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Latin is a heavily inflected language with largely free word order. Nouns are inflected for number and case; pronouns and adjectives (including participles) are inflected for number, case, and gender; and verbs are inflected for person, number, tense, voice, and mood. The inflections are often changes in the ending of a word, but can be more complicated, especially with verbs.
Thus verbs can take any of over 100 different endings to express different meanings: regō "I rule", regor "I am ruled", regere "to rule", regī "to be ruled", rēxisset "he would have ruled", and so on.
Nouns can have up to five different endings if singular, and four if plural. These are called the cases of the noun. The main cases are these: nominative case rēx "the king" (subject), accusative case rēgem "the king" (object), genitive case rēgis "of the king", dative case rēgī "to the king", ablative case rēge "with the king". The set of different endings for any particular noun is called its declension.
One of the difficulties of Latin is that not all nouns use the same set of endings. For example, the genitive case (meaning "of") of puella ("girl") is puellae; that of servus ("slave") is servī; that of rēx ("king") is rēgis. Nouns are therefore classified into five different groups according to the pattern of their endings. Those like puella with genitive -ae are said to belong to the 1st declension, while those like servus are 2nd declension, and so on. Verbs are similarly grouped into four different conjugations.
Another difficulty, especially regarding declensions, is that often the same ending serves two different functions: rēgēs "kings" could be either nominative or accusative, rēgibus could mean either "for the kings" or "with the kings", puellae could mean either "girls" or "of the girl" or "for the girl".
Adjectives inflect not only for case and number, but also for gender, there being three genders in Latin: masculine (rēx magnus "a great king"), feminine (rēgīna magna "a great queen") and neuter (rēgnum magnum "a great kingdom"). Pronouns similarly change their form or their ending according to the gender of the noun they refer to (hic rēx "this king", haec rēgīna "this queen", hoc rēgnum "this kingdom").
Latin does not have articles; the word puella, for example, can mean "a girl" or "the girl" according to context.
In Latin an adjective can come either before or after a noun, e.g. vir bonus or bonus vir "a good man", although some kinds of adjectives, such as adjectives of nationality (vir Rōmānus "a Roman man") usually follow the noun. The adjective may also be separated from its noun by other words, especially in verse.
Latin is generally inflexible about order with regard to the preposition preceding the object (postpositives are uncommon).
Often, Latin omits pronouns as the subject except for emphasis. Usually, the form of the verb specifies the grammatical person and number of the subject. Latin also exhibits verb framing in which the path of motion is encoded into the verb rather than shown by a separate word or phrase. For example, the Latin verb exit (a compound of ex and it) means "he/she/it goes out".
Latin verbs have numerous endings to indicate different tenses and persons. There are six basic tenses, as follows:
- Present: dūcō "I lead", "I am leading"
- Future: dūcam "I will lead", "I will be leading"
- Imperfect: dūcēbam "I was leading", "I used to lead", "I began to lead"
- Perfect: dūxī "I led", "I have led"
- Future Perfect: dūxerō "I will have led"
- Pluperfect: dūxeram "I had led"
(In the above table, the lines above the vowels indicate that the vowel in question is long.)
It will be noted that in most Latin verbs the three Perfect tenses are made using a different "stem" (in this case dūx- instead of dūc-). What this stem is for any particular verb cannot always be predicted and usually has to be looked up in a dictionary.
It will also be seen that a distinction between perfective aspect (I did) and imperfective aspect (I was doing) is found only in the past in Latin. In the present or future, the same tenses have both aspectual meanings.
Also, unlike in Ancient Greek or modern English, there is no distinction between perfect (I have done) and simple past (I did). The same tense, known in Latin as the Perfect tense, has both meanings.
