Traditional Grammatical Terminology: Latin

© A.G. Rigg, 1991

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1  General terms

1.1  Diachronic, Syncronic

The historical account of a language is diachronic; the description of a language at any one moment is synchronic (and is often the province of a linguistics department). Diachronic study is often referred to as ‘historical philology’. Most traditional grammatical terms derive from those used by Latin grammarians of the fourth and fifth century (with reference to Latin itself).

1.2  Phonology

The study of sounds. This is rarely relevant for a beginner in Latin, but a common sound change is assimilation, whereby one consonant is assimilated to the next (ad-cedo = accedo, in-luminare = illuminare, etc.).

1.3  Morphology

Often known as Accidence, concerns grammatical forms, such as the plural marker -s in houses, the plural -i in Latin domini, vowel gradation in breakbroke, Latin venioveni, reduplication in Latin tangotetigi, the pronoun forms hehimhis, Latin iseumeius, etc. A morpheme, known in inflected languages as an inflexion, is an affix (usually a suffix, or ending) used to change the function/number/gender, etc. of a word: e.g., plural -s, possessive -s (’s, s’), feminine -ess (Latin, plural: -i, -ae; posessive: -i, -orum; feminine, -rix, etc.).

1.4  Etymology

The study of the origin of words (or the specific origin of a word). The stem of a word is its minimal elements, stripped of prefixes and affixes, e.g., the stem of inficio is fic/fac (as in facio). A word may have more than one root: e.g., the roots of princeps, ‘chief’ are prim (as in primus, ‘first’) and cap/cip (as in capio, ‘take’).

1.5  Semantics

The study of meaning. Semantic change occurs when a word’s referent changes. In English the word nice has changed from ‘foolish’ to ‘fastidious’ to ‘pleasant’; in Latin a pontifex (pons + facio) was a bridgemaker, then an official with sacral functions, and (in Christian Latin) then a bishop; prelatus, ‘someone set above’ (prae + fero) came to mean a religious official in charge of others, usually a bishop. tenens, ‘holding, one holding’, came to mean ‘tenant’.

1.6  Syntax

Literally ‘arrangement’. Refers to the rules by which a language operates (e.g., that ne ‘takes’ the subjunctive). Parataxis (‘side-by-side arrangement’, e.g., he came–he saw–he conquered) is contrasted with hypotaxis (subordinate arrangement, e.g., after coming and seeing, he conquered).

1.7  Synthetic, Analytic

A synthetic language, like Latin, employs morphemes to indicate the relationship between units of a sentence (the boy’s sword, Latin pueri gladius); an analytic language uses prepositions and word-order (the sword of the boy). No language is wholly synthetic or wholly analytic (Latin uses prepositions to indicate direction, for example), but Latin is the most synthetic language most people encounter. Where English writes: ‘we were running’, ‘I have seen’, ‘the bishop of London’, ‘the house was being built’, Latin has: currebamus, vidi, episcopus Londiniensis, domus aedificabatur.

1.8  Concord

‘Agreement’. In Modern English this affects primarily verbs and a few demonstrative pronouns, where singular must match singular and plural plural (he goes–they go; that book–those books). In Latin, however, concord is invariable: demonstrative and adjective must agree with the noun they modify, in number (4), gender (1.9), and case (3). illae velocissimae naves, istud carmen sonorum.

1.9  Gender

Nouns in Latin are masculine, feminine, or neuter. This has nothing to do with sex (natural gender), but concord applies: masculine nouns are referred to as ille, hic, etc., feminine as illa, haec, neuter as illud, hoc. German retains all three genders; in French, the Latin masculine le has absorbed the neuter.

1.10  Tense

Time, expressed from the point of view of the speaker or writer. In Modern English tense may be expressed by a morpheme or morphological change (kills–killed, grows–grew) or by an auxiliary verb (will grow, did kill). In Latin only inflexions are used to indicate tenses. See below 2.6.3, 2.6.4 and 9.

1.11  Aspect

In Modern English this may be continuous (we were walking), habitual (birds migrate in winter), or perfective (I have eaten my lunch). Latin has no continous present: canit means ‘he sings’ and ‘he is singing’; the imperfect past (-abam, -abas, etc.) indicates continuous or incomplete action in the past (dum canebat, ‘while he was singing/sang’); the perfect (-avi, -avisti, etc.) indicates a completed action in the past (cecinit, ‘he sang’) or a perfective (cecinit, ‘he has sung’). See 9. Latin does not use auxiliary verbs (be, have, see 2.6.3) to indicate aspect.

1.12  Voice

Active or passive (see 2.6.5). Modern English uses auxiliaries to form the passive (the house was built, the letter is being typed; there a few semi-passive verbs, e.g., the goose is cooking); Latin invariably uses inflexions: anser coquitur, except in the past perfect (domus aedificata est, ‘the house has been/was built’). On subject and object, see 1.15.

Verbs are transitive (taking a direct object, ‘he burnt the goose’, anserem ussit) or intransitive with no direct object (run, talk).

1.13  Declension

The forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, demonstratives, as they ‘decline’ through their cases (3). The declension also refers to the pattern of endings, of which there are five in Latin (agricola 1st decl., dominus 2nd decl., etc.).

1.14  Conjugation

The forms of a verb; in Latin conjugation refers specifically to the classification of four main types of verb (amare 1st conjug., monere 2nd conjug., etc.).

In Latin it is possible to predict every form of a verb once the principal parts are known: 1st person present singular; infinitive; 1st person perfect singular; past participle (e.g., amo, amare, amavi, amatus).

