In this Lesson, we will review some basic English grammar and cover the Latin equivalents.
Parts of Speech and Grammar
In Latin, grammar is essential to understanding what is being said. While in English we can sometimes deduce meaning even when faced with bad grammar, Latin becomes incomprehensible if one is not meticulous about being grammatically correct. Let’s review the eight parts of speech and see what differences exist between Latin and English.
A noun is a proper name or a word that is used to name a thing. House, dog, table, philosophy and John are examples of nouns. Latin uses nouns the same way English does. The difference is that all nouns (with only rare exceptions) have different endings, depending on how they are used in a sentence. The name for this changing of endings is called a declension (we say that words are declined). Many ancient languages use declensions, including Greek, Hebrew, and even Old English. Some modern languages still retain them to some extent, German and Russian are examples of these. In Latin, there are five declensions, and each one has different endings based on what role a word is playing in a sentence.
Each declension indicates how a word will end depending on how it used in a sentence, that is depending on its case. This may sound complicated and confusing, but you probably learned cases in school – they just had different names, and focused on the function of words or phrases in a sentence. In English, the function of a word is determined by its position in the sentence. If you change where a word is placed in an English sentence, it can change the meaning completely. Thus: The girl flies a kite, makes perfect sense. Change the place of the words and you get A kite flies the girl. Latin does not have this problem because the ending of the words tell you what each word’s function is. This resolves a lot of ambiguities, but is also makes the language a lot more complicated.
Latin uses six cases. You will find them below, along with their English equivalent. English examples will follow.
Nominative – Subject of the sentence (doer of the action)
Genitive – Possessive (the thing or person something belongs to – usually preceded by of, in English)
Dative – Indirect Object (in English, preceded by to or for)
Accusative – Direct Object of the verb (the thing the action is performed on)
Ablative – Indirect Object (the Ablative in Latin has many roles, it is often preceded by a preposition)
Vocative – Used when calling to someone/something or addressing a person/thing
Let’s look a few sentences so that we have examples of each case and its function.
The boy kicks the ball.
Here the boy is the subject; it is in the nominative case. This is because the boy is the one doing the kicking. The ball is the direct object; it is in the accusative. It is receiving the action of the verb – it is being kicked. This is where you need to be careful in Latin; if you confuse the endings on the words, the ball could be the one doing the kicking!
Mary, did I tell you to give the gift to John?
In this sentence, Mary is in the vocative case; she is being addressed. I is in the nominative; it is the subject. Because this is a question, the subject comes after the verb – a peculiarity of English construction. You is in the accusative; it is the direct object. Whom did I tell? I told you. The gift is also in the accusative; it is receiving the action of to give. It is the thing that is being given. Finally, John is in the dative; the gift is being given to him.
The Act of Congress violated my rights.
Here the Act is nominative; it is the subject of the sentence – it is what is violating. Congress is in the genitive, because Congress is the one whose Act it is. Whose act is it? Congress’. Congress is doing the possessing, it is thus in the genitive case. My rights is in the accusative, because they are receiving the action of the verb.
Now you know each of the six Latin cases. Let’s look at an example of the case endings of a first declension word. (Singular means there is only one thing; plural means there are many things).
First Declension Endings
Nominative -a -ae
Genitive -ae -ārum
Dative -ae -īs
Accusative -am -ās
Ablative -ā -īs
Vocative -a -ae
Every Latin noun belongs to a certain declension. Nouns have a stem, and to that stem the appropriate ending is added. Let’s look at an example of the Latin word for rose. (Note that Rosa is followed by a hyphenated ending. When indicating a Latin noun, one always gives the full nominative singular form and the genitive singular ending. This assures us that we know what declension a word belongs to – that becomes especially important in the third declension, where there are many nominative forms)
Rosa, -ae (f): a rose
Nominative rosa rosae
Genitive rosae rosārum
Dative rosae rosīs
Accusative rosam rosās
Ablative rosā rosīs
Vocative rosa rosae
In the next lesson, we will focus on the first declension, so don’t worry if it is not all together clear yet.
Latin nouns have three possible genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. It is important to know what gender a noun is, because any adjective or pronoun that goes with a noun must agree with the nouns gender and number (adjectives must also agree with the case). We give the gender in brackets after the noun – that is what the (f) next to rosa, –ae is.
Adjectives are what qualify nouns. Blue, beautiful and mad are examples of adjectives. Latin adjectives each belong to their own declension, but must agree in gender, number and case with the noun they modify. That is how you know what adjective goes with what word. We will study adjectives later on.
Articles are determiners; they tell you in what way someone is speaking of a thing. The and a are common articles. Latin does not have articles strictly speaking, though sometime demonstrative adjectives (e.g. that, those), are used as articles. Nouns usually will not have any kind of articular word with them, so in translation you will have to supply the article that makes the most sense in English. This will become very easy, especially with practice.
Pronouns stand in for nouns, so that we don’t have to repeat the full noun over and over. I, You, He/She/It, We, You (pl)., They are English pronouns. Latin does have pronouns, but they are seldom used unless to emphasize the person. This is because Latin verbs have endings that indicate what person is doing the action, so pronouns are not necessary to know the meaning. Pronouns are declined. We will see pronouns later in this course.
Verbs are the words that tell you what the action of the sentence is. Are, tell and is were the verbs of the last sentence. Every verb follows a conjugation, which gives the appropriate endings for each verb form. Conjugations are like declensions of verbs in a way, but conjugations are much more complex. This is because conjugations in addition to persons, have different tenses, voices and moods. This may sound complicated, but English verbs have all those things too – you can definitely learn all of these if you are reading this. There are four conjugations in Latin.
Persons are just the pronouns – I, You, He/She/It, We, You (pl)., They. In grammatical terms, there are three different persons and singular and plural versions of each one.
First person I We
Second person You You
Third person He/she/it They
In Latin, each person has a different ending. In English, we have dropped most of our ending (though they still remain in old forms like thou dost, he doeth, etc.), so the only thing that changes for the most part is the third person singular – e.g. I do, he does. English essentially uses pronouns to indicate person. Latin does not usually use pronouns, but its verb endings indicate person.
Tenses indicate what time the action takes place in. There are past, present, and future tenses, but that is not all. Tenses convey more meaning than just time; they tell you something about the importance or occurrence of the action too. English does this as well, so it is not as foreign as it may sound. We will cover all of this in better detail when we go over verbs.
Voices indicate whom the action is happening to. Latin has an active and a passive voice, just like English.
The girl throws the ball, is an active verb sentence.
The ball is thrown by the girl, is a passive sentence.
Moods have to do with the grammatical construction a verb is being used in. Examples of moods are indicative, subjunctive, infinitive. We will cover these in depth later on.
When indicating a Latin verb, one always gives the four principle parts. These are the first person singular present indicative active, the present infinitive, the first person singular perfect indicative, and the supine in –um. Here are the principle parts of the verb to love: amō, amāre, amāvī, amātum.
We will cover verbs extensively in this course.
Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Most English adverbs happily end in –ly. Most Latin adverbs end in –ter, and are not declined (indeclinable).
Are words that precede a word and indicate its relation to other words in the sentence or paragraph. After, before, out of are English prepositions. The words that a Latin preposition is modifying will be in a particular case depending on the preposition in question. Prepositions themselves are indeclinable.
Conjunctions are words that join sentences together. And is probably the most famous/used. But and or are other examples. Latin uses conjunctions similarly, and they are indeclinable.
That concludes our grammar review, and you know what to expect. In the next lesson we will focus on nouns of the first declension.