Within each of these six tenses, there is a set of six endings indicating the person of the verb (three singular, and three plural). Unlike in some modern languages such as French and Italian, there are no honorific forms: the 2nd person singular is used whether addressing a person of high or low status. An example of the endings of the Present tense is as follows:
- 1st person singular: dūcō "I lead"
- 2nd person singular: dūcis "you (singular) lead"
- 3rd person singular: dūcit "he, she, it leads"
- 1st person plural: dūcimus "we lead"
- 2nd person plural: dūcitis "you (people) lead"
- 3rd person plural: dūcunt "they lead"
The Future tense of this verb has the following endings:
- 1st person singular: dūcam "I will lead"
- 2nd person singular: dūcēs "you (singular) will lead"
- 3rd person singular: dūcet "he, she, it will lead"
- 1st person plural: dūcēmus "we will lead"
- 2nd person plural: dūcētis "you (people) will lead"
- 3rd person plural: dūcent "they will lead"
Generally the personal endings for active verbs are -ō (or -m), -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt as above. However, the Perfect tense goes as follows:
- 1st person singular: dūxī "I will led"
- 2nd person singular: dūxistī "you (singular) led"
- 3rd person singular: dūxit "he, she, it led"
- 1st person plural: dūximus "we led"
- 2nd person plural: dūxistis "you (people) led"
- 3rd person plural: dūxērunt (poetic dūxēre) "they led"
The endings of the verb alone are usually sufficient to indicate the person of the verb, although an independent pronoun such as egō "I" or tū "you" may be added for emphasis if required.
In addition to the six tenses above (which are known as the indicative mood tenses of the verb) there are also four tenses of the subjunctive mood. The basic meaning of these is "may", "might", "should", "would", or "could"; but in some contexts they can be translated in the same way as the equivalent indicative tense. They are as follows:
- Present subjunctive: dūcam "I may lead", "I should lead", "I would lead" or simply "I lead"
- Imperfect subjunctive: dūcerem "I might lead", "I would be leading", "I should lead" or simply "I was leading"
- Perfect subjunctive: dūxerim "I may have led", or simply "I led" or "I have led"
- Pluperfect subjunctive: dūxissem "I would have led", "I should have led", or simply "I had led"
The subjunctive mood is used when referring to desired, feared, or hypothetical situations, e.g. sī dūcerem "if I were leading", ut dūcerem "that I should lead", "so that I could lead", nē dūcerem "for fear that I might lead". An example of when it has a non-subjunctive meaning is after the conjunction cum: cum dūcerem "when I was leading".
The six indicative and four subjunctive tenses described so far are in the active voice (that is, the form of the verb which describes that somebody is doing something). Latin also has a similar set of ten tenses in the passive voice (the form of the verb that describes that something is being done). However, in the passive, personal endings exist only for the Present, Future, and Imperfect tenses; the three Perfect tenses, when passive, are made by using the perfect participle (in this case ductus) combined with a part of the irregular verb sum "I am":
- Present indicative passive: dūcor "I am led", "I am being led (by someone)"
- Future indicative passive: dūcar "I will be led"
- Imperfect indicative passive: dūcēbar "I was being led"
- Perfect indicative passive: ductus sum "I was led", "I have been led"
- Future Perfect indicative passive: ductus erō "I will have been led"
- Pluperfect indicative passive: ductus eram "I had been led"
A small number of verbs, such as sequor "I follow", have passive endings but the meaning is active. These are known as deponent verbs.
(For further details of the personal endings of passive verbs, and for the subjunctive passive tenses, see below.)
Most Latin verbs have an imperative mood, used for commands. When the command is given to one person, this consists simply of the verb stem (or sometimes the verb stem with -e). The plural ends in -te:
- dūc! "lead!" (plural dūcite!)
- audī! "hear!" (plural audīte!)
- curre! "run!" (plural currite!)
In Latin up to the time of Cicero, there is also a "future imperative", ending in -(i)tō (pl. (-i)tōte), used for telling someone to do something at a later time:
- scrībitō "write (when you get this letter)"
Usually the imperative is used only for 2nd person commands, although in legal Latin there is sometimes found a 3rd person imperative, e.g. suntō "they should be".
Imperative verbs are rarely used in the passive, but deponent verbs (active verbs which have passive endings) have an imperative:
- sequere mē! (plural sequiminī mē!) "follow me!"
