Infobox Language
nativename= _la. Lingua Latina
states=Vatican City
speakers= Native: none
Second Language Fluent: estimated at 5,000Fact|date=April 2007
Second Language Literate: estimated 25,000Fact|date=April 2007
extinct=Late Latin developed into various Romance languages by the 9th century (Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Romanian, among others)
nation=flagicon|Vatican City Vatican City
Used for official purposes, but not spoken in everyday speech
agency=Opus Fundatum Latinitas
(Roman Catholic Church)

Latin ("lingua Latīna", pronounced|laˈtiːna) is an Italic language, historically spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. Through the Roman conquest, Latin spread throughout the Mediterranean and a large part of Europe. A large part of the Latin vocabulary and grammar was inherited by such languages as French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It was also the international language of science and scholarship in central and western Europe until the 17th century. There are two varieties of Latin: Classical Latin, the literary dialect used in poetry and prose, and Vulgar Latin, the form of the language spoken by ordinary people. Vulgar Latin was preserved as a spoken language in much of Europe after the decline of the Roman Empire, and by the 9th century diverged into the various Romance languages.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Latin survived as the lingua franca of educated classes in the West, and this survival was reinforced by the adoption of Latin by the Catholic Church. In this milieu it survived as a mother-tongue at least into the second millennium A.D. and is referred to as Medieval Latin. The Renaissance had the paradoxical effect of briefly reinforcing the position of Latin as a spoken language, through its (re?)adoption by the Renaissance Humanists. After the 16th century, the popularity of Medieval Latin began to decline.

Latin lives on in the form of Ecclesiastical Latin used for edicts and papal bulls issued by the Catholic Church. Much Latin vocabulary is used in science, academia, and law. Classical Latin, the literary language of the late Republic and early Empire, is still taught in many primary, grammar, and secondary schools, often combined with Greek in the study of Classics, though its role has diminished since the early 20th century. The Latin alphabet, together with its modern variants such as the English, Spanish and French alphabets, is the most widely used alphabet in the world.


Latin is a member of the Italic languages. Its alphabet is based on the Old Italic alphabet, derived from the Greek alphabet. In the 9th or 8th century BC, the Italic languages were brought to the Italian peninsula by migrating tribes, and the dialect spoken in Latium around the River Tiber, where Roman civilization would develop, evolved into Latin.

Although surviving Roman literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, the actual spoken language of the Western Roman Empire among ordinary people was what is known as Vulgar Latin, which differed from Classical Latin in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Although Latin long remained the legal and governmental language of the Roman Empire, Greek was the secondary language of the well-educated elite, as much of the literature and philosophy studied by upper-class Romans was written in Greek. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which would become the Byzantine Empire after the final split of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395, Greek eventually supplanted Latin as the legal and governmental language; and it had long been the lingua franca of Eastern citizens of all classes.


To write Latin, the Romans used the Latin alphabet, derived from the Old Italic alphabet, which itself was derived from the Greek alphabet. The Latin alphabet flourishes today as the writing system for Romance, Celtic, Germanic (including English), some Slavic (such as Polish), and many other languages.

The ancient Romans did not use punctuation, macrons (although they did use apices to distinguish between long and short vowels), the letters "j", "u" or "w", lowercase letters (although they did have a cursive script), or interword spacing (though dots were occasionally placed between words that would otherwise be difficult to distinguish). So, a sentence originally written as:


would be rendered in a modern edition as

:Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesqueor with macrons:Lūgēte, Ō Venerēs Cupīdinēsque

and translated as

:Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids

The Roman cursive script is commonly found on the many wax tablets excavated at sites such as forts, an especially extensive set having been discovered at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in Britain. Curiously enough, most of the Vindolanda tablets show spaces between words, though spaces were avoided in monumental inscriptions from that era.


The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and, eventually, Vulgar Latin began to diverge into various dialects. Vulgar Latin gradually evolved into a number of distinct Romance languages by the 9th century. These were for many centuries only oral languages, Latin still being used for writing.

For example, Latin was still the official language of Portugal until 1296 when it was replaced by Portuguese. Many of these "daughter" languages, including Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh and Romanian flourished, the differences between them growing greater and more formal over time.

