TIPS & NOTES : Word order/Grammar of Latin
Latin word order is much more flexible than English word order. Since Latin is an inflected language (words change form depending on their function in the sentence – like he/him she/her) word order is not as important as it is in English. For instance:
English - The boy sees the dog.
Latin – puer canem videt. or puer videt canem. or canem puer videt. or canem videt puer. or videt puer canem. or videt canem puer.
As you can see, the English sentence can only be written one way and keep the original meaning; however, the same sentence can be written in 6 different ways in Latin and not change the original meaning.
But, although Latin word order can be very flexible, typical Latin word order generally follows the pattern Subject- Object-Verb (SOV). English word order is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO). For instance:
SVO English - The boy sees the dog.
SOV Latin – puer canem videt.
The one normal exception to this rule in Latin is when the verb “to be” (sum, esse, fui, futurum) is used. The sentences will mirror English word order (SVO). For instance:
SV (O) English – The cook is in the kitchen.
S V (O) Latin – coquus est in culina.
To know in depth about how to form sentences in Latin click here
Before going any further Read This so that you can understand the importance of the basic grammar which is given below
- 1) DECLENSIONS : Declensions are groupings of nouns that have share the same endings. They are a system of classifying words like we have a system for classifying animals (genus, etc.). There are a total of 5 declensions.. You must be thinking now why there are 5 declensions?
Reason is : Since the ending of Latin words (the case) determines the function (subject, direct object, etc), if every Latin noun was in the same declension, every word in a sentence would have a similar ending. This would have made it very difficult to distinguish words when they were spoken, and you would feel like you were speaking a constant nursery rhyme.
To know more about declensions you can refer to Declensions
Please note that nouns belong to only one declension. Nouns will not change declensions, they will only change cases.
- 2) CASES : In English the function of a noun (subject, direct object, indirect object, etc) is determined primarily by word placement. Notice how changing word order in the sentence below changes the function of the noun.
▪ The girl (subject) sees the queen (direct object)
▪ The queen (subject) sees the girl (direct object)
In Latin, the function of the noun is determined by the ending.
Remember: The endings come from the declension and then the case within that declension.
There are 6 distinct cases in Latin: Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative, and Vocative; and there are vestiges of a seventh-the Locative.
These cases exist for all declensions and have the same functions for all declensions. The only thing that changes between declensions is the endings.
Nominative & Accusative
Latin is an inflected language which means that nouns change their endings (this is called “declining”) depending on the function in the sentence. English does this with pronouns (I/me, they/them), but not with nouns.
▪ Nominative: The nominative case is used for the subject of the sentence – that is, the person or thing performing the action.
coquus est in culina. - The cook is in the kitchen.
The nominative case is also used for predicate nouns and adjectives (those that come after the verb in English) when the verb is some form of the verb “to be” (est, sunt, etc.).
Grumio est coquus. - Grumio is a cook,
Metella est mater. - Metella is the mother.
▪ Accusative : The accusative case is used for the direct object of sentences – that is, the person or thing receiving that action of the verb.
Grumio cenam coquit. - Grumio is cooking dinner.
Metella Clementem videt. - Clement sees Metella.
Remember that word order is flexible in Latin, so the subject will not always come first, and the direct object will not always be last.
- 3) GENDER OF NOUNS : *All nouns in Latin have a gender. There are three genders in the Latin language - masculine, feminine, and neuter. *
A noun's gender doesn't always have something to do with the noun - it's just a grammatical quality.
For example, the word for eye, oculus, oculi, is masculine, but the word for tree, arbor, arboris, is feminine. The word for river, flumen, fluminis, is neuter. And for a completely unexplainable example, the word uterus, uteri (womb) is masculine, even though men don't have wombs. I don't know what the Romans were thinking on that one.
That's why it's important to learn the gender of a word when you learn a word itself. There is unfortunately no way to tell for sure what gender a word is by looking at it or knowing its meaning. (And even though the gender of a word can usually be predicted in first, second, and fifth declension, there are exceptions.)
Here are a few general rules about gender in Latin.
▪All first declension nouns except words that refer to people who do certain jobs/professions are feminine. Most common exceptions: agricola, agricolae: farmer nauta, nautae: sailor poeta, poetae: poet pirata, piratae: pirate incola, incolae: inhabitant
▪ All second declension nouns that end in -us, -r, or -er are masculine, except for names of trees and some places (such as Roma, Romae - Rome - which is feminine)
▪ All second declension nouns that end in -um are neuter. There are no exceptions.
▪All fifth declension nouns are feminine except dies, diei (day), which is masculine.
▪There are a few rules that apply to ALL neuter nouns, no matter what declension they are:
▪ Nominative and accusative are always the same.
▪ Nominative and accusative plural always end in -a, no matter what declension. This doesn't apply to Pronouns .