Latin has a number of infinitives, which are used not only in expressions such as "I want to lead" (dūcere volō), but which are also frequently used in indirect statements. For example, "they say that he is leading" is expressed in Latin as "they say him to be leading" (dīcunt eum dūcere):
- (Present) infinitive: dūcere "to lead", "to be leading"
- (passive dūcī "to be led")
- Perfect infinitive: dūxisse "to have led"
- (passive ductus esse (feminine ducta esse) "to have been led")
- Future infinitive: ductūrus esse (feminine ductūra esse) "to be going to lead"
- (passive ductum īrī "to be going to be led")
The parts ductus and ductūrus above are participles (see below) and change according to number, case, and gender (for example, if masculine plural, ductus would become ductī). However, ductum in the future passive infinitive is always ends in -um and does not change.
Latin has three participles, which are verbal adjectives:
- Present participle: dūcēns (pl. dūcentēs) "(while) leading"
- Future participle: ductūrus (feminine ductūra etc.) "going to lead"
- Perfect participle: ductus (feminine ducta etc.) "led (by someone or something)"
Sometimes counted as a participle (since it is a verbal adjective) is the gerundive:
- Gerundive: dūcendus (feminine dūcenda) "(needing) to be led"
Since these words are all verbal adjectives, like other adjectives in Latin they change according to gender, number, and case. All of them except the present participle can be combined with parts of the verb sum "I am" to make supplementary tenses, e.g. ductūrus erat "he was going to lead".
Gerund and supineEdit
The gerund and supine are verbal nouns:
- Gerund (a verbal noun ending in -ndum, -ndī, or -ndō), e.g. ars dūcendī "the art of leading"
- Supine in -um: ductum it "he goes in order to lead"
- Supine in -ū: facile ductū "easy in the leading"
The form of the supine for any particular verb usually cannot be guessed from its present tense and so is given in dictionaries. From the supine it is usually possible to make the perfect participle and the future participle by changing the ending.
Not all verbs in Latin have exactly the same endings. In the Present tense, some have an "a" before the ending, some an "e", and some a short or long "i". Verbs which have the Present tense endings -ō, -ās, -at and the infinitive -āre are known as "1st conjugation" verbs, and so on. The difference between one conjugation and another is mainly noticed in the Present and Future tenses. In the Perfect tenses the endings of all verbs are regular.
- 1st conjugation:
- Present: amō, amās, amat, amāmus, amātis, amant "I love"
- Future: amābō, -bis, -bit, -bimus, -bitis, -bunt "I will love"
- Imperfect: amābam, -bās, -bat, -bāmus, -bātis, -bant "I was loving"
- Present subjunctive: amem, -ēs, -et, -ēmus, -ētis, -ent "I would love" etc.
- Imperfect subjunctive: amārem, -rēs, -ret, -rēmus, -rētis, -rent "I should love" etc.
- Perfect tenses:
- Perfect: amāvī, -istī, -it, -imus, -istis, -ērunt (poetic -ēre) "I fell in love with"
- Future Perfect: amāverō, -erīs, -erit, -erīmus, -erītis, -erint "I will have loved"
- Pluperfect: amāveram, -erās, -erat, -erāmus, -erātis, -erant "I had loved"
- Perfect subjunctive: amāverim, -erīs, -erit, -erīmus, -erītis, -erint "I may have loved"
- Pluperfect subjunctive: amāvissem, -issēs, -isset, -issēmus, -issētis, -issent "I had loved/ would have loved"
- Other forms:
- Infinitive: amāre "to love"
- Imperative: amā! (pl. amāte!) "love!"
- Present participle: amāns (pl. amantēs) "loving"
- Gerundive: amandus (masc. pl. amandī) "(necessary) to be loved"
- 2nd conjugation:
- Present: videō, vidēs, videt, vidēmus, vidētis, vident "I see"
- Future: vidēbō, -bis, -bit, -bimus, -bitis, -bunt
- Imperfect: vidēbam, -bās, -bat...
- Present subjunctive: videam, -eās, -eat...
- Imperfect subjunctive: vidērem, -rēs, -ret...
- Infinitive: vidēre "to see"
- Imperative: vidē! (pl. vidēte!)
- Present participle: vidēns (pl. videntēs)
- 3rd conjugation:
- Present: dūcō, dūcis, dūcit, dūcimus, dūcitis, dūcunt "I lead"
- Future dūcam, -ēs, -et...
- Imperfect ducēbam, -ēbās, -ēbat...