Out of the Romance languages, Italian is the most conservative descendant of Latin in terms of vocabulary [cite book |last= Grimes |first= Barbara F. |editor= Barbara F. Grimes |others= Consulting Editors: Richard S. Pittman & Joseph E. Grimes |title= Ethnologue: Languages of the World |edition= thirteenth edition |year= 1996 |month= October |publisher= Summer Institute of Linguistics, Academic Pub |location= Dallas, Texas |isbn= 1-55671-026-7] , and Sardinian is the most conservative in terms of phonology. [ [ Foreign Languages: Italian] , specifically, "Sardinian in fact conserves many archaic features from Latin which disappeared in Italian, such as the hard k-sound in words like chelu, where Italian has cielo."]

Some of the differences between Classical Latin and the Romance languages have been used in attempts to reconstruct Vulgar Latin. For example, the Romance languages have distinctive stress on certain syllables, whereas Latin had this feature in addition to distinctive length of vowels. In Italian and Sardo logudorese, there is distinctive length of consonants as well as stress; in Spanish and Portuguese, only distinctive stress; while in French length (for most speakers) and stress are no longer distinctive. Another major distinction between Romance and Latin is that all Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost grammatical case [ [ Columbia University Language Resource Center] ] .

There has also been a major Latin influence in English. Although English is Germanic in grammar, its vocabulary is mostly Italic. Sixty percent of the English vocabulary has its roots in Latin (although much of this is indirect, mostly via Anglo-Norman and French). In the medieval period, much of this borrowing occurred through ecclesiastical usage established by Saint Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century, or indirectly after the Norman Conquest, through the Anglo-Norman language.

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, English writers cobbled together huge numbers of new words from Latin and Greek roots. These words were dubbed "inkhorn" or "inkpot" words, as if they had spilled from a pot of ink. Many of these words were used once by the author and then forgotten, but some were so useful that they survived. "Imbibe" and "extrapolate" are inkhorn terms created from Latin words. Many of the most common polysyllabic "English" words are simply adapted Latin forms, in a large number of cases adapted by way of Old French.

Latin mottos are used as guidelines by many organizations.



Latin is a synthetic, fusional language: affixes (often suffixes, which usually encode more than one grammatical category) are attached to fixed stems to express gender, number, and case in adjectives, nouns, and pronouns—a process called "declension". Affixes are attached to fixed stems of verbs, as well, to denote person, number, tense, voice, mood, and aspect—a process called "conjugation".


There are six main Latin noun cases. These play a major part in determining a noun's syntactic role in the sentence, so word order is not as important in Latin as it is in some other languages, such as English. Because of noun cases, words can often be moved around in a sentence without significantly altering its meaning, though the emphasis will have been altered. The cases, with their most important uses, are these:
# Nominative: used when the noun is the subject of the sentence or phrase, or when functioning as a predicative of the subject. Basically the thing or person acting (e.g., "Puer currit." The boy runs.)
# Genitive: used when the noun is the possessor of an object (example: "the horse of the man", or "the man's horse"—in both of these cases, the word "man" would be in the genitive case when translated into Latin). Also indicates material of which something greater is made (example: "a group of people"; "a number of gifts"—"people" and "gifts" would be in the genitive case). Some nouns are genitive with special verbs and adjectives too. (e.g., The cup is full of wine. "Poculum plenum vini est." The master of the slave beats him. "Dominus servi eum verberat.")
# Dative: used when the noun is the indirect object of the sentence, with special verbs, with certain prepositions, and if used as agent, reference, or even possessor. (e.g., The merchant hands over the toga to the woman. "Mercator feminae togam tradit.")
# Accusative: used when the noun is the direct object of the sentence/phrase, with certain prepositions, or as the subject of an infinitive. Basically the thing or person having something done to them. (e.g., "Ancilla vinum portat." The slave girl carries the wine.)
# Ablative: used when the noun demonstrates separation or movement from a source, cause, agent, or instrument, or when the noun is used as the object of certain prepositions; adverbial.
# Vocative: used when the noun is used in a direct address. The vocative form of a noun is the same as the nominative except for second declension nouns ending in -us. The -us becomes an -e or if it ends in -ius (such as filius) then the ending is just -i (fili) (as opposed to the plural nominative (filii). (e.g., "Master!" shouted the slave. "Domine!" servus clamavit.")

