Latin grammar

Latin grammar

The grammar of Latin, like that of other ancient Indo-European languages, is highly inflected, which allows for a large degree of flexibility when choosing word order. In Latin there are five declensions of nouns and four conjugations of verbs. Latin does not have articles and so does not generally differentiate between, for example, "a girl" and "the girl"; the same word, "puella", represents both. Word order generally follows the Subject Object Verb paradigm, although variations on this are especially common in poetry and express subtle nuances in prose. Latin is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually places adjectives after nouns. The language can also omit pronouns in certain situations, meaning that grammatical gender, person, and number alone can generally identify the agent; pronouns are most often reserved for situations where meaning isn't entirely clear. Latin exhibits verb-framed, in which the manner and path of motion are encoded into the verb itself; e.g. "exit" literally means "he/she/it goes out"; while English, however, relies on prepositions to encode the same information.


"Detailed information and conjugation tables can be found at Latin conjugation."

Verbs are one of the trickiest areas of Latin; each verb has numerous conjugated forms. Verbs have three moods (indicative, imperative, and subjunctive), two voices (active and passive), two numbers (singular and plural), three persons (first, second and third); are conjugated in six main tenses (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect); and have complements of moods for the present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect. Infinitives and participles occur in the present, perfect, and future tenses.

Conjugation is the process of inflecting verbs; a set of conjugated forms for a single word is called a conjugation. Latin verbs are divided into four different conjugations by their infinitives, distinguished by the endings -āre, -ēre, -ere, and -īre.

There are six tenses (Latin: tempus) in Latin. They are:

* Present (Latin: praesens): describes actions happening at the time of speaking:
*: The slave carries (or is carrying) the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portat.
* Imperfect (Latin: imperfectum): describes actions continuing in the past:
*: The slave used to carry (or was carrying) the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portabat.
* Future (Latin: futurum simplex): describes actions taking place in the future:
*: The slave will carry the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portabit.
* Perfect (Latin: perfectum): describes actions completed by the present:
*: The slave carried (or has carried) the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portavit.
* Pluperfect (Latin: plusquamperfectum): describes actions occurring before another past action:
*: The slave had carried the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portaverat.
* Future Perfect (Latin: futurum exactum): describes actions that will be completed some time in the future:
*: (By tomorrow,) the slave will have carried the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portaverit.

There are three moods (Latin: modus):

* Indicative (Latin: indicativus), which states facts:
*: The slave is carrying a wine jar.
*: servus vinum portat.
* Subjunctive or Conjunctive (Latin: coniunctivus), which is used for possibilities, intentions, necessities, statements contrary to fact:
*: Let the slave carry the wine jar.
*: servus vinum portet.The subjunctive is also used with the formation of subordinate clauses:: We hoped the slave would carry the jar. : sperabamus ut servus vinum portaret.
* Imperative (Latin: imperativus): used for commands:
*: "Hurry and carry the wine jar home!"
*: "festina(te) et porta(te) vinum ad villam!"

There are two voices (Latin: genus):

* Active (Latin: activum), where the verb is done by the subject:
*: The slave carried the wine jar home.
*: servus vinum ad villam portavit.
* Passive (Latin: passivum), where the verb is done to the subject:
*: The wine jar was carried home by the slave.
*: vinum ad villam a servo portatum est.


"Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension."

Nouns (including proper nouns and pronouns) have:
*: six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and vocative (special nouns have a seventh "locative" case)
*: three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter, which serve a grammatical function, not to distinguish the sex of the object
*: two numbers: singular and plural.

Declining is the process of inflecting nouns; a set of declined forms of the same word is called a declension. Most adjectives, pronouns, and participles indicate the gender of the noun they refer to or modify.

Most nouns in the 1st declension are feminine; most in the 2nd are masculine and neuter; nouns in the 3rd can either be masculine, feminine, or neuter; nouns in the 4th are either masculine or neuter; and in the 5th they are usually feminine, with a few masculine.

It is necessary to learn the gender of each noun because it is often impossible to discern the gender from the word itself. One must also memorise to which declension each noun belongs in order to be able to decline it. Therefore Latin nouns are often memorised with their genitive (rex, regis) as this gives a good indication for the declension to use and reveals the stem of the word (reg, not rex).