- Present subjunctive ducam, -ās, -at...
- Imperfect subjunctive ducerem, -rēs, -ret...
- Infinitive: dūcere "to lead"
- Imperative: dūc! (pl. dūcite!)
- Present participle: dūcēns (pl. dūcentēs)
- 4th conjugation:
- Present: audiō, audīs, audit, audīmus, audītis, audiunt "I hear"
- Future: audiam, -ēs, -et...
- Imperfect: audiēbam, -iēbās, -iēbat...
- Present subjunctive: audiam, -ās, -at...
- Imperfect subjunctive: audīrem, -rēs, -ret...
- Infinitive: audīre "to hear"
- Imperative: audī! (pl. audīte!)
- Present participle: audiēns (pl. audientēs)
Most regular verbs in Latin go like one of the above. There are also a few verbs such as capiō "I capture" which are mainly 3rd conjugation but which have certain parts (such as the 1st person capiō) resembling the 4th conjugation. These are known as "mixed conjugation" verbs:
- Mixed conjugation:
- Present: capiō, capis, capit, capimus, capitis, capiunt "I capture"
- Future: capiam, -iēs, -iet...
- Imperfect: capiēbam, -iēbās, -iēbat...
- Present subjunctive: capiam, -ās, -at...
- Imperfect Subjunctive: caperem, -rēs, -ret...
- Infinitive: capere "to capture"
- Imperative: cape! (pl. capite!)
- Present participle: capiēns (pl. capientēs)
In general in all verbs the Imperfect Subjunctive looks like the infinitive with a personal ending (e.g. amāre + m = amārem).
Although most verbs in Latin go like one of the above, there are also some irregular verbs. The most important of these is sum "I am":
- The verb sum "I am":
- Present: sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt "I am"
- Future: erō, eris, erit, erimus, eritis, erunt "I will be"
- Imperfect: eram, erās, erat, erāmus, erātis, erant "I was"
- Present subjunctive: sim, sīs, sit, sīmus, sītis, sint "I may be, I would be, I am"
- Imperfect subjunctive: essem, essēs, esset, essēmus, essētis, essent "I would be, I should be, I was"
- Perfect: fuī, -istī, -it... "I was", "I have been"
- Infinitive esse "to be"
- Possem "I am able":
- Present: possum, potes, potest, possumus, potestis, possunt "I am able"
- Future: poterō, poteris, poterit...
- Imperfect: poteram, poterās, poterat...
- Present subjunctive: possim, possīs, possit, possīmus, possītis, possint
- Imperfect subjunctive: possem, possēs, posset, possēmus, possētis, possent
- Perfect: potuī, -istī, -it...
- Infinitive: posse "to be able"
- Eō "I go" goes as follows:
- Present: eō, īs, it, īmus, ītis, eunt "I go"
- Future: ībō, ībis, ībit...
- Imperfect: ībam, ībās, ībat...
- Present subjunctive: eam, eās, eat...
- Imperfect subjunctive: īrem, īrēs, īret...
- Infinitive: īre "to go"
- Imperative: ī! (pl. īte!)
- Present participle: iēns (pl. euntēs)
Abeō "I go away", adeō "I go up to", redeō "I go back" etc. have similar endings.
- Volō "I want" is an irregular 3rd conjugation verb:
- Present: volō, vīs, vult, volumus, vultis, volunt "I want"
- Future: volam, -ēs, -et...
- Imperfect: volēbam...
- Present subjunctive: velim, -īs, -it...
- Imperfect subjunctive: vellem, -ēs, -et...
- Infinitive: velle "to want"
Nōlō "I am unwilling", infinitive nōlle, and mālō "I would rather", infinitive mālle are similar.
- Dō "I give" is like the 1st conjugation, but has certain forms with a short "a":
- Present: dō, dās, dat, damus, datis, dant "I give"
- Future: dabō...
- Imperfect: dabam...
- Present subjunctive: dem, dēs, det...
- Imperfect subjunctive: darem, darēs, daret...