1.15  Subject and Object

The grammatical subject (nominative case) of a sentence is that of which the remainder of the sentence is predicated: He + owns a large house; the horse + was sold quickly. In these, ‘owns a large house’ and ‘was sold quickly’ form the predicates. The direct object (accusative case) of the verb is that on which the verb acts directly. In He gave her the book, it is book which is the direct object of the verb gave and it is in the accusative in Latin (librum). In this sentence her is the indirect object (dative case, Latin ei). In Modern English, but not Latin, the indirect object is often expressed by the preposition to. See 3.1; 3.3; 3.5 (Nominative, Accusative, Dative).

1.16  Clause

A clause is a sentence unit which includes a finite verb (2.6.1) but does not form a complete sentence (dum ambulabamur…, ‘while we were walking…’). A phrase is a group of linked words lacking a finite verb. On subordinate clauses, see 6.

1.17  Complement

The complement completes the verb (he is + rich; he eats + small children/quickly/ messily).

2  Parts of Speech

2.1  Nouns

Also substantives from nomen substantivum, contrasted with nomen adiectivum (2.3). In common parlance, a thing (cow, box); a proper noun is a uniquely designated thing or person (George, Toronto). Formally a noun is any word which is behaving like a a noun, e.g., by taking case endings (3) of forms indicating plurality, by governing a verb as its subject (1.15) or being the object of a verb, by following a ‘governing’ preposition (2.7), etc. In Modern English almost any word can function as a noun (‘ins and outs’, ‘but me no buts’), but in Latin nouns must have appropriate endings. On the verbal noun (gerund) see 2.6.8; on the infinitive as noun, see 2.6.9.

In Latin there are five declensions of nouns (1.13).

A noun can be modified by demonstrative, adjective, or relative clause (e.g., ‘the little red boat that you used to have’); the whole unit constitutes a Noun Phrase. On Noun Clauses, see below 6.1. In Latin the modifying adjective. etc., must agree with the noun (1.8).

2.2  Pronouns

Pronouns stand in for nouns (usually known or implied) and behave like nouns; they are modified according to case (3), number (4), and gender (1.9). They are classified as follows:

2.2.1  Personal Pronouns

He, she, it, I, we, they, etc. These are modified according to case, number, gender, and also person (5); they refer to nouns that are already known (except, in English, where it is a formal subject, as in It is raining: Latin does not supply a formal subject). In Latin the subject pronoun (ego, tu, is, nos, etc.) is not usually expressed: canimus, ‘we sing’, canebatis, ‘you were singing’.

Latin has a distinct reflexive pronoun, referring back to the subject of the verb; this is not marked for gender or number but is used in the accusative, genitive, dative and ablative cases; it is 3rd person only (5.3). se culpat, ‘he blames himself’, praedam sibi rapuerunt, ‘they took booty for themselves’.

In English, forms in -self are used to reinforce a noun or pronoun; in Latin this function is performed by ipse in the appropriate case, number and gender: Caesar ipse, ‘Caesar himself’. A further reinforcement is the enclitic particle -met: memet ipsum, ‘me myself’.

2.2.2  Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns introduce direct or indirect questions (8): who, whom, whose, which (quis, quem, cuius, quid). In Latin, unlike English, they are marked for number as well as case. Which (quid, etc.) may also be an adjective (‘which book do you want?’).

2.2.3  Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns (qui, quae, quod) introduce relative clauses (6.2) and correspond to English who, which, that or the zero-relative (see 6.2.1). In Latin they are marked for case, gender, and number.

The antecedent is the noun or pronoun in the main sentence to which the relative clause refers, e.g., Caesar in Caesar, quem omnes amabamus, mortuus est, ‘Caesar, whom we all loved, is dead’. Latin frequently omits an antecedent pronoun (quos invenerunt occiderunt, ‘they killed those whom they found’) or sometimes places the antecedent inside the relative clause (quos hostes invenerunt occiderunt, ‘they killed those enemies that they found’).

2.2.4  Indefinite and Distributive Pronouns

The indefinite and distributive pronouns are: any, one, whoever, each, everyone, either, etc. (Latin aliquis, quidam, quisquis, quicumque, quisque, uter, alter, etc.)

2.3  Adjectives

Adjectives (Latin nomen adiectivum) describe or limit nouns (big, green); they can precede the noun (the big house) or be predicated of it (the house is big, he seems intelligent, I consider him ambitious). In Latin they are modified by case, number and gender, and must obey the rules of concord (1.8).

2.3.1  Restrictive and Non-restrictive

A distinction is made between restrictive use of adjectives (‘pass me the red book’, i.e., not the blue one) and non-restrictive descriptive usage (‘a tall man came into the room’). In English this distinction is important in the formation of relative clauses, but is not relevant to Latin.

2.3.2  Substantives

Adjectives may be used like nouns (‘the brave are lonely’) or even behave like nouns (‘McCarthy saw reds under every bed’). This is very common in Latin: audaces may be a simple adjective ‘brave, daring’ or act as a noun: audaces praemium consequuntur, ‘the brave win the reward’. The present participle is often used as a noun: sapiens, potens, ‘a wise man, philosopher’, ‘a powerful man’.

2.3.3  Degree

Comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives are expressed by adding the suffixes -er (Latin -ior, -ius) and -est (-imus); like English, Latin can also use comparative and superlative adverbs to modify an adjective (more, magis, most maxime). In Latin the comparative and superlative may simply be used as intensifiers, not necessarily by comparison: vetustissimus, oldest, or very old.

