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Word Order...

Working out the "correct" word order in Latin is, of course, a nightmare for any beginner as well as for many who are not beginners.

However, I have to wonder whether the current (beta) course on Duo has looked closely enough at the best word order and is frequently marking as incorrect some options that are not only correct but actually better than the answers given.

My particular gripe is with adjectives - and more so with possessive adjectives. I'm NOT an expert in Latin, and I really don't have enough knowledge to be on firm enough ground to report what I think are probably errors, so this is (perhaps) a topic for debate by those who are. Some of the answers, many of the answers, "felt" wrong, so I did more than a little research and I think I'm probably right.

In the course here, adjectives are placed (almost?) exclusively after the noun they describe. Yet, Roman authors (Julius Caesar, Cicero, among others) place well over half their adjectives before the noun (according to experts who have done detailed analysis of the writings).

The mistakes, if that's what they are, are particularly noticeable when there is more than one adjective. It doesn't sound right to me, for example, to have "stola tua nova" and should either be "tua stola nova" OR "nova stola tua" depending on whether the emphasis is on the "your" or the "new" - and depending on whether there's any risk of creating confusion with other words in the sentence.

** I also appreciate that Ancient Rome was around for a very long time - around a thousand years, I think - and language changes. But most Latin literature is from a relatively short period (if you ignore the writing from the Middle Ages that was done in Latin) and although the writers definitely had their own styles, the basic structure didn't change much, I think.

September 12, 2019



Hi there, The contributors have been going into every sentence in the course and adding alternate acceptable answers to every sentence (sometimes as many as over 100). There are a few things beginners really don't understand, for example, "Latin word order is free" is a partial myth. But there are great variations in Latin style. Cicero almost always placed his numerical adjectives before the noun, Caesar put them on both sides, favoring following the noun slightly.

Some of Caesar's writings were analyzed and the following data was produced.

63% was SOV

21% was OSV

OVS, VOS, and SVO accounted for 6%, 5%, and 4%, VSO for 1%.

As far as adjective placement around a noun, we have to input EVERY possible iteration we want accepted. So if you have 2 nouns with even 1 adjective each, that can be dozens of combinations like having Adj Subj Adj DO Verb, Subj Adj DO Adj Verb, Subj Adj Adj DO, Verb and so on, add in 1 or 2 prepositions, or alternate translations of verbs, a conjunction or two, an optional personal pronoun in one of three locations in the sentence and you can see hundreds of variations to a single sentence.

So it's not exactly mistakes, just that we haven't gotten to it yet. But if you think you have a sentence translation with a word order you'd like accommodated, please report it, and soon enough (if you're right), you'll get a happy email in your inbox.

Gratias tibi ago, Colin


Wow, that is a lot of work. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed/contributes to the Latin course.


Latin does not have any kind of fixed word order. Adjective attributes and participes can be split and placed just about anywhere in the sentence. It is the cases that show which parts belong together.


To be grammatical and to be (usually) understood, yes. To convey what you actually want to say and to give an appropriate, relevant emphasis to what you are saying, and to say it without sounding like a total idiot, no.

Latin word order is, obviously, less important than most other languages, but you can't just stick the words in any order you feel like. Apart from anything else, some words will nearly always take a specific place in the sentence (e.g. adverbs come directly before the word they modify, and very occasionally immediately after it, infinitives linked to another verb come directly before it, "non" will come directly before a verb - to put it elsewhere changes its meaning, and so on).

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