- 4) Personal Ending for VERBS :
Much like nouns will change their endings depending on their function in the sentence, verbs will also change their endings. Verbs change their endings depending on the person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and number (singular or plural) of the subject of the sentence. Latin has a unique ending for all 6 forms; English only does it for one.
I have We have
you have You all have
he/she has They have
Notice that only the 3rd person singular form changes in English. Now look at the same verb in Latin.
Notice that each form in Latin has a unique ending. To change the endings of verbs , we must follow some rules. Look at the dictionary entry for the word video
video, vidēre, vīdi, visum – to see
The 1st principle part of the verb (video) is the 1st person, singular, present, indicative, active form of the verb. (Don’t worry, these terms will make sense eventually; focus on the first 3 terms for now.) This form is translated as “I see.”
The 2nd principle part (vidēre) is the present, active infinitive form of the verb. This form is translated as “to see” and is also used to tell us what conjugation the verb belongs to. Just like nouns belong to declensions based upon their endings, verbs also belong to declensions based upon their infinitives which is known as conjugation.
There are 4 conjugations plus irregular verbs. The conjugations are as follows:
1st Conjugation infinitives end with –āre. Example: amāre
2nd Conjugation infinitives end with –ēre. Example: vīdēre *Note the long mark above the first “e”
3rd Conjugation infinitives end with –ere. Example: mittere *Note the difference from the 2nd conjugation.
4th Conjugation infinitives end with –īre. Example: audīre
The 3rd principle part (vīdi) is the 1st person, singular, perfect, indicative, active form. This is translated as “I saw,” “I have seen,” or “I did see.”
The 4th principle part (visum) is the perfect passive participle. This is translated as “having been seen.”
To conjugate verbs in the present tense we need to start with the infinitive (vidēre) and remove the “re”. This gives us the present base (vidē-). To this base we add our present tense personal verb endings: -o, -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt. For instance:
However, while this is a general rule, there are some exceptions for each conjugation.
1st Conjugation – The basic rule applies (infinitive minus “re” plus personal endings), but when we add the “–o” for the 1st person singular, the “a” will drop out. The “a” will be present in all other forms.
2nd Conjugation – The basic rule applies, and there are no exceptions.
3rd Conjugation – The basic rule applies, technically, but there are slight changes in every form. The “e” drops out in the 1st person singular (similar to 1st conjugation). The “e” changes to an “i” in the 2nd and 3rd person singular, and the 1st and 2nd person plural. The “e” changes to a “u” in the 3rd person plural.
4th Conjugation – The basic rule applies, but in the 3rd person plural, we add a “u” before the “nt.”
While irregular verbs will end with the same endings as regular verbs (o, s, t, mus, tis, nt) their formation must be learned separately.
- 5) NOMINATIVE- PLURAL
Just as nouns will change their endings to go from case to case, nouns will also change their endings when going from singular to plural. This is similar to English nouns adding an “s” (usually) to a noun to form the plural. For instance:
English – The slave is in the street. The cooks are preparing dinner.
Latin – servus in via. quae parare cenam coqui .
Notice that the Latin verb changes its ending to reflect the plural subject.
- 6) SUPPRESSED SUBJECT
In English, every sentence must have a subject, either a noun or pronoun, since the verb doesn’t always reflect a change of person. However, in Latin, since the verb does always reflect a change of person, a subject is not necessary for every sentence, especially if the subject is the same as the previous sentence. For instance:
English : Grumio is in the kitchen. He is cooking dinner. Notice that English uses a pronoun to avoid repetition.
Latin : Grumio est in culina. cenam coquit. Notice that Latin drops the subject to avoid repetition.
- 7) ACCUSATIVE PLURAL ; Superlative
The accusative plural follows the same rules of formation as Accusative case. Refer to point 2) & 3) if you need to recall about declining nouns.
The superlative form of the adjective is translated as “very,” “the most,” or “-est.” Superlatives are formed by adding “issim” to the base of the adjective, and then adding the appropriate ending. There are two types of adjectives, but both will follow the same rules. Below I will explain how to decline adjectives in general, and then superlatives in particular.
Adjectives will either be 1st/2nd Declension Adjectives or 3rd Declension Adjectives, but not both.
1st/2nd Declension Adjectives will use 1st and 2nd declension endings to modify nouns. The declension will change depending on the gender of the noun. 1st/2nd Declension Adjectives use the 1st declension endings when they are modifying feminine nouns, 2nd declension endings when they are modifying masculine nouns, and the 2nd declension neuter endings when they are modifying neuter nouns. They will use these endings regardless of the declension of the noun they are modifying.
The dictionary entry for 1st/2nd Declension Adjectives looks like the example below: bonus, bona, bonum or -us, -a, -um. The first form (bonus) is the masculine, nominative, singular form. The second form (bona or –a) is the feminine, nominative, singular form. The third form (bonum or –um) is the neuter, nominative, singular.