2.4  Articles and Demonstratives

Classical Latin does not have an equivalent to the English definite article (the) or indefinite article (a, an), but Medieval Latin often uses ille, iste, ipse for the definite, quidam for the indefinite. The English demonstrative adjectives, which also function as pronouns, are thatthose and thisthese; Latin has far more; they decline according to case, number and gender.

2.5  Adverbs

Adverbs (well, badly, very, so) modify verbs (bene scribit, ‘he writes well’), adjectives (nimis audax, ‘excessively bold’), and adverbs (valde operose, ‘extremely laboriously’). A few adverbs (e.g., fortasse, ‘perhaps’) modify the whole sentence. Adverbs and adverbial phrases can be roughly divided into: time, place, and manner. On Adverbial Clauses, see 6.3.

2.6  Verbs

Grammatically, verbs introduce what is predicated of the subject of the sentence (roses smell sweet, chickens eat seed). Formally, they are the parts of speech that have the inflexions of verbs (e.g., 1 sg. -o or -m or passive -r, 1 pl. -mus, -mur, 3 pl. -nt, etc.). In Latin there are four main Conjugations of verbs and some irregular ones.

2.6.1  Finite and Non-finite

The finite parts of a verb are those that can complete a sentence or clause (‘he saw a goose’, anserem vidit; ‘yesterday he was sick’, heri aegrotavit). The non-finite parts are the infinitive (2.6.9), present, past and future participles (2.6.7), gerund (2.6.8), supine (2.6.11), and gerundive (2.6.10).

2.6.2  Transitive, Intransitive, etc.

Verbs are transitive with a direct object (‘the boy ate the cake’, puer libum comedit) or intransitive with no direct object (‘the messenger ran quickly’, nuntius celeriter cucurrit). Only transitive verbs can form proper passives.

Inceptive verbs indicate a process (nigresco, ‘grow black’); factitive verbs cause something to be done (fugare, ‘cause to flee, put to flight’, from fugere, ‘flee’); frequentative verbs indicate repeated action (cantito, ‘sing often’). Many of these verbs lose their primary senses and adopt the meaning of the simple verb.

2.6.3  Auxilary Verbs

In English, auxiliary (‘helping’) verbs need to be completed by an infinitive; they are used to indicate tenses, obligation, ability, permission, possibility, and so on; they differ from ordinary verbs by having no participles, infinitives, or verbal nouns, and by not employing do to form questions and negatives. In Latin, however, most of the functions of English auxiliaries are performed by inflexions (e.g., future tense, subjunctive), impersonal verbs (licet tibi ire, ‘you may/have permission to go’), gerundives (eundum tibi est, ‘you must go’), and other devices. possum, ‘be able’ and debeo, ‘owe, ought’ often function as auxiliaries.

Copulative verbs link subject and predicate noun or adjective; the predicate is in the nominative. The principal one is esse ‘be’ (Elizabeth est regina, ‘Elizabeth is Queen’); videor (the passive of video, ‘see’) is a copulative verb when it means ‘seem’.

2.6.4  Tense

Morphologically, English has only two tenses, present (sings) and past (sang); all the other tenses and aspects are formed by auxiliary verbs (will, shall, have, had, did, is, etc. [see 2.6.3]). Latin, however, uses inflexions to form the present, past (also called preterite), pluperfect, and future, and by inflexion also distinguishes the past imperfect (‘was going’) from the past perfect (‘went, has gone’). The verb esse is used periphrastically to form a future with the future participle: amaturus sum, ‘I am going to love’ (on the Gerundive, see 2.6.10). (Some Medieval Latin writers use habeo plus past participle to form a perfect, like English have, French avoir, but this is very rare.)

The general non-use of periphrases with be and have with participles (rife in English) means that Latin cannot make the subtle distinctions of aspect; e.g., canit means both ‘sings’ and ‘is singing’, cecinit means both ‘sang’ and ‘has sung’ (but Latin can distinguish canebat ‘was singing’ from cecinit).

Latin also has a future perfect inflexion, indicating an action complete in the future (-avero, etc.); this corresponds to English shall/will have + participle, but can often be rendered by a present tense (postquam venerit, cenam incipiemus, ‘after he comes we will start the meal’).

2.6.5  Voice

In English and Latin there are two voices, Active and Passive. In the Active Voice, the grammatical subject (3.1) is the agent of the verb (amabat, ‘he loved’); in the Passive the grammatical subject is acted on by the verb (amabatur, ‘he was loved’). To form the passive, English uses forms of be followed by the past participle; Latin uses inflexions. Latin uses esse and past participle to form the perfect or preterite passive: captus est, literally ‘he is in a state of having been captured’, means ‘he has been/was captured’; (the sense ‘is being captured’ is rendered by the present passive capitur).

Latin has many deponent verbs, passive in form but active in meaning (venor, ‘I hunt’), some semi-deponents (with both active and passive forms, e.g., audeo, ‘I dare’; soleo, ‘I am accustomed’), and some verbs that are passive in meaning but active in form (vapulo, ‘I am beaten’).

Most verbs are personal, i.e., they have a personal subject (I, you, he, she, etc.), but some are impersonal with no subject (usually expressed in English, if at all, by the formal subject it). Of the impersonals, some concern things like the weather, as in English (ningit, ‘it is snowing’); others are used where English would use auxiliaries or personal verbs (me paenitet, ‘I regret’; licet tibi ire, ‘you may (have permission to) go’; oportet te ire, ‘you ought to go’).

