. Such as in English with "market of fish" turning into "fish-market". If you instead use the Genetive case ontop of only one noun, you retain the "X of Y" connotation. The Genetive case can be stacked forever theoretically, so you could wind up with:

All other cases

Remember, only one of the below cases can be on a word at a time. Here's a table:

Name Element Translation
Dative -ra (animate), -e (inanimate) to/for √
Comititive -da with √
Terminative -še to/toward √
Ablative -ta from √ / by means of √
Locative1 -a in/at √
Locative2 -e near to/up against √
Equative -gin7 as √ / like √
Adverbitive -eš, -be, -be-eš In the manner of √ / √-ly (makes a noun into an adverb)

What does animate/inanimate mean? Well, unlike languages like French, Sumerian doesn't use masculine and feminine. Instead it uses animation. So, for example, a human is animate (it moves) while a mountain is inanimate (it does not move). However, there are always exceptions so it is best to consult a dictionary. For example, slaves, dispite being human are often considered inanimate objects in Sumerian.

Genetive plural

This is the same as the plural, ".ene". If there are multiple nouns in a sentence *and* multiple of these could have the genetive on them, you can show the plural on both in 2 ways. Put ".ene" on each, or put multiple ".ene" on one. Note how the ".ene" behave like mathematical brackets (which I've included to further illustrate the point). Unlike the genetive, there doesn't seem to be any semantic difference between these two methods. Essentially, it bundles ".ene" with ".ak", creating one element that does both! I will show an example below:

Enclitic Copula

Put simply, the copula is the verb "to be". Unlike all other verbs (which will be covered after I deal with the nouns), the copula is attached to the noun. Since it is such an irregularity, and is directly related to the noun's structure, I will include it here. Do keep in mind that there are two types of copula, the "enclitic copula" which is attached to a noun, and the "regular" copula, which behaves like a verb. Both convey the same meaning, so it appears to be up to the preference of the scribe which version is used. Here's a table and some examples:

Person copula element translation
1st singular .men -> me-en I am √
2nd singular .men -> me-en You are √
3rd singular .am3 -> -am3 (if the previous letter is a vowel, "a" is replaced by it. he/she/it is √
1st plural .menden -> -me-en-de-en we are √
2nd plural .menzen -> -me-en-ze-en You(plural) are √
3rd plural .meš -> -me-eš They are √ -> lugal-la-am -> He/she/it is king (remember, Sumerian has no "the" or "a" so you can choose to include those words where context permits) -> e2-em -> It is house (note how "a" was replaced by the previous vowel "e")

munus.enzen -> munus-en-ze-en -> You(plural) are (a) woman (note how without a plural marker, the noun is still singular even if the verb is plural)

munus.ene.enzen -> munus-se-ne-en-ze-en -> You(plural) are women (With the plural marker, the noun is plural.


Next time, I will go more in depth about the noun, as well as the great variety of pronouns that exist such as interrogative, personal, and demonstrative pronouns.