- Perfect: dedī
- Infinitive: dare "to give"
- Ferō "I bring" or "I bear" is like 3rd conjugation verbs, but has certain forms where the short "i" or "e" is omitted. The Perfect tulī "I brought", and the Perfect passive latus sum "I was brought" are also irregular:
- Present: ferō, fers, fert, ferimus, fertis, ferunt "I bring"
- Imperfect subjunctive: ferrem... "I would bring, I should bring, I was bringing"
- Perfect: tulī "I brought"
- Infinitive: ferre "to bring"
- Imperative: fer! (pl. ferte!) "bring!"
- Present participle: ferēns (pl. ferentēs) "bringing"
Passive verb endingsEdit
A 3rd conjugation verb is given as an example:
- Present: dūcor, -eris, -itur, -imur, -iminī, -untur "I am led"
- Future: dūcar, -ēris/-ēre, -ētur, -ēmur, -ēminī, -entur "I will be led"
- Imperfect: dūcēbar, -bāris/-bāre, -bātur, -bāmur, -bāminī, -bantur "I was being led"
- Present subjunctive: dūcar, -āris/-āre, -ātur, -āmur, -āminī, -antur "I may be led", "I would be led", "I am led"
- Imperfect subjunctive: dūcerer, -rēris/-rēre, -rētur, -rēmur, -rēminī, -rentur
- Perfect: ductus sum, ductus es, ductus est, ductī sumus, ductī estis, ductī sunt "I was led", "I have been led"
- (ductus changes for gender, so if the subject is female, it will be ducta sum, ductae sumus etc.)
- Future Perfect: ductus erō... "I will have been led"
- Pluperfect: dūctus eram... "I had been led"
- Perfect subjunctive: ductus sim... "I may have been led", "I was led"
- Pluperfect subjunctive: ductus essem... "I would have been led", "I had been led"
- Infinitive: dūcī "to be led"
The passive infinitive ends simply in -ī in 3rd conjugation verbs, but in other conjugations the ending is -rī (e.g. audīrī "to be heard").
1st and 2nd conjugation verbs in the Future tense passive have the following endings:
- Future: amābor, -beris/-bere, -bitur, -bimur, -biminī, -buntur "I will be loved"
Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension.
Nouns (including proper nouns and pronouns) have six cases (casus): nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative (a few nouns have a seventh case, called the locative), three genders (Latin: genus): masculine, feminine and neuter, and two numbers (Latin: numerus): 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 to which they refer or modify.
Most nouns in the first declension are feminine, but a few are masculine; they are never neuter. Most in the second declension are masculine or neuter, but there are a few that are feminine, mainly the names of cities and some towns. Nouns in the third declension can be masculine, feminine or neuter. Nouns in the fourth declension are masculine except for a few that are feminine or neuter. Nouns in the fifth declension are feminine except two, diēs (day) and its compound form merīdiēs (midday), which are sometimes masculine.
It is necessary to learn the gender of each noun because it is sometimes impossible to discern the gender from the word itself. One must also remember which declension each noun belongs to be able to decline it. Latin nouns are thus often learned with their genitive (rēx, rēgis) as it both gives a good indication of the declension and reveals the stem (rēg-, not rēx).
- servus ad vīllam ambulat.
- The slave walks to the house.
- The vocative case is used to address someone or something:
- festinā, serve!
- Hurry, slave!
- The accusative case is used to express the direct object of a verb or direction or extent of motion and may be the object of a preposition:
- dominus servōs vituperāvit quod nōn labōrābant.
- The master cursed the slaves because they were not working.
- The genitive case is used to express possession, measurement, or source. In English, the preposition of is used to denote this case, or, in the case of possession, the English possessive construction:
- servus in vīllā dominī labōrat.
- The slave works in the house of the master. or The slave works in the master's house.
- The dative case is used to express the recipient of an action, the indirect object of a verb. It is used also to represent agency in a construction with a passive periphrastic. The dative is never the object of a Latin preposition. In English, the prepositions to and for most commonly translate this case:
- servī pecūniam dominīs trādidērunt.
- The slaves handed over the money to the masters.
- The ablative case, whether or not preceded by a preposition, is used to express separation, indirection or the means by which an action is performed. In English, the prepositions by, with, and from most commonly translate this case:
- dominus in cubiculō dormiēbat.