2.6.6  Mood

Mood has nothing to do with ‘state of mind’; it is Latin modus, ‘manner, way, method’. In traditional grammar there are said to be three moods of the verb, Indicative, Imperative, and Subjunctive; there is some overlap between the last two. In Modern English auxiliary verbs (2.6.3) play a large part in the expression of the subjunctive and also of the imperative; Latin uses inflexions.


Indicative is the ordinary use of the verb in declarative sentences (she went home, he likes fishing). It is also used in forming questions to which the answer would be in the indicative (does he like fishing?).


Imperative is the ‘commanding’ mood. The simplest form is the second person command (run! catch him! don’t do that!); Latin, unlike English, distinguishes singular and plural (curre, currite); the negative imperative is usually noli, nolite + infinitive (see 2.6.9).

In English, the 1st and 3rd person imperatives are formed with the auxiliary let (‘let’s have a party’, ‘let them eat cake’); Latin has forms of the 3rd person imperative (-ato, -anto etc.) but for both 1st and 3rd usually uses the jussive subjunctive (2.6.6).


The name subjunctive implies grammatical subordination (literally, causing to be joined beneath, sub + iunctus), but in fact the subjunctive is in origin an independent mood.

  1. Independent Subjunctive In Modern English it is rare in independent sentences and normally expresses a wish (optative): ‘Long live the Queen!’; usually a wish of this kind is expressed by may (‘may he rot in hell!’). In Latin it is quite common independently, for three purposes: jussive (commanding), optative (wishing), and deliberative (pondering).
    1. jussive: fiat lux (‘let there be light’), bibamus (‘let’s drink’);
    2. optative: vivat Regina (‘[long] live the Queen’), utinam adesset (‘would that he were here’), utinam hoc non fecissem (‘I wish I had not done this’);
    3. deliberative: maneam an domum redeam (‘am I to stay or return home?’).
  2. Dependent Subjunctive There is a wide distinction between English and Latin usage here, as Latin uses the subjunctive in many places where English does not (and where an English subjunctive would be completely inappropriate). In English the past subjunctive is found in wishes and hypotheses contrary to fact (I wish he were here; if I were you, I would accept the offer); many English uses of would, should, might, are originally past subjunctives.

In Latin, the three uses of the subjunctive listed in (1) above remain in the subjunctive when in dependent clauses, though the tense may change (Deus imperavit ut lux fieret, ‘God commanded that there should be light’; oravimus ut regina viveret, ‘we prayed that the Queen should live’; nescivi an manerem, ‘I did not know whether to remain’). Latin also uses the subjunctive in conditional clauses and after some conjunctions indicating cause, time, etc. (cum ver rediisset, aves nidos construxerunt, ‘when spring returned, the birds built nests’).

2.6.7  Participles

Participles are so-called because they ‘participate, have a share in’ both verbs and adjectives: they are derived from verbs but behave like adjectives in their endings.

Present Participle

The present participle in English is formed in -ing (not to be confused with the Verbal Noun, 2.6.8), in Latin in -ans, -ens, e.g., ‘flying geese’, anseres volantes. It is always active or intransitive. (In Latin it cannot be used with be to form a continuous tense.) In Latin, the participle is often used as an adjective (virentia prata = viridia prata, ‘green meadows’); thus, it can also, like an adjective, be used as a noun (fallentes saepe falluntur, ‘the deceivers are often deceived’).

Past Participle

The past participle (killed, written, known) is always passive when used with or predicated of nouns (‘these are the known facts’, ‘the painted lady’, ‘the purloined letter’, res cognitae, domina picta, epistola sublata). The exception in Latin is with deponent verbs (amplexus amicam, ‘having embraced his girlfriend’). (Latin does not, like English, form perfect tenses with have or be and the past participle.)

Like the present participle, the past participle can be used as an adjective (res gestae, ‘things that have been done, history’) and so as a noun (explicare ignotum per ignotius, ‘explain the unknown by something even more unknown’).

The past participle often has verbal force and stands for a clause: urbem captam incenderunt, ‘they captured and burned the city’; urbe capta redierunt, ‘the city having been captured/after capturing the city, they returned’.

Future Participle

Latin has a future participle (e.g., amaturus): this is always active (‘being about to love’).

2.6.8  Gerund

The gerund is a Verbal Noun. In English this ends in -ing and is not to be confused with the present participle 2.6.7 (contrast ‘I saw him running’ [participle] with ‘I was aware of his running’ [verbal noun]). In Latin it ends in -ndum and behaves like a neuter noun; it is not to be confused with the Gerundive (2.6.10), which is an adjective. Some examples: timor volandi, ‘fear of flying’; pugnandi causa, ‘for the sake of fighting’; currendo iter fecimus, ‘(by) running we completed the journey’ (common in Medieval Latin). Note: the Gerund is never used in the nominative; the infinitive is used as the nominative verbal noun (see 2.6.9).

2.6.9  Infinitive

In English the infinitive is the form of the verb that follows auxiliaries (I can see him, I shall go); in Latin, it ends in -are, -ere, -ire, passive -ari, -eri, -i, -iri. In English it is preceded by to when it is used as a noun (To err is human, to forgive divine) and after partial auxiliaries (I want to go).

In Latin it has several uses: when it completes an auxiliary verb such as possum it is prolative (possum ire, ‘I can go’; nolo ire, ‘I won’t go’); it may be a noun (errare est hominum, ‘to err is human’); with its subject in the accusative, it may be the complement after a verb of saying, perceiving, etc. (vidi eum currere, ‘I saw that he ran’, the accusative and infinitive construction); as a noun, it acts as the subject of some impersonal verbs (ire oportet, ‘to go is necessary, it is necessary to go’).