There is also a seventh case, called the Locative case, used to indicate a location (corresponding to the English "in" or "at"). This is far less common than the other six cases of Latin nouns and usually applies to place names, especially of cities. In the first and second declension singular, its form coincides with the genitive ("Roma" becomes "Romae", "in Rome"). In the plural, and in the other declensions, it coincides with the dative and ablative ("Athenae" becomes "Athenis", "at Athens").

Latin lacks definite and indefinite articles; thus "puer currit" can mean either "the boy runs" or "a boy runs".


Verbs in Latin are usually identified by four main conjugations, groups of verbs with similarly inflected forms. The first conjugation is typified by active infinitive forms ending in "-āre", the second by active infinitives ending in "-ēre", the third by infinitives ending in "-ere", and the fourth by active infinitives ending in "-īre". However, there are exceptions to these rules. Further, there is a subset of the 3rd conjugation, the "-iō" verbs, which behave somewhat like the 4th conjugation. There are six general tenses in Latin (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect), three grammatical moods (indicative, imperative and subjunctive), three persons (first, second, and third) two numbers (singular and plural) , two voices (active and passive), and a few aspects. Verbs are described by four principal parts:
# The first principal part is the first person, singular, present tense, and it is the indicative mood form of the verb.
# The second principal part is the active, present tense, infinitive form of the verb.
# The third principal part is the first person, singular, perfect tense, active indicative mood form of the verb.
# The fourth principal part is the supine form, or alternatively, the participial form, nominative case, singular, perfect tense, passive voice participle form of the verb. The fourth principal part can show either one gender of the participle, or all three genders ("-us" for masculine, "-a" for feminine, and "-um" for neuter). It can also be the future participle when that verb cannot be made passive.

Instruction in Latin

The linguistic element of Latin courses offered in secondary schools and in universities is primarily geared toward an ability to translate Latin texts into modern languages, rather than using it for the purpose of oral communication. As such, the skills of reading and writing are heavily emphasized, while speaking and listening skills are de-emphasized (usually passively, through omission).

However, there is a growing movement, sometimes known as the Living Latin movement, whose supporters believe that Latin can be taught in the same way that modern "living" languages are taught, i.e., as a means of both spoken and written communication. This approach to learning the language assists speculative insight into how ancient authors spoke and incorporated sounds of the language stylistically; patterns in Latin poetry and literature can be difficult to identify without an understanding of the sounds of words.

Living Latin instruction is provided in states like the Vatican, and some Institutions in the U.S. like the University of Kentucky. In Great Britain, the Classical Association encourages this approach, and Latin language books describing the adventures of a mouse called Minimus have been published. In the United States, the National Junior Classical League (with more than 50,000 members) encourages high school students to pursue the study of Latin, and the National Senior Classical League encourages college students to continue their studies of the language.

Many international auxiliary languages have been heavily influenced by Latin. Interlingua, which lays claim to a sizeable following, is sometimes considered a simplified, modern version of the language. Latino sine Flexione, popular in the early 20th century, is a language created from Latin with its inflections dropped.

Latin translations of modern literature such as "Paddington Bear", "Winnie the Pooh", "Tintin", "Asterix", "Harry Potter", "Le Petit Prince", "Max und Moritz", "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and "The Cat in the Hat" are intended to bolster interest in the language.

Modern use of Latin

Today, Latin terminology is widely used, amongst other things, in philosophy, medicine, biology, and law, in terms and abbreviations such as "subpoena duces tecum", "q.i.d." ("quater in die": "four times a day"), and "inter alia" (among other things). The Latin terms are used in isolation, as technical terms.

The largest organization which still uses Latin in official contexts is the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Mass of Paul VI is usually said in the local vernacular language, it can be and often is said in Latin, particularly in the Vatican. Indeed, Latin is still the official standard language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and the Second Vatican Council merely authorized that the liturgical books be translated and optionally used in the vernacular languages.

Latin is the official language of the Vatican City State.

In situations when lingual neutrality is preferred, such as in scientific names for organisms, Latin is typically the language of choice.