* The nominative case, which is used to express the subject of a statement:
*: servus ad villam ambulat.
*: The slave walks to the house.
* The genitive case, which expresses possession, measurement, or source. In English, the preposition "of" is used to denote this case:
*: servus laborat in villa domini.
*: The slave works in the house of the master.
* The dative case, which expresses the recipient of an action, the indirect object of a verb. It also is used to represent agency in a construction with a passive periphrastic. In English, the prepositions "to" and "for" most commonly denote this case:
*: servi tradidere pecuniam dominis.
*: The slaves handed over the money to the masters.N.B. The dative is never the object of a Latin preposition.
* The accusative case, which expresses the direct object of a verb or direction or extent of motion and may be the object of a preposition:
*: dominus servos vituperabat quod non laborabant.
*: The master cursed the slaves because they were not working.
* The ablative case, (may or may not be preceded by a preposition) which expresses separation, indirection, or the means by which an action is performed. In English, the prepositions "by", "with", and "from" most commonly denote this case:
*: dominus in cubiculo dormiebat.
*: The master was sleeping in his bedroom
* The vocative case, which is used to address someone or something in direct speech.
*: festina, serve!
*: Hurry, slave!
* The locative case, which is used to express the place in or on which, or the time at which, an action is performed. The locative case is extremely marginal in Latin, applying only to the names of cities and small islands and to a few other isolated words, and is identical to the genitive case in the singular of the first and second declension, and the ablative case otherwise, with the exception of the noun "domus" (home), which has the locative "domi".

Determiners and personal pronouns

"Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension."

In Latin there is no indefinite article or definite article, though there are demonstratives, such as hic, haec, hoc (masculine, feminine and neuter for "this") and ille, illa, illud (for "that"). As in English, these can act as pronouns as well. There are also possessive adjectives and pronouns, cardinal and ordinal numbers, quantifiers, interrogatives, etc.

Personal pronouns also exist, for each one of the three possible persons, in both singular and plural. As in most Romance languages, as well as English, only third-person pronouns show gender differentiation (check is, ea, id: "he, she, it").


"Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension."

In Latin, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in case and number and gender. Because of this, Latin adjectives must also be declined. First and second declension adjectives are declined identically to nouns of the first and second declension. Unless the word in question is in poetry, adjectives are generally placed behind the nouns they modify. Adjectives exist, like in English, with positive, comparative and superlative forms. Positive and superlative adjectives are declined according to the first and second declension noun paradigm, but comparative adjectives are declined according to the third declension noun paradigm. When used in sentences, the comparative adjective (better, faster, brighter) may be put in the ablative or with the addition of '''"' (Latin: than).

* Cornelia est fortis puella: Cornelia is a strong girl.
* Cornelia est fortior puella quam Flavia: Cornelia is a stronger girl than Flavia. (Here "quam" is used.)
* Cornelia est fortior puella Flaviā: Cornelia is a stronger girl than Flavia. (Here "Flavia" is in the ablative.)
* Cornelia est fortissima puella omnium/inter omnes/ex omnibus: Cornelia is the strongest girl of all.

regular adjectives


"Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension."

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs by indicating time, place, or manner. Latin adverbs are indeclinable. They can be formed by modifying the ending of an adjective. Like adjectives, adverbs have positive, comparative, and superlative forms.

The positive form of an adverb is formed from the first and second declension adjectives, in which a long -e replaces the ending. Instead of the adjective clarus, -a, -um, which mean "bright", the adverb is clare, which means "brightly".

The comparative form of an adverb, formed from third declension adjectives, is extremely simple. It is exactly the same as the neuter nominative singular form of a comparative adjective and it almost always ends in -ius. Instead of the adjective clarior, which mean "brighter", the adverb is clarius, which means "more brightly".

The superlative form as well is extremely simple. It has exactly the same stem as the superlative adjective and it always ends in a long -e. Instead of the adjective clarissimus, which mean "brightest", the adverb is clarissime, which means "most brightly".

Word order

Latin allows for a very flexible word order because of its inflectional syntax. Ordinary prose tended to follow the pattern of Subject, Indirect Object, Direct Object, Adverbial Words or Phrases, Verb l(SIDAV). Any extra, though subordinate verbs, are placed before the main verb, for example infinitives. Adjectives and participles usually directly followed nouns, unless they were adjectives of beauty, size, quantity, goodness, or truth, in which case they preceded the noun being modified. Relative clauses were commonly placed after the antecedent which the relative pronoun describes. While these patterns for word order were the most frequent in Classical Latin prose, they are frequently varied; and it is important to recall that there is virtually no evidence surviving that suggests the word order of colloquial Latin (see Vulgar Latin).