2.6.10  Gerundive

This form is unique to Latin and is not easily expressed in English. It ends in -andus, -endus, -undus; it is an adjective (declined like bonus); it is passive; it has the sense of the future (of an action either permanently valid or not yet completed); it usually indicates obligation or necessity. Roughly it has the force ‘of such a quality as to be (x)-ed’. E.g., inimici diligendi sunt, ‘enemies are to be loved, one should love one’s enemies’; Carthago delenda est, ‘Carthage must be destroyed’.

Thus, the gerundive construction is often used to indicate necessity or obligation (in place of words like debeo, oportet). Periphrastic use of the gerundive: as the gerundive is passive, it can only be used with transitive verbs (that take an object). In the case of intransitive verbs, the periphrastic construction must be used: this employs the neuter of the gerundive with the verb est (erat, fuit) and a dative of agent: currendum nobis est, ‘we must run’, literally ‘there is a must-be-being-run for us’. (This construction must not be confused with the gerund (2.6.8), although it looks like it with its -ndum ending: the gerund is active.)

2.6.11  Supine

The supine also has no English equivalent. In form it looks like the neuter of the past participle, e.g., amatum, though its ablative (the only other form) is in -tu. It is used in the accusative after verbs of motion to indicate purpose: venerunt pugnatum, ‘they came to fight, for the purpose of fighting’ (Note that Latin cannot use the infinitive in this way.) In the ablative it is a verbal noun, usually used with adjectives as though an Ablative of Respect (Specification): mirabile dictu, ‘wonderful in the telling, marvellous to relate’.

2.7  Prepositions

Normally, prepositions are placed before nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases (which they are said to ‘govern’), specifying their function or relationship to some other element in the sentence (with a knife, to his uncle, at home, in the house, by plane). In Latin, the prepositions take specific cases (generally accusative 3.3 or ablative 3.6): ad urbem, ‘to the city’; ab oppido, ‘from the town’; in Roma, ‘in Rome’; cum militibus, ‘with the soldiers’. Sometimes tenus takes the genitive (but more often the ablative) and follows its noun (crurum tenus ‘as far as the legs’, corde tenus, ‘as far as the heart, by heart’). With some pronouns, cum is enclitic and is attached to its pronoun (nobiscum ‘with us’; tecum, ‘with you’).

In Latin the preposition cannot be detached from its noun (as in English ‘here is the book I was telling you about’). Nor does Latin have the confusing adverbs that look like prepositions (‘turn the light on’).

Many functions that in English require prepositions are in Latin expressed simply by a case ending: gladio occisus est, ‘he was killed by a sword’.

2.8  Conjunctions

Conjunctions are linking words; they may join parallel linguistic units (from words to whole sentences) or introduce subordinate sentences.

2.8.1  Coordinating Conjunctions

In English the principal coordinating conjunctions – which join coordinate constructions (subjects, predicates, sentences) – are and and but; Latin has et and the enclitic -que (which follows the first word of the second unit) for ‘and’, and sed ‘but’. autem is an adversative, ‘however’, linking larger units and is always postpositive (i.e., the second word in a sentence/clause).

2.8.2  Subordinating

These introduce dependent clauses (6): if, because, while, since, although, etc. In English many subordinating conjunctions were originally prepositions (after, for, before), but in Latin they are distinct (post preposition, postquam conjunction, ante preposition, antequam conjunction).

Dependent clauses may, of course, be introduced by words other than conjunctions (noun clauses [6.1], indirect questions [6.4.3, 8.2], relative clauses [6.2], etc.).

Subordinating conjunctions sometimes modify units smaller than a full clause: ‘though poor, he was wise’ (licet/quamvis pauper, sapiens erat), ‘he advanced slowly, as though afraid’ (lente accedit, tamquam timidus).

2.9  Interjections

Interjections are usually exclamatory (English oh, eh); Latin has several, e.g., heu, ‘alas’; en, ‘look, behold’.

2.10  Enclitics

These are small linguistic units added to the word they introduce: -que (‘and’) in nigrum albumque, ‘black and white’; -ve (‘or’) in bis terve, ‘twice or three times’; see 2.8.1. Some are emphatic: -met modifies some pronouns (egomet, ‘I myself’; semet ipsum, the emphatic reflexive; see 2.2.1); -ce is sometimes attached to hic giving hicce. -ne is used to form questions (visne ire?, ‘do you want to go?’; see 8.1.1, 8.2).

3  Cases

The word case refers to the grammatical status of a noun, pronoun, or adjective in a noun, indicating its relationship (subject, object, etc.) to the other elements in the sentence. In Latin any demonstrative or adjective agreeing (see Concord 1.8) with the noun or pronoun must be in the same case. The system of case-endings (inflexions) is a declension.

In Modern English all case endings except the genitive (’s, s’) have disappeared in nouns, adjectives, and demonstratives, but survive in the personal pronouns in reduced form. In Latin, however, case endings are fully preserved.

3.1  Nominative

The case of the grammatical subject of the sentence (1.15): ‘Brutus stabbed Caesar’, ‘the girl I was with has disappeared’, ‘Caesar was stabbed by Brutus’. Grammatically, it does not matter where the main interest of the speaker is, nor where the emphasis falls.