3rd Declension Adjectives will use 3rd declension endings to modify masculine or feminine nouns and 3rd declension neuter endings to modify neuter nouns.
Now that we know how to decline the positive form of adjectives, we can decline the superlative form.
To do this, we must first find the base of the adjective.
laetus, laeta, laetum -> laeta -> laet
Once we’ve found the base we add “–issim.”
Finally we add the appropriate 1st/2nd declension ending depending on what case, number, and gender we need. laetissimus, laetissima, laetissimum, etc.
However, not all adjectives follow this pattern. When an adjective’s base ends with an “–l” or an “ –r,” we double the “–l” or “–r,” add “im,” and then add the 1st/2nd declension endings. For instance:
facilis, facile -> facil -> facill -> facillim -> facillimus, facillima, facillimum, etc.
pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum -> *pulcher -> pulcherr -> pulcherrimus, pulcherrima, pulcherrimum, etc.
Notice that the “e” will stay for the superlative form. This is the case for adjective bases ending in “–r.”
Grumio est coquus. Metella est Mater. Methinks (at least some of) these notes are from the Cambridge Latin Course, is that correct?
Nopes! The part wherein "Metella est Mater" was mentioned that was taken from the notes provided by Lawrence Public Schools, USA. :)
Then I think it's very likely Lawrence Public Schools, USA, used the Cambridge Latin Course (1970). "Clemens est servus."
Thanks :) I just added point 3) about genders and modified point 1) & 2) , refer to it in case you need help regarding that! :)
All first declension nouns except words that refer to people who do certain jobs/professions are feminine. Most common exceptions: agricola, agricolae: farmer nauta, nautae: sailor poeta, poetae: poet pirata, piratae: pirate incola, incolae: inhabitant
Yes and no: no, these words are not feminine. However, they are declined according to the first declension, which consists of mainly feminine words. "A good farmer" = agricola bonus, i.e. not bona.
Little extra fact: words like poeta are borrowed from Greek (ποιητής). Such words also follow the Greek equivalent of the first declension, but are more recognisable as masculine words because of a few alterations. In Latin, they take the exact same endings as feminine words like puella.
Thanks. But looking at my comment I should have clarified that while all the examples I gave are perfectly correct, of course a Roman would not use each of those sentences arbitrarily, but according to meaning and what they wanted to emphasise. A question such as 'Where is the cook?' might be answered with 'IN CULINA est coquus'. A question such as 'Is there someone in the kitchen?' might be answered with 'EST coquus in culina'. To know exactly which sentence to use in such cases is the difference between someone who just knows Latin and someone who is really skilled in it. Most of us will never get there!
Word order is a real problem in this course.
The requirements of comprehension vs composition diverge: For a beginner reading Latin it might be helpful to think of word order as 'flexible', but if you are trying to compose your own sentences, this is really counterproductive - how do I know which one to pick? If verb-last is canonical, why not use it consistently?
Moreover I think it's worth making explicit your point that 'not as important' is not the same as 'not important (at all)'. Even as a beginner it's obvious word order in Latin is far from meaningless or arbitrary - classical usage is so saturated by concerns of rhetoric and style that word order often matters considerably to the effect and emphasis.
Thanks so much for posting this! I've been taking high school Latin classes for two years but didn't want to say anything about this issue out of fear I'd be wrong!
A good post thanks!
I completed the Latin course but a problem I have found with the course is that too many sentences are rejected because of the 'wrong' word order. In reality, there are really no rules about word order in Latin. The rules are really stylistic, not grammatical 'The cook is in the kitchen' can be translated: Coquus in culina est. In culina est coquus. Est in culina coquus. Est coquus in culina etc. I hope the course will be improved in this respect.
@Matthew972936 At Least you completed it. :D But look at me- I was marked wrong so many times that I ultimately decided not to proceed any further in Latin-Tree. For now, I am waiting so that the course gets out of beta until then my main focus will be on Spanish and Python.
Yes I’m having the same frustration with the random word order requirements. But with such a new course I guess I knew that was what I was signing up for. It’s going to take quite a while for them to add all those alternative correct answers since they have to do it by hand. I’m just glad for all their hard work.
Are these tips & notes intended for beginner students of Latin? If so, you should know that declensions (what they are and how they work) will most probably be a whole new concept. As of now first times it is mentioned it is from a perspective of it already being familiar, and only much later in the article there is some description and an external link. If the article is intended for beginners, an explanation should be written already the very first time it is mentioned.
Hi, Yes you're right about that but like I said in one of my old comments that I added few points a bit later, plus at that time due to hectic schedule I completely forgot to re-arrange them, so thanks a lot for reminding me :) Now I have re-arranged them. Thanks anyways :)