- The master was sleeping in his bedroom
- The locative case is used to express the place in or on which or the time at which an action is performed. The locative case is very rare in Latin and exists only for the names of cities and small islands and for a few other isolated words. All other nouns use the ablative with a preposition to serve the same purpose. In form, it is identical to the genitive case in the singular of the first and second declension and the ablative case otherwise, with some exceptions, e.g.: the noun domus ("home") has the locative domi, and the noun tempus (time) has the locative tempori.
- servus Rōmae erat.
- The slave was in Rome.
Articles, determiners and personal pronounsEdit
Detailed information and declension tables can be found at Latin declension.
- Persuāsīt populō ut eā pecuniā classis aedificārētur (Nepos)
- '"He persuaded the people that a fleet should be built with the money (with that money)"
Latin also has demonstratives, such as hic, haec, hoc (masculine, feminine and neuter proximal, corresponding to English this or this one near me), ille, illa, illud (distal, English that), iste, ista, istud (medial, "that one of yours"), and is, ea, id ("weak" demonstrative, he, she, it).
These words, like all Latin third person pronouns can be used either as adjectives or as pronouns:
- Hic homō sānus nōn est (Plautus)
- "This man is not sane"
- Hic, putō, sānus erat (Martial)
- "This (man), I think, was sane"
Personal pronouns also exist, for first and second person, in both singular and plural: ego, nos (I, we) in the first, tu, vos (you, you all) in the second. A pronoun is rarely used for the subject of a verb, the function being served by the inflection of the verb.
Adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in case, number, and gender. Thus, Latin adjectives must be declined as well. 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 after the nouns they modify.
Degrees of comparisonEdit
Adjectives exist, like in English, with positive, comparative and superlative forms. 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, there are three ways to handle the declension of the thing to which the comparison is made:
- With quam (Latin for "than") it matches the word with which it is being compared.
- If comparing a part to the whole, the partitive genitive is used.
- Use the ablative of degree of difference.
- Cornēlia est fortis puella: Cornelia is a strong girl.
- Cornēlia est fortior puella quam Flāvia: Cornelia is a stronger girl than Flavia. (Here quam is used, Flavia is in the nominative to match Cornelia)
- Cornēlia est fortior Flāviā: Cornelia is stronger than Flavia. (Here Flavia is in the ablative.)
- Cornēlia est fortior puellārum: Cornelia is the stronger of the girls (Comparison to the group, so the genitive.)
- Cornēlia est fortior puella: Cornelia is a rather strong girl.
- Cornēlia est fortissima puella omnium/inter omnēs/ex omnibus: Cornelia is the strongest girl of all.
|exterus, -a, -um||exterior, -ius||extrēmus, -a, -um|
|novus, -a, um||novior, -ius||novissimus, -a, -um|
|posterus, -a, -um||posterior, -ius||postrēmus, -a, -um|
|pulcher, -chra, -chrum||pulchrior, -ius||pulcherrimus, -a, -um|
|superus, -a, -um||superior, -ius||suprēmus, -a, -um|
|bonus, -a, -um||melior, -ius||optimus, -a, -um|
|magnus, -a, -um||māior, -ius||maximus, -a, -um|
|malus, -a, -um||pēior, -ius||pessimus, -a, -um|
|multus, -a, -um||plūs; pl. plūres, plūra||plūrimus, -a, -um|
|parvus, -a, -um||minor, -us||minimus, -a, -um|
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 and invariable. Like adjectives, adverbs have positive, comparative and superlative forms.
The positive form of an adverb can be formed from an adjective by appending an adverbial suffix to the base, typically -e, -er, -iter, -itus, more rarely -o, or -um. The adjective clārus, -a, -um, which means bright, can be contrasted to the adverb clārē, which means brightly.
The comparative form of an adverb, formed from third declension adjectives, is very simple: it is the same as the neuter nominative singular form of a comparative adjective and usually ends in -ius. Instead of the adjective clārior, which mean brighter, the adverb is clārius, which means more brightly.
The superlative adverb is also very simple: it has the same base as the superlative adjective and always ends in a long -e. Instead of the adjective clārissimus, which mean brightest, the adverb is clārissimē, which means most brightly.