Some films of relevant ancient settings, such as "Sebastiane" and "The Passion of the Christ", have been made with dialogue in Latin for purposes of realism. Subtitles are usually employed for the predominantly non-Latin speaking audiences.

Many organizations today also have Latin mottos, such as "Semper fidelis" (always faithful), the motto of the United States Marine Corps. Several of the states of the United States also have Latin mottos.

Some universities still hold graduation ceremonies in Latin.

ee also

Latin language

* Latin alphabet
** List of Latin letters
** Alphabets derived from the Latin
** Latin characters in Unicode
*** Latin-1
*** Western Latin character sets (computing)
* Latin encyclopedia
** Latin Wikipedia (Vicipaedia)
* Latin grammar
** Latin conjugation
** Latin declension
** Latin mnemonics
** Latin school
** Golden line
* Latin literature
** Latin poetry
** List of Latin language poets
** Panegyrici Latini
* Latin profanity
* Latin spelling and pronunciation
** Latin regional pronunciation
** Traditional English pronunciation of Latin
* Latinism
** Greek and Latin roots in English
** Latin influence in English
** List of Latin words with English derivatives
** List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English
** List of legal Latin terms
** List of Latin and Greek words commonly used in systematic names
** Latin honors
** List of Latin phrases
** List of Latin abbreviations
** List of songs with Latin lyrics
** Latinisation
** List of Latinised names
* List of Latin place names in Europe
* AP Latin Literature

Latin culture

* Latin liturgy
** Latin Mass
** Latin Rite
* Hiberno-Latin
* Judeo-Latin
* Dog Latin
* Macaronic Latin
* Ancient Rome
** Culture of ancient Rome
** Romanization (cultural)
* Brocard
* Carmen Possum
* Internationalism
* Interlingua
* Latino sine Flexione
* Loeb Classical Library
* Romance languages
* Romance peoples

Historical periods


* Clackson, James, and Geoffrey Horrocks, "The Blackwell History of the Latin Language" (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), Pp. viii, 324.


* Bennett, Charles E., "Latin Grammar" (Allyn and Bacon, Chicago, 1908)
* N. Vincent: "Latin", in "The Romance Languages", M. Harris and N. Vincent, eds., (Oxford Univ. Press. 1990), ISBN 0-19-520829-3
* Waquet, Françoise, "Latin, or the Empire of a Sign: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries" (Verso, 2003) ISBN 1-85984-402-2; translated from the French by John Howe.
* Wheelock, Frederic, "Latin: An Introduction" (Collins, 6th ed., 2005) ISBN 0-06-078423-7

* Frank Palmer. "Grammar"

External links

* [ Latin Etymology] , An Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language
* [ Latin dictionary plugin] for Mac OS X's
* [ "Latin for Beginners"] at []
* [ Latin Language] , origin and history, grammar, vocabulary, texts, etc.
* [ Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum] , a database of Latin texts and translations
* [ The Perseus Project] , a resource for classical languages and literature
* [ Latin-English dictionary] and Latin grammar, from the University of Notre Dame
* [ Dictionary of Latin phrases]
* [ The Latin Library] A collection of Latin texts: classical, Christian, medieval, and modern. See also The Latin Library
* [ omniamundamundis] , Latin texts from fourteen ancient Roman authors
* [ Schola Latina Universalis] , a version of Comenius's Orbis Sensualium Pictus
* [ Latin Online] from the University of Texas at Austin
* [ National Latin Exam]
* [ Understanding Anatomical Latin] , explaining common medical/anatomical forms
* [ Online Latin Community] Web forum for discussion of Latin language both in [ Latin] and in [ English]
* [ Latin] language history and Classical Latin texts translated into English.
* [] LATINUM — Anglice et Latine — Extensive Latin language learning podcast.
* [ Latin dictionary] access to thousands of Latin terms, Latin phrases, Latin expressions and Latin words.
* [ LATdict Online Latin <=> English Dictionary] currently contains 39,225 Latin word entries, and 229,345 searchable English words

