Latin/Lesson 1

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Intro: 12
Chapter 1 123456
Chapter 2 12345678
Chapter 3 12345678
Chapter 4 12345678910
Chapter 5 123456789

What is Latin?[edit | edit source]

Parts of this introduction were taken from The Latin Language on the Wikipedia.

Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around the city of Rome called Latium. It gained great importance as the formal language of the Roman Empire.

All Romance languages — including Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and others — descend from a Latin parent, and many words in English and other languages today are based on Latin roots. Moreover, Latin was a lingua franca, the learned language for scientific and political affairs in Europe, for more than one and a half thousand years, being eventually replaced by French in the 18th century and English by the middle of the 20th. Latin remains the formal language of the Roman Catholic Church to this day and is the official language of the Vatican.

Romance languages are not derived from Classical Latin, a literary language for writing and oration, but rather from Vulgar Latin, the language spoken by the common people, or vulgus, of Rome. Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin (Romance) differ (for example) in that Romance had distinctive stress whereas Classical had distinctive length of vowels. In Italian and Sardo logudorese, there is distinctive length of consonants and stress, in Spanish only distinctive stress, and in French even stress is no longer distinctive. Stress refers to the emphasis of pronunciation on syllabic units. Most English nouns not derived from other parts of speech have an emphasis on the first syllable. Foreign loan words in English sometimes retain their original stress, which may be on the second or third syllable, though assimilation into English will usually result in a vowel shift towards emphasis on the first syllable.

Another major distinction between Classical and Romance is that modern Romance languages, excluding Romanian, have lost their case endings (suffixes at the end of the word used in place of prepositions) in most words (some pronouns being exceptions). Romanian is still equipped with several cases though some, notably the ablative, are no longer represented.

Here are some current English words which are Latin derivativesː

  • Video is the Latin verb "I see" which in English is a noun referring to a recording and playback device.
  • Audio is the Latin verb "I hear" which in English is a noun referring to a sound wave.
  • Victoria is the Latin noun "victory" which in English is a proper noun and a woman's name.
  • Carmen is the Latin noun "song" which in English is a proper noun and a woman's name.

Introduction to the Latin Language[edit | edit source]

Simple and Compound Words[edit | edit source]

In Latin, words are either:

  • simple (words that consist of only one part). For example:
Latin English
I go
ferō I carry
I give
  • compound (words that consist of more than one part, for example, a root word combined with a prefix). For example:
Latin English
abeō I go away
trānsferō I carry across
reddō I give back

Word Parts[edit | edit source]

Inflected words (i.e., words having ending- or spelling-changes according to their grammatical functions in the sentence) have a stem and a root.

The Stem

The stem is the part of the word to which various suffixes are added. The final suffix determines either the role of the word in the sentence (for example, when a Roman slave wished to address his dominus (master), he used the vocative form domine -- equivalent to "O master" in English) or the person/subject involved in the action (for example, "I dominate" may be expressed as "domin-or", and "they dominate" as "domin-antur"). In these cases, domin- is the stem and -us, -e, -or and -antur are suffixes. The addition of such suffixes is called inflection. This is discussed further in the Summary.

The Root

The root is the part of the word that carries the essential meaning. For example the stem of agitō (I drive onward) is agit-, whose root is ag (do, drive), which is in common to words of similar meaning: agō (I do, drive), agmen (that which is driven, such as a flock), etc. Notice the essential difference between a root and a stem. To the root "ag" has been added a suffix "(i)tō-" which denotes frequency of action (so "agit-" means to do or drive more than once, hence "agit-ō", I agitate, I keep (something) moving, I urge, I impel).

In contrast, English uses word order more than inflection to determine the function of a word within a sentence. English also uses words like pronouns (I, she, etc.) and prepositions (to, at, etc.) where Latin generally prefers inflexions. Thus "dom-ī" (noun -- "at home"), "ag-unt" (verb -- "they do/drive").


Primitives occur when both the stem and the root are the same. For example, in the word agere (to do, drive) both the stem and the root are the same: "ag-".


Derivatives occur when the root or stem is modified. For example, the stem flamm- from the noun flamma has the root "flag" ("blaze"), "nōscō" (I know) from the verb "nōscere" has the root "gnō-" ("know").


Latin attaches suffixes ("endings") to stems to turn them into words (most stems and roots cannot be used in sentences without an ending). This inflection is essential to forming Latin sentences. The various suffixes and their translations will be learned in the later lessons.

Types of Words used in Latin[edit | edit source]

Nouns[edit | edit source]

A noun (Latin: nōmen) is "something perceived or conceived by the mind."

There are two kinds of nouns: Substantives and Pronouns.

1. Substantive (nōmen substantīvum) is a name simply denoting something perceived or conceived: psittacus - the parrot, nix - the snow, virtus - virtue.