A prepositional phrase in Latin is made up of a preposition followed by (except for a few postpositives) a noun phrase in an oblique case (ablative, accusative and rarely genitive). The preposition determines the case that is used, with some prepositions allowing different cases depending on the meaning. For example, Latin in takes the accusative case when it indicates motion (English into) and the ablative case when it indicates position (English on or inside).
Numerals and numbersEdit
Only the first three numbers have masculine, feminine and neuter forms fully declined as if they were normal adjectives.
ūnus, ūna, ūnum (1) duo, duae, duo (2) trēs, trēs, tria (3)
ūnus (one) has mostly first- and second-declension endings, but -īus is the normal genitive singular and -ī the normal dative singular ending (all three genders). duo (two) has an irregular declension. On the other hand, trēs, tria (three) is a regular third-declension adjective with the stem tr-.
The numbers quattuor (four) through decem (ten) are not declined:
quattuor (4) quīnque (5) sex (6) septem (7) octō (8) novem (9) decem (10)
The "tens" numbers are also not declined:
vīgintī (20) trīgintā (30) quadrāgintā (40) quīnquāgintā (50) sexāgintā (60) septuāgintā (70) octōgintā (80) nōnāgintā (90)
The numbers 11 to 17 are formed by affixation of the corresponding digit to the base -decim, hence ūndecim, duodecim, tredecim, quattuordecim, quīndecim, sēdecim, septendecim. The numbers 18 and 19 are formed by subtracting 2 and 1, respectively, from 20: duodēvīgintī and ūndēvīgintī. For the numbers 21 to 27, the digits either follow or are added to 20 by the conjunction et: vīgintī ūnus or ūnus et vīgintī, vīgintī duo or duo et vīgintī etc. The numbers 28 and 29 are again formed by subtraction: duodētrīgintā and ūndētrīgintā. Each group of ten numerals through 100 follows the patterns of the 20s but 99 is nōnāgintā novem rather than *ūndēcentum.
Compounds ending in 1 2 and 3 are the only ones to decline:
I saw 20 blackbirds = vīgintī merulās vīdī I saw 22 blackbirds = vīgintī duās merulās vīdī (where duās changes to agree with merulās)
The "hundreds" numbers are the following:
centum (indeclinable) ducentī, -ae, -a (200) trecentī, -ae, -a (300) quadringentī, -ae, -a (400) quīngentī, -ae, -a (500) sēscentī, -ae, -a (600) septingentī, -ae, -a (700) octingentī, -ae, -a (800) nōngentī, -ae, -a (900)
However, 1000 is mille, an indeclinable adjective, but multiples such as duo mīlia or duo mīllia (2000) have mīlia as a neuter plural substantive followed by a partitive genitive:
I saw a thousand lions = mīlle leōnēs vīdī I saw three thousand lions = tria mīlia leōnum vīdī
Ordinal numbers are all adjectives with regular first- and second-declension endings. Most are built off of the stems of cardinal numbers (for example, trīcēsimus, -a, -um (30th) from trīgintā (30), sēscentēsimus, -a, -um nōnus, -a, -um (609th) for sēscentī novem (609). However, "first" is prīmus, -a, -um, and "second" is secundus, -a, -um (literally "following" the first; sequi means "to follow").
Latin allows a very flexible word order because of its inflectional syntax. Ordinary prose tended to follow the pattern of subject, direct object, indirect object, adverbial words or phrases, verb (with the proviso that when noun and verb make a compound, as impetum facio 'I attack / make an attack' the noun is generally placed close to the verb). Any extra but subordinate verb, such as an infinitive, is placed before the main verb. Adjectives and participles usually directly follow nouns unless they are adjectives of beauty, size, quantity, goodness, or truth, in which case they usually precede the noun being modified. However, departures from these rules are frequent.
Relative clauses are commonly placed after the antecedent that the relative pronoun describes. Since grammatical function in a sentence is based not on word order but on inflection, the usual word order in Latin was often abandoned with no detriment to understanding but with various changes in emphasis.