In poetry, however, word order was often changed for the sake of the meter, for which vowel quantity (short vowels vs. long vowels and diphthongs) and consonant clusters, not rhyme and word stress, governed the patterns. It is, however, important to bear in mind that poets in the Roman world wrote primarily for the ear, not for the eye; many premiered their work in recitation for an audience. Hence variations in word order served a rhetorical, as well as a metrical purpose; they certainly did not prevent understanding. In Virgil's "Eclogues", for example, he writes, "Omnia" vincit "amor", et nos cedamus "amori!": "Love" conquers "all", let us yield to "love!". The words "omnia" (all), "amor" (love) and "amori" (to love) are thrown into relief by their unusual position in their respective phrases. The meter here is dactylic hexameter, in which Virgil composed The Aeneid, Rome's national epic.

The ending of the common Roman name Marcus is different in each of the following examples due to its grammatical usage in that sentence. The ordering in the following sentences would be perfectly correct in Latin and no doubt understood with clarity, despite the fact that in English they're awkward at best and senseless at worst:

*Marcus ferit Corneliam: Marcus hits Cornelia. (Subject-Verb-Object)
*Marcus Corneliam ferit: Marcus Cornelia hits. (Subject-Object-Verb)

*Cornelia dedit Marco donum: Cornelia has given Marcus a gift. (Subject, Verb, Indirect Object, Direct Object)
*Cornelia Marco donum dedit: Cornelia (to) Marcus a gift has given. (Subject, Indirect Object, Direct Object, Verb)

Ablative absolute

In Latin grammar, the ablative absolute (Latin: ablativus absolutus) is a noun phrase cast in the ablative case. More specifically it consists of a noun or pronoun and some participle (in the case of "sum" ["to be"] a zero morpheme often has to be used as the past and present participle do not exist, only the future participle), all in the ablative. It indicates the time, condition, or attending circumstances of an action being described in the main sentence. It takes the place of, and translates, many phrases that would require a subordinate clause in English. The unfamiliarity of this construction makes it sometimes difficult for Latin students to grasp; however, mastery of this construction is needed to write Latin well, and its availability makes Latin prose quite concise. The closest English equivalent is the nominative absolute.

The closest translation to the Latin follows the paradigm, "with the NOUN PARTICIPLE." This construction often sounding awkward in English, however, it is often finessed into some other, more English-like, construction. In the following examples, the first line is the direct translation from Latin, while the second has been construed to sound more at home in English. The usage of present, passive or future participles will determine the verbal idea in the ablative absolute.

*urbe capta Aeneas fugit:
*: The city having been captured, Aeneas fled. (literal)
*: With the city having been captured, Aeneas fled.
*: When the city was captured, Aeneas fled.

*Ovidio exule, Musae planguntur.
*: Ovid having been exiled, the Muses weep. (literal)
*: With Ovid having been exiled, the Muses weep.
*: The Muses weep because Ovid has been exiled.

The ablative absolute indicates the time when things happened, or the circumstances when they occurred:

*vivo Caesare...
*: with Caesar having been alive...
*: when Caesar was alive...

It also indicates the causes of things, as in:

*ira calefacta, sapientia dormit.
*: With anger having been kindled, wisdom sleeps.
*: Wisdom sleeps because anger is kindled.

*domino absente, fur fenestram penetravit.
*: With the master being absent, a thief entered the window.
*: Since the master was absent, a thief entered the window.

It can be used to add descriptions:

*passis palmis, pacem petiverunt.
*: With hands outstretched, they sued for peace.
*: Hands outstretched, they sued for peace.

Sometimes an infinitive or clause occurs in the ablative absolute construction, especially in Livius and later authors:

*audito eum fugisse...
*: with it having been heard of him to have fled
*: with it having been heard that he had fled...
*: having heard that he had fled...
*: when they heard he had fled...

The ablative absolute construction is sometimes imitated in English in a construction called the nominative absolute: "The Americans, (with) "their independence secured", formed a government." But the construction is rarer and less natural in English than it is in Latin. It was introduced by early modern authors heavily influenced by Latin, for example, John Milton, whose "Paradise Lost" is an example of the construction.

ee also

* Latin mnemonics
*William Whitaker's Words


*Bennett, Charles E., "Latin Grammar" (Allyn and Bacon, 1895).
*Wheelock, Frederic, "Latin: An Introduction" (Collins, 6th ed., 2005) ISBN 0-06-078423-7

External links

* [ "Ablative Absolute"] from Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar
* [ "Ablative Absolute"] by William Harris
* [ "Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid from Notre Dame."] Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid (Notre Dame).
* [ "Vocabulary Trainer"] Includes grammar drills for all Latin conjugations and declensions.
* [ "A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language; with Perpetual Exercises in Speaking and Writing: For the Use of Schools, Colleges, and Private Learners"] , by George J. Adler

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