The complement of the verb be and of verbs of seeming is also in the nominative: ‘Who was she?’ (Quis fuit illa?) ‘Claudius seems very wise’ (Claudius sapientissimus esse videtur). See copulative 2.6.3.

3.2  Vocative

The case in which the addressee is addressed: ‘Romans, lend me your ears’. In Latin it is only 2nd declension nouns and adjectives that have a formally distinct vocative: O bone Tite, bene fecisti, ‘Well done, good Titus’. (On exclamations, see Accusative 3.3)

3.3  Accusative

The case of the direct object of the verb (1.15): ‘Brutus stabbed Caesar’, ‘Give me the book’, ‘Whom did you see?’; Brutus Caesarem pupugit, da mihi librum, Quem vidisti? Care is needed with relative clauses (6.2): in ‘Where is the book which you bought?’ (Ubi est liber quem emisti?), book (liber) is nominative (after is, est), but which (quem) is accusative, as it is the object of bought (emisti).

The accusative is the case after many prepositions, particularly those of motion towards or against: adversus Romanos (‘against the Romans), in urbem (‘into the city’) (sometimes without a preposition Romam ire [‘to go to Rome’]). It is also used to indicate duration or length (‘the game lasted an hour’, unam horam; ‘we walked ten steps’, decem passus).

It is used in exclamations: me miserum, ‘poor me!’.

In apparent contradiction of the rule stated in 3.1, the accusative is the subject of verbs in the infinitive: dixisti eum stultum esse, lit. ‘you said him to be foolish’, i.e., you said that he was foolish. This is the Accusative and Infinitive construction, used in Indirect Speech (Oratio Obliqua, 6.4).

3.4  Genitive

This is primarily the possessive case, equivalent to English ’s and s’ (the people’s voice, vox populi; the citizens’ voices, civium voces), and is used in many places where English uses of (The book of Proverbs, Liber Proverbiorum). Latin does not use de where English uses of except in Medieval Latin, where it may be used of places (Johannes de Londonia John of London), and even here an adjective is more usual (Johannes Londinensis).

3.4.1  Subjective and Objective Genitive

A distinction is made between the subjective and objective genitive. The subjective genitive implies that the noun in the genitive would have been the subject of an implicit verb (John’s book = John owns the book). Conversely the objective genitive would have been the object of the implied verb (Caesar’s murder = someone murdered Caesar).

3.4.2  Partitive Genitive

The partitive genitive (pars totius, ‘part of the whole’) is expressed by of in English but the genitive in Latin: which of you all, quis omnium vestrum. Note that all, e.g., in ‘all of the king’s men’, does not take a genitive: milites omnes regis.)

3.4.3  Genitive with Verb

Some verbs (e.g., meminiscor, ‘remember’) take a genitive object.

3.5  Dative

This is primarily the case of the indirect object (1.15): tell me a story, narra mihi fabulam; I showed her my house, domum meam ei monstravi; he gave his mother a present, matri suae donum dedit.

3.5.1  Other Uses of Dative

Other uses of the dative include those of the person or thing affected indirectly by the action (not subject or object or agent). Among these are the Dative of Interest, which includes the Dative of Possession: Caesari erat praesidium, lit. ‘there was a garrison for Caesar, i.e., Caesar had a garrison’ (if the notion of ownership is predominant, i.e., the garrison belonged to Caesar and no one else, the genitive is used: Caesaris erat praesidium, ‘the garrison was Caesar’s’).

3.5.2  Special Uses of Dative

Special uses of the dative include that of agent after the gerundive (2.6.10): inimicus tibi est diligendusyou should love your enemy’, the predicative dative, as in cui (dative of interest) bono (predicative dative) erat?For whom was it for an advantage? To whose advantage was it?’, and the dative of purpose. Many uses of the dative correspond to the English preposition for.

3.6  Ablative

What is now called the ablative includes several originally separate cases with their own functions (especially instrumentality). There is no case in English that expresses the ablative, all of whose functions are performed by prepositions.

3.6.1  Ablative of Separation

The ablative of separation is found after verbs of lacking or depriving: careo pane, ‘I lack bread’; vacuus frumento, ‘empty of grain’.

3.6.2  Ablative of Means

The ablative of means (instrument) specifies that by which an action is done: gladio se defendit, ‘he defended himself with a sword’; when a person is the agent, a or ab are used, sometimes called the Ablative of Personal Agent.

3.6.3  Ablative of Association

The ablative of association has many manifestations (listed in grammars); a particular (and common) kind is the Ablative Absolute, which might be termed ‘the ablative of attendant circumstances’. When a noun (or pronoun) is in a phrase (usually with a participle) that is not attached to the rest of the sentence as subject, object, or indirect object, it is in the ablative, being ‘freed’ (absolute) from the rest of the sentence: cane stertente introivimus, ‘the dog snoring, we entered’ (here with the sense of causality); urbe capta recedimus, ‘the city having been captured we departed’ (with sense of time or cause).

3.6.4  Ablative with Prepositions

Many prepositions (2.7) take the ablative – a(b), cum, coram, de, ex, prae, pro, sine, etc.

3.7  Locative

This expresses the place at which: in most cases its form is identical to that of the ablative, but sometimes it looks like a dative: Romae (‘at Rome), domi (‘at home’).

3.8  Samples


4  Number

Latin, like Modern English, distinguishes singular (one) from plural (more than one).