While these patterns of word order were the most frequent in Classical Latin prose, they were frequently varied. The strongest surviving evidence suggests that the word order of colloquial Latin was mostly Subject-Object-Verb. That can be found in some very conservative Romance languages, such as Sardinian and Sicilian in which the verb is still often placed at the end of the sentence (see Vulgar Latin). On the other hand, subject-verb-object word order was probably also common in ancient Latin conversation, as it is prominent in the Romance languages, which evolved from 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. One must bear in mind that poets in the Roman world wrote primarily for the ear, not 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 nōs cēdāmus amōrī!: Love conquers all, let us too yield to love!. The words omnia (all), amor (love) and amōrī (to love) are thrown into relief by their unusual position in their respective phrases.
The ending of the common Roman name Marcus is different in each of the following pairs of examples because of its grammatical usage in each pair. The ordering in the second sentence of each pair would be correct in Latin and clearly understood, whereas in English it is awkward, at best, and meaningless, at worst:
- Marcus ferit Cornēliam: Marcus hits Cornelia. (subject–verb–object)
- Marcus Cornēliam ferit: Marcus Cornelia hits. (subject–object–verb)
- Cornēlia dedit Marcō dōnum: Cornelia has given Marcus a gift. (subject–verb–indirect object–direct object)
- Cornēlia Marcō dōnum dedit: Cornelia (to) Marcus a gift has given. (subject–indirect object–direct object–verb)
In Latin grammar, the ablative absolute (Latin: ablātīvus absolūtus) is a noun phrase cast in the ablative case. More specifically, it consists of a noun or pronoun and either a past participle, a present participle, an adjective, or an appositive noun, all in the ablative. In the case of sum "to be", a zero morpheme often must be used as the past and present participle do not exist, unlike the future participle.
The ablative absolute 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. However, the noun in the ablative case cannot recur in the same sentence, hence the name absolute, derived from the Latin word absolvere meaning "to loosen from". The unfamiliarity of this construction makes it sometimes difficult for Latin students to grasp; however, mastery is needed to understand or write Latin. 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. The construction often sounds 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, and the second has been construed to sound more at home in English. The usage of present, passive or future participles determines the verbal idea in the ablative absolute.
- urbe captā Aenēās fūgit:
- With the city captured, Aeneas fled.
- When the city was captured, Aeneas fled.
- Ovidiō exule, Mūsae planguntur.
- With Ovid exiled, the Muses weep.
- The Muses weep because Ovid has been exiled.
The ablative absolute indicates the time when things happened or the circumstances in which they occurred:
- Caesare cōnsule...
- with Caesar as consul...
- when Caesar was consul...
It can indicate the causes of things:
- īrā calefactā, sapientia dormit.
- With anger kindled, wisdom sleeps.
- Wisdom sleeps because anger is kindled.
- dominō absente, fūr fenestram penetrāvit.
- With the master absent, a thief entered the window.
- Since the master was absent, a thief entered the window.
- audītō eum fūgisse...
- with its having been heard of him to have fled...
- with its having been heard that he had fled...
- hearing that he had fled...
- having heard that he had fled...
- when they heard he had fled...
- Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, The rest I'd give to be to you translated.
- Nepos, Them. 2.2
- Gildersleeve & Lodge (1895), p. 192.
- Plautus, Am. 402
- Martial, 11.28
- Andrew M. Devine, Laurence D. Stephens, Latin Word Order. Structured Meaning and Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, page 79.
- Devine, Andrew M.; Stephens, Laurence D. (2006). Latin word order: structured meaning and information. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 3–5.
Word order is what gets the reader of Latin from disjoint sentences to coherent and incrementally interpretable text.
- Bennett, Charles Edwin (1895). Latin Grammar. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
- New Latin Grammar by Charles E. Bennet (free ebook) (1895, 3rd edition 1918)
- Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges (1903) (public domain book)
- Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar: School Edition (1905) (Google book)
- "Textkit.com" Website containing links to useful resources for learners of Latin.
- Ablative Absolute from Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar
- Ablative Absolute by William Harris
- Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid from Notre Dame.
- 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
- Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum: complete texts and full bibliography
- Legible Latin A multi-platform interface for Whitaker's Words dictionary (free).
- A Digital Dictionary A Latin Dictionary that will work as the default dictionary on a Kindle reading device.
- A Turkish Latin Grammar Turkish version.