Learn Latin

* [ Classical Latin course] - a free online course
* " [ Latin for Beginners] " - an ebook of a 1911 Latin textbook
* [ Academia Thules] offers online courses on Roman History, Philosophy, Archaeology, Religion, Language, Military Arts, Law.
* [ Free public domain Latin textbooks] - from
* [ Beginners' Latin] - UK Government website for learning Latin (UK National Archives)
* [ Advanced Latin] - covers the next stages.
* [ Latin grammar - interactive] (Java)

Contemporary usage

* [ Ephemeris] , a Latin newspaper online
* [ Schola] - social network where only Latin is used
* [ "Nuntii Latini"] , weekly world news in Classical Latin published by Radio Finland
* [ Classical Academic Press] , online Latin vocabulary review
* [ Memoria Press] , editorial articles about the benefits of the study of Latin
* [ Latin Google] , Latin version of Google
* [ "Vita Latina"] by the University of Montpellier
* [ COL, by An Drouizig] Latin Spell-checker for Microsoft Office and 2.x and 3.0.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • latin — latin, ine [ latɛ̃, in ] adj. et n. • 1160; lat. latinus I ♦ Adj. 1 ♦ Antiq. Du Latium. 2 ♦ Des provinces ou des peuples soumis à la domination de Rome et auxquels elle a imposé sa langue et sa civilisation. ⇒ romain. Les peuples latins, et n.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • latin — latin, ine (la tin, ti n ) s. m. et f. 1°   Nom d un ancien peuple de l Italie, qui habitait le Latium, contrée située entre l Étrurie et la Campanie, et que Rome finit par conquérir et s associer.    Plus tard, Latin est devenu le nom de tous… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • latin — LATIN. adv. On ne met point icy ce mot comme un nom de peuple & de pays, mais seulement à cause des autres usages qu il a dans nostre Langue. On appelle, l Université, Le Pays Latin: Et ainsi on dit, Cela sent le Pays Latin, pour dire, Cela sent… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • latin — LATÍN, Ă, latini, e, s.m. şi f., adj. 1. s.m. şi f. Persoană care făcea parte din populaţia de bază a vechiului ţinut Latium din Italia sau era originară de acolo. 2. adj. Care aparţine latinilor (1) sau Latiumului, privitor la latini sau la… …   Dicționar Român

  • latín — (Del lat. Latine, en latín). 1. m. Lengua del Lacio hablada por los antiguos romanos, de la cual derivan las actuales lenguas romances. 2. Voz o frase latina empleada en escrito o discurso español. U. m. en pl. U. m. en sent. peyor.) latín… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Latin — Lat in, n. 1. A native or inhabitant of Latium; a Roman. [1913 Webster] 2. The language of the ancient Romans. [1913 Webster] 3. An exercise in schools, consisting in turning English into Latin. [Obs.] Ascham. [1913 Webster] 4. (Eccl.) A member… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • latín — sustantivo masculino 1. Área: linguística Lengua hablada en el Imperio Romano de la cual proceden las lenguas románicas: Del latín proceden las lenguas de España, excepto el vasco. latín clásico Latín en que escribían los grandes escritores como… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Latin — Lat in, a. [F., fr. L. Latinus belonging to Latium, Latin, fr. Latium a country of Italy, in which Rome was situated. Cf. {Ladin}, Lateen sail, under {Lateen}.] 1. Of or pertaining to Latium, or to the Latins, a people of Latium; Roman; as, the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Latin — [lat′ n] adj. [L Latinus < Latium, Latium (in which Rome was included), orig. ? “flat land” < IE * tletiom < base * (s)tel , to spread out > L latus, broad] 1. of ancient Latium or its people 2. of ancient Rome or its people 3. of or… …   English World dictionary

  • Latin — ► NOUN 1) the language of ancient Rome and its empire. 2) a person from a country whose language developed from Latin, e.g. a Latin American. ► ADJECTIVE 1) relating to the Latin language. 2) relating to countries using languages that developed… …   English terms dictionary

  • latín — latín, saber latín expr. astuto, listo. ❙ «La Amparito, que sabía mucho latín, dio las gracias...» Jose Vicente Torrente, Los sucesos de Santolaria. ❙ «El gachó ése sabe latín.» Pedro Casals, Disparando cocaína …   Diccionario del Argot "El Sohez"

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”