Latin IS English!

January 17, 2009

“Significant within a Latin sentence is word order.”

“Significant within a Latin sentence is word order.” That’s right. Just look at the title of this post. What are the most significant words in that sentence? If you said “Significant” and “order,” you are correct. Simply from their positioning, the words on at the extremities (beginning and end) hold a greater degree of prominence. Once you’ve studied Latin long enough to be able to translate your first sentence, you’ll immediately notice (as we’ve discussed previously further down within this blog) that the word order of a typical “basic” Latin sentence follows the pattern of (1) Subject at the beginning, (2) Verb at the end, and (3) Direct Object behind (near) the subject within the sentence. And, while many if not most sentences will have more than three words representing these three basic parts of speech—in the example below an “indirect object” has been included— this is the basic word order pattern.

When Latin sentences are more complex in parts of speech used or kinds of phrases occurring, there are still—as in English—normal word order placement patterns that may be observed.  An “indirect object,” for example, would normally occur after a subject and just before the direct object:

Deus Christianīs salutem dat.

(Subj./Indir. Obj./Dir. Obj./Verb)

God to Christians salvation gives.

You will also remember that “Genitive” case possessive-descriptive words normally follow the words they modify:

Christus Filius Deī est = (literally) “Christ the Son of God (he) is.” —or— “Christ is the Son of God.
Christus Deī Filius est = (literally) “Christ the of God Son (he) is.” —or— “Christ is the Son of God. (positionally stronger)

But, what about sentences where the words appear in an atypical order from those examples presented above? What implications, if any, does a different word placement order have on the translation of a Latin sentence? Well, the answer is—quite a lot. As is true in English as well. Already the Latin subject and verb placement at the beginning and end of the sentence gives them, as—stand out” words—special significance. So, when re-ordering occurs, we should pay attention to the significance. For example, here is a paraphrase of Mary’s great doxological prayer, commonly know as “The Magnificat,” from Luke 1:46-49:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum . . . quia fecit mihi magna . . . et sanctum nomen ejus (est).

My soul magnifies the Lord . . . because he has done great things for me . . . and holy (is) his name.

The simple movement of the Latin verb (Magnificat) from its normal ending position in the sentence (phrase) to the beginning draws extra attention to it, giving it a heightened importance or stress in this famous and widely utilized prayer of Mary after she learns that she will be the earthly mother of Jesus. Also, with the relocation of the verb to the beginning of the sentence, the “direct object” (Dominum) now holds a greater prominence as the last word within its clause. As a result, the main thrust of this part of the passage—for Mary and for us—is magnifying the Lord! Paying attention to word order, therefore, will help the Latin student draw out these special nuances in emphasis that are reflected within a given Latin sentence.

Interested in taking a “live, interactive” online Latin class?  Take the POLL here!

November 13, 2008

“TV Makes People Nauseas” —OR— How to “Parse” a Latin Verb

One of the most important considerations in studying the foundational elements of Latin must be given to the verb, that part of speech which affirms either action or state of being. The component elements of a verb are collectively referred to as its “parsing” (from the Latin noun pars, partis = part, piece, function). These components are:

1. Tense

2. Voice

3. Mode (or Mood)

4. Person

5. Number

Or, as my beginning Greek professor used to wisely proclaim (to our era of declining quality television programming viewers) via the acronym of the first letters of each of the above words:  TV Makes People Nauseas!”

The “parsing” of a Latin “model” 1st conjugation verb laudo (“I praise…am praising…do praise”) is: Present, Active, Indicative, 1st Person, Singular. Now, let’s take a closer look at what these “parsing” components represent—

1. Tense conveys “kind” of action and generally, in the Indicative Mode only, the “time” of the action. So, for the above verb, Present tense would mean both present time and continuous “action” (that is, activity in real, present time). Of course, from your additional study elsewhere, you’ll know that the Latin tenses are the Present, Imperfect (continuous “action” in past time), Future, the Pluperfect (equivalent to the English Past Perfect), and the Future Perfect.

2. Voice (”active” or “passive”) tells how the action of the verb is related to the subject. With the active “voice,” the subject of the verb is “active” through the verb, most often with a direct object.  For example, Deum laudo = “I am praising God.” With passive voice, the subject is being acted upon.  For example, God is being praised.” Observe the diagram below. Even the direction of the arrows will help you remember what is happening with “active” and “passive” voice verbs.


3.  Mode (or Mood) tells what the verb is affirming, its relation to “reality.”

Indicative — declaratives, simple assertions, interrogations.
Subjunctive — mildly contingent, hesitating affirmation; mode of probability.
Imperative — commands or entreaties; mode of “volition.” 

4.  Person denotes who is acting as the subject.  In Latin the 1st, 2nd and 3rd personal pronouns (i.e., I, you, he, she, itwe, you, and they) are included in the endings of the verb form.

5.  Number is the “singularity” or “plurality” of the person or persons represented by the verb form, included in the verb’s personal endings.

One final word about a Latin verb’s “parsing.”  Since a verb’s parsing contains all the information needed to translate the word—providing you know its original root meaning, of course—whether it’s Present Active Indicative 1st person singular or Future Active Indicative 2nd person plural or Imperfect Passive Indicative 3 person singular; no matter what it is:


“If you can parse it, you can translate it!” 

Interested in taking a “live, interactive” online Latin class?  Take the POLL here!




August 8, 2008

“The sailor land (he) sees.” (. . . Huh?!) — THE WORD ORDER OF A LATIN SENTENCE

When translating Latin sentences, identify and translate in the following order whenever possible: (1) Subject (Nominative case), then (2) Verb and (3) Direct Object (Accusative case). However, remember, the normal Latin word order in a sentence with a transitive verb (i.e., a verb of “action”) will appear in a different order:

Subject (Nominative case) . . . then Direct Object (Accusative case) . . . then Verb.

—OR, in Latin

Nauta (Nominative for sailor)…terram (Accusative for land)…videt (he sees3rd person sing. of video)


(Literally) The sailor land (he) sees.OR— (English flow) The sailor sees land.

Interested in taking a “live, interactive” online Latin class?  Take the POLL here!

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