Latin grammar

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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.

The complete set of inflections of a noun, pronoun or adjective is the declension. Nouns fall into five declension patterns or declensions.

The pattern of inflections of a verb is known as its conjugation. Regular verbs are grouped into four main conjugations.

Priscian, or the Grammar, marble cameo panel dated 1437–1439 from the bell tower of Florence, Italy, by Luca della Robbia. The scene is an allegory of grammar and, by implication, all of education. Note the opening door in the background and the unshod feet of the first pupil.

Latin does not have articles and so does not generally differentiate between, for example, "a girl" and "the girl": puella amat means both "a girl loves" and "the girl loves".

Latin word order is generally subject–object–verb. However, other word orders are common, especially in poetry. They can also be used to express subtle nuances, even in prose.

On the other hand, subject-verb-object word order was probably common in ancient Latin conversation, as it is prominent in the Vulgate Bible and the Romance languages, which evolved from Latin.[1]

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".


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

Latin verbs have numerous conjugated forms. Verbs have four moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative and infinitive), two voices (active and passive), two numbers (singular and plural) and three persons (first, second and third). They are conjugated in six main tenses (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect and future perfect). They have the subjunctive mood for the present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect. Infinitives and participles occur in the present, perfect and future tenses. As well, they have the imperative mood for present and future.

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, plural tempora):

  • Present (Latin: praesēns): describes actions happening at the time of speaking:
servus vīnum ad vīllam portat.
The slave is carrying (or carries) the wine home.

Building the tense: [present basis of the verb]+[personal endings] Example: the verb amāre