4.1  Plural Personal Pronouns

Modern English has distinctive plural forms for personal pronouns and demonstrative (Iwe, meus, myour, he/she/itthey, thatthose, thisthese). Modern English, however, uses only the (originally) plural form of the second person (youyour), but Latin distinguishes singular tu, te, tui, from vos, vobis, vestrum. In Medieval Latin we see the beginnings of the royal plural (by which kings refer to themselves in the plural – in the proclamation of the constitution, the Queen refers to ‘our city of Ottawa’) and the corresponding ‘polite plural’, in which an inferior addressed a superior in the plural (an action known as vobiscare ‘to say vos to’).

4.2  Plural Nouns

In English the usual plural marker of nouns is -s (-es), but there are a few vestiges of older forms (feet, children, mice, etc.). In Latin there are far more systems, according to both declension and gender (domini, mensae, cives, principia, capita, domus, etc.).

4.3  Plural Verbs

In Modern English the verb be distinguishes singular and plural; otherwise only the 3rd person singular is marked (-s). In Latin there are distinctive endings for all persons of the verb, both in singular and plural.

4.4  Agreement

Rules of concord (1.8) require that a singular subject is followed by a singular verb (he talksthey talk). In Latin the more extensive system of inflexions requires even closer observation of these rules: all adjectives must agree in number and case with their nouns (just as in Modern English we have this mousethese mice).

5  Person

5.1  First Person

First person is used by the speaker/writer self-referentially in the singular (I, me, my, mine). On the royal plural see 4.1. In both English and Latin writers sometimes use the editorial plural (sometimes including the reader/listener, as in ‘as we have seen’).

5.2  Second Person

The direct addressee of an utterance (you, your). Latin usually distinguishes singular (tu, te, tibi, tui) from plural (vos, vobis, vestrum), except as noted in 4.1. The indefinite you (‘one’) is sometimes found in Latin as well as English.

5.3  Third Person

Someone or something other than the speaker or addressee, distinguished by gender and number (in English the plural is not distinguished by gender); he, she, it, they; is, ea, id, ii, eae, ea, etc.

In Modern English only the third person singular has a verbal marker (-s); in Latin all personal verbal forms have distinct endings.

6  Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses (1.16) can, for convenience, be divided according to their function within a complex sentence, as Noun (Substantival) Clauses, Relative (Adjectival) Clauses, and Adverbial Clauses, performing the functions of noun, adjective, and adverb (see 2.1, 2.3, 2.5); there is some overlap, both in English and Latin.

6.1  Noun Clauses

Noun (Substantival) Clauses can be the subject or object of the verb, or complementary after the verb be.

  1. Subject: ‘whoever said that was mistaken’, quisquis id dixit erravit.
  2. Subject and complement: ‘what you see is what you get’, quod vides est quod consequeris.
  3. Object: ‘he told us what he had learned’, nobis narravit quid didicisset.
  4. Object: ‘whatever I say you contradict’, quicquid dico negas.

As noted in 2.2.3, Latin often omits the antecedent, converting what would in English be a Relative Clause into a Noun Clause; to use the same example, ‘they killed those whom they found’ may in Latin be quos invenerunt occiderunt, i.e., an object noun clause.

6.2  Adjectival (Relative) Clauses

Adjectival (Relative) Clauses describe or limit a noun or pronoun; the noun or pronoun to which they refer is the antecedent (2.2.3). In English they are introduced by whowhomwhose, or which or that: ‘the author, who writes about Roman history / whom critics describe as brilliant / whose aunt you know, is away’, ‘the dog, which bit you, has run away’, ‘where is the book that I gave you?’. In Latin the pronoun is always a form of quiquaequod; its case is determined by its function in the relative clause, not the main clause: auctor, qui de Romanis gestis scribit / quem litterati ingeniosum nominant / cuius amitam bene noscis, abest; canis qui te momordit aufugit; ubi est liber quem tibi dedi?

6.2.1  Contact Clause

English often uses a ‘zero relative’ or ‘contact clause’ (2.2.3) in place of the object pronoun: ‘where is the book I gave you?’ This is not permissible in Latin, where the pronoun must be expressed.

6.2.2  Restrictive and Non-restrictive

Modern English makes subtle distinctions between restrictive clauses (‘the book that you wanted has arrived’) and descriptive clauses (‘the book, which is on the best-seller list, costs fifty dollars’); Latin does not make this distinction.

6.2.3  Prepositions with Relative Pronoun

Some contructions in English require that the preposition that govern the relative pronoun go to the end of the clause: ‘here is the book (that) I was telling you about’. In Latin the preposition must precede the pronoun: hic est liber de quo tibi locutus sum.

6.2.4  Connecting Relative

Latin frequently uses a relative pronoun as a connector between two sentences; in this case the antecedent is not in the main clause but in the preceding sentence. Caesar Rubiconem transiit. Qui postera die adversus Romam profectus est. ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon. On the next day he set out towards Rome.’ Sometimes the antecedent is the whole notion or event set out in the preceding sentence: Quod cum advertissem…, ‘When I had noticed this…’

6.3  Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial Clauses are used much as adverbs (2.5), modifying whole sentences or the actions of the verb. Contrast ‘he was already there, as I had expected’ (iam aderat, ut putabam) with ‘he did as I had ordered’ (ita fecit ut iusseram).

Adverbial clauses are often coordinated with the main clause by such links as soas, asas, sothat. This tendency is even more strongly evident in Latin: sicut (sometimes written as one word sicut), itaut (usually introducing a purpose or result clause), tamquam (sometimes tamquam, operating slightly differently), tantumut (introducing a result clause), postquam, antequam (introducing clauses of time, ‘after’, ‘before’, sometimes as one word postquam, antequam) and a host of others.

