Latin Lesson

We’ve all seen those hard-to-pronounce scientific (Latin) names for fish, and in this post I want to explore their usage a little. I’ve often seen names that end with -um, -us, -a, -ae, -i, -is, -es and so on, and never known whether they’re plural or singular or how to properly flip them or even pronounce them properly. Of course, you can’t just add an ‘s’ to the end like in English, so I was curious to figure out the ‘rules’.

For fish names, I found that if the fish is named for a person, the name will typically take on the same gender as that person,  -ae to honour females and -i to honour males. Most other fish names will refer to some apparent character or descriptive trait of the fish, or where the fish was discovered. These names typically end in -is (meaning “of”), -es (masculine or feminine), -us (masculine), -a (neuter). These endings are all the plural form and refer to the group of fish that represent the species, or two or more of the species. If referring to a single fish the rules are the same as for Latin adjectives, which follow the same pattern as the nominative (aka subjective) case. These rules do not necessarily apply if the fish name is derived directly from Greek words or is an acronym. For example, Cryptoheros sajica is an abbreviation of Salvador Jimenez Canossa, so the singular/plural case is ambiguous (but if anyone wants to name a fish for me, I think gredasti has a nice exotic-sounding ring to it! Ah?)

To sum up…


“I’d like a…”
“I have one…”


“May I have some…”
“I have a pair of…”
1st declination,



2nd declination,



2nd declination,



3rd declination,
masculine/feminine (unused)
3rd declination,
neuter (unused)
4th declination,



4th declination,
neuter (unused)
-u -ua
5th declination,



A description meaning “of…”



Interesting note:

The letters V, J and W did not exist originally in Latin. U and V were considered to be the same letter, classically. When the vowels U or I were to be pronounced as consonants, they were written as V or J, respectively. W developed as a letter from sounds best approximated as vv (or maybe uu?). Perhaps as a consequence, it’s interesting how this letter w is “double you” in English, but “double vee”  in French (doo-blah-veh) and Spanish.

Some examples…

-a/-ae endings:

(In some contexts, the suffix -ae is given a long i sound: “eye”, but is most correctly given  a long e sound: “ee”. A long a sound is incorrect: “eh”)

  • arrow cichlid: One Amphilophus sagitta, many A. sagittae – “arrow”
  • red terror: One ‘Cichlasoma’ festa, many ‘C.’ festae – In honour of Dr. Enrico Festa
  • Myrna’s cichlid: One Cryptoheros myrna, many C. myrnae – In honour of Myrna Lopez Sanchez

-us/-i endings:

(note that a single i is pronounced long: “eye”,  while a double i is pronounced as a long e followed by a long i: “ee-eye”)

  • keyhole: One Cleithracara maronius, many C. maronii – From the Maroni River
  • (true) green terror: One Andinoacara stalsbergus, many A. stalsbergi – In honour of Alf Stalsberg
  • wolf cichlid: One Parachromis dovius, many P. dovii – In honour of Captain Dow (there’s no w in Latin!)
  • black diamond: One Paratilapia pollenus, many P. polleni

-um/-a endings:

  • convict: One Amatitlania nigrofasciatum, many A. nigrofasciata – “black-barred”
  • Jack Dempsey: One Rocio octofasciatum, many R. octofasciata – “eight-striped”
  • redhead: One Vieja synspilum, many V. synspila – “fused-spotted”
  • two-band: One Vieja bifasciatum, many V. bifasciata – “two-barred”

-us/-us endings:

Singular and plural forms are identical.

  • midas: Amphilophus citrinellus – “lemon-coloured”
  • red devil: Amphilophus labiatus – “big lips”
  • false green terror: Andinoacara rivulatus – “provided with small brooks”
  • Mayan cichlid: ‘Cichlasoma’ urophthalmus – “tail of the eye” (caudal spot)
  • (blue/grey/true) Texas cichlid: Herichthys cyanoguttatus – “cyan-speckled”
  • (false) severum (plural severa): Heros efasciatus – “no stripes”
  • (frue) severum (plural severa): Heros severus – “serious, severe”

-es/-es endings:

Singular and plural forms are identical.

  • sieve cichlid: ‘Cichlasoma’ grammodes – “linked with lines”
  • triangle cichlid: Uaru amphiacanthoides

-e/-is endings:

  • red-stripe eartheater: One Geophagus surinamense, many Geophagus surinamensis – “of  Suriname”
  • emerald/chocolate cichlid: one Hypselecara temporale, many Hypselecara temporalis – “of this world/of time” 
  • moga cichlid: one Hypsophrys nicaraguense, many H. nicaraguensis – “of Nicaragua”
  • green pearlscale cichlid: one Herichthys carpinte, many H. carpintis – “of Carpenter’s Lagoon”
  • jaguar cichlid: one Parachromis managuense, many P. managuensis – “of Lake Managua” in Nicaragua.

And for more information than you care to know…

Typically, words in English that are borrowed from Latin and Greek (loanwords) have irregular plurals:

  • Words that end in -ma are made plural with -mata
    • dogma -> dogmata
    • schema -> schemata
    • stigma -> stigmata
  • Words that end in -us are made plural with -i or -uses or -era
    • alumnus -> alumni (masculine, neuter)
    • cactus -> cacti
    • census -> censuses
    • fungus -> fungi
    • genus -> genera
    • hippopotamus -> hippopotami
    • octopus -> octopodes (from Greek, not Latin)
    • platypus -> platypodes (from Greek, not Latin) or platypus
    • radius -> radii
    • syllabus -> syllabi
    • virus -> viruses  (there is no known Latin plural for virus)
  • Words that end in -um are made plural with -a
    • addendum -> addenda
    • agendum -> agenda
    • bacterium -> bacteria
    • candelabrum -> candelabra
    • consortium -> consortia
    • datum -> data
    • forum -> fora
    • maximum -> maxima
    • medium -> media
    • memorandum -> memoranda
    • millennium -> millennia
    • minimum -> minima
    • podium -> podia
    • quantum -> quanta
    • stadium -> stadia
    • symposium -> symposia
  • Words that end in -a are made plural with -ae
    • alga -> algae
    • larva -> larvae
    • pupa -> pupae
    • alumna -> alumnae (feminine)
    • antenna -> antennae
    • formula -> formulae
    • nebula -> nebulae
    • persona -> personae
  • Some words that end in -x are made plural with -ces
    • appendix -> appendices
    • index -> indices
    • matrix ->matrices
    • process -> processes (included because of possible same pronunciation)
    • radix -> radices
    • vertex -> vertices
  • Words that end in -is are made plural with -es
    • axis -> axes
    • basis -> bases
    • crisis -> crises
  • Words that end in -on are made plural with -a
    • automaton -> automata
    • criterion -> criteria
    • phenomenon -> phenomena
    • tetrahedron -> tetrahedra

Yay Latin! Now I have to go update my stock list!


Revised: 2012-01-17
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