2. Pronoun (prōnōmen) is a word used in place of a substantivum, usually when the substantivum is already known: ea - she, ille - that man

Nouns have changing endings on the stem (known as declension) and three incidents: number, gender and case. Number concerns whether the thing referred to is singular or plural (and the ending shows this); gender classifies a substantive as masculine, feminine or neuter (this determines how the endings of adjectives and pronouns behave) and case (where the ending must show how the noun fits in to the sentence). Adjectives and Pronouns must agree in all incidents when they refer to a substantive.

Verbs[edit | edit source]

Verbs (verba) express an action or a state of being, e.g., agō (I do), dīxit (he said), venīs (you come). Conjugation is the term for adding inflections to verb stems to indicate person (first, second or third), number (singular or plural), tense (present, future, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect or future perfect), voice (active or passive), and mood (indicative, subjunctive or imperative).

A verb can be either finite or infinite:

1. Finite verbs (verba finīta) are inflected and have a subject, e.g., I run, you run, he runs, they drive, the computer is turned on.

2. The infinite verbs (verba infinīta) are not inflected and have no subject, e.g. to run, to drive, to turn on, to have drawn. Participles, which are inflected as substantives rather than as verbs, may also be considered infinite, e.g., the running boy.

Modifiers[edit | edit source]

1. Adjectives (adiectīva) are used to describe nouns. They indicate a quality perceived or conceived as inherent in, or attributed to, something denoted. E.g., vir magnus (the great man), puella pulchra (the fair girl)

2. Adverbs (adverbia) are similar to adjectives, except that they are used to qualify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, rather than nouns. In practice, they restrict the meaning of the verb or adjective by specifying how or how much. E.g., currō celeriter (I run quickly), pugnat fortiter (he fights bravely), vērē iūcundus est (he's really nice), incrēdibile callida est (she's incredibly clever).

Other[edit | edit source]

Particles are uninflected words that provide extra meaning.

1. Prepositions (praepositiōnēs) are little words which tell you how one word is behaving in relation to another word ("the duck was near the pond", "she went towards the wood"). In Latin, the noun that follows a preposition takes a particular ending (called a "case"), depending on the nature of the relationship, or on the nature of the preposition itself. E.g., ad (by), in (in), sub (under). What all this means is that a preposition is a sort of adverb, telling you how something is done. For example, "you go" is a simple statement, but "you go in" suggests that you don't just "go", you go so as to enter something, and so you need a noun for the "something". In English, we might say "you go into the house". In Latin, this would be: "in domum inīs". Notice the form "in domum", which means "into" the house -- you're going into it, you're not yet exactly inside it (the ending -um of "domum" is called "accusative"). When you are inside the house, what you do is "in" the house, which is "in domō" (the ending -ō of "domō" is called "ablative").

2. Conjunctions (coniunctiōnēs) join together clauses and sentences. E.g., et (and), atque (as well as), sed (but).

3. Interjections (interiectiōnēs) are exclamations used to express feeling or to gain attention. E.g., ō! (oh!), ēheu! (alas!), ecce! (behold!).

Articles[edit | edit source]

Latin has no definite article or indefinite article, respectively "the" and "a/an". When translating Latin into English the appropriate article must be added.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Parts of Speech
Inflected Uninflected
Substantives: things perceived or conceived Adverbs: describe adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs
Adjectives: indicate a quality perceived or conceived as inherent of something in the substantive Prepositions: help nouns define their relations to other nouns
Pronouns: nouns used in place of substantives and adjectives Conjunctions: Join clauses and sentences
Verbs: mark the beginning of an independent clause. The verb in Latin is inflected so that we know the subject ("I learn"), and its tense (to what general or specific time the clause relates to). We call the inflection of a verb conjugation Interjection: exclamation

Exercises[edit | edit source]

EXERCISE • Lesson 1 • Questions

1. What is the shared root in the following English words?

  • actor, reaction, radioactive
  • transfer, fertile, interference

2. In the following English words, what is the stem and what is the ending?

  • knights
  • riding
  • horses
  • jumped

3. What parts of speech are each of the English words in (2), as well as the following:

  • with
  • and
  • because
  • hooray
  • silently
  • never

4. Answer the following questions about the Latin language:

  • In what area of Italy was Latin originally spoken?
  • Name the two varieties of Latin that existed in antiquity.
  • What major organization still uses Latin today?
SOLUTION • Latin/Lesson 1 • Questions

1. What is the shared root in the following English words?

  • act
  • fer

2. In the following English words, what is the stem and what is the ending?

  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written

3. What parts of speech are each of the English words in (2), as well as the following:

  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written
  • to be written

4. Answer the following questions about the Latin language:

  • Latium
  • Classical latin and Vulgar latin
  • Roman Catholic Church