6.3.1  Place

‘a fair used to be held where we lived’, ubi habitabamus, nundinae habebantur.

6.3.2  Temporal

‘we will leave when he arrives’, cum venerit, abibimus; ‘catch him before he escapes’, prius eum capite quam aufugiat.

6.3.3  Causal

‘it snows here more often because we are further north’, saepius hic ningit, quia partibus septentrionalibus propiores sumus.

6.3.4  Manner

‘come as quickly as you can’, tam cito venite quam potestis; ‘he painted in the same way as I used to’, eodem modo pinxit quo solebam.

6.3.5  Final (purpose)

Expresses the purpose of the action; in English this is expressed by so that (negative lest, so thatnot), but also by to or in order to. In Latin a clause must be used, ‘save money in order to be rich’, pecunias serva ut dives sis; ‘he closed the door lest anyone overhear him’ (‘he closed the door so that no one would hear him’), ianuam clausit ne quis eum audiret. (Purpose can also be expressed in Latin by means of the gerundive (2.6.10) venerunt ad Carthaginem delendam, ‘they came to destroy Carthage’.)

6.3.6  Consecutive (result)

Expresses the consequence of the action: in English it is usually introduced by that, in Latin by ut (negative, utnon; never ne): ‘the rock was so hard that he could not break it’, petra adeo dura fuit ut eam frangere non posset. The main clause usually contains an adverb of intensity indicating ‘so much’ (e.g., adeo, sic), which anticipates the clause.

6.3.7  Concessive

Indicates something in spite of which the action of the main clause takes place. ‘Even if he arrives now, he will lose the prize’, etsi iam advenerit, praemium perdet; ‘although she had not had breakfast, she was not hungry’, quamvis non prandidisset, non tamen esuriebat.

6.3.8  Conditional

Indicates a condition on which the rest of the sentence depends. The clause that establishes the condition (the if clause) is known as the protasis; the consequence is the apodosis: ‘if he is chosen, I will leave’, si eligetur, abibo; ‘if I had been there, this would never have happened’, si ibi adfuissem, hoc nunquam evenisset; ‘I will not go, unless you come too / if you do not come too’, non ibo, nisi tu quoque venies.

6.4  Oratio Obliqua (Indirect Speech)

Statements, questions and commands can all be expressed indirectly after verbs of saying, perceiving, thinking, etc. Such clauses are described as oratio obliqua (somewhat misleadingly translated as indirect speech). Note that in Indirect Speech in English would is simply the past tense of will: ‘I will go’ becomes ‘he said he would go’. In Latin, therefore, the future infinitive is used: ibo becomes dixit se iturum esse.

6.4.1  Statements

In English, ‘He is running’ becomes ‘I saw that he was running’ (with apparent change of tense). Latin uses the accusative and infinitive (2.6.9): currit becomes vidi eum currere (with no change of tense); Medieval Latin often introduces the that clause by quod, quia, or quoniam, with a finite verb, much as in English.

6.4.2  Commands

In English, ‘run’ becomes ‘He ordered them to run’ or ‘He ordered that they should run’. In Latin, iubeo takes the infinitive (iussit eos currere), but impero takes a clause and the subjunctive (imperavit ut irent).

6.4.3  Questions

‘Who did this?’ becomes ‘he asked who had done this’. In Latin, quis hoc fecit? becomes rogavit quis hoc fecisset. ‘Is anyone here?’ (estne aliquis hic?) becomes ‘he asked if/whether anyone was here’ (rogavit an aliquis hic esset).

7  Negatives

In Latin the negative particles are non and haud, usually preceding the negated word.

English has several negative pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions, compounded from the Old English n(e)- (no, none, never, nor, neither, etc.). Similarly, Latin has n-ullus, nemo, n-umquam, nusquam, etc.); Latin has negative verbs nolo = non volo, nescio = non scio (cf. Old English nillan, as in willy-nilly, and nitan ‘not to know’). Note nego = ‘to say not’.

7.1  Double Negative

Like ‘correct’ English, Latin uses double negatives only to indicate a positive: nemo non dixit = ‘everyone said’; nonnulli = ‘some’.

8  Interrogatives

8.1  Direct Questions

8.1.1  Yes or No Questions.

In English, if the verb is an auxiliary or be, questions are formed by reversing subject and verb (‘will it start?’, ‘is it fair?’). Ordinary verbs require do followed by infinitive (‘did you vote?’). Latin uses the enclitic -ne to form a simple inquiry: estne hic?, ‘Is he here?’; nonne expresses surprise (nonne hic est?, ‘Isn’t he here?’); num expresses surprise at the contrary (num hic est?, ‘Is he really here?’)

8.1.2  Wh-Questions (Who, Where, etc.)

Require a specific answer. In Latin they are introduced by qu-words (quis, qualis, etc.) or by certain adverbs that can also be interrogative (ubi, ‘where?’; unde, ‘whence?’; etc.).

8.2  Indirect Questions

See 6.4.3. Yes or no questions are introduced in Latin by utrum (‘whether’), an, or -ne. ‘Do you want to go?’ becomes ‘I asked if/whether he wanted to go’; visne ire? becomes rogavi an/utrum ire vellet. Wh-questions are introduced in the same way as when they are direct (8.1.2). In both Latin and English the tense of the verb depends on the tense of the verb in the main clause (following the sequence of tenses): ‘who owns the car?’ becomes ‘he asked who owned the car’; cuius est currus? becomes rogavit cuius esset currus.

9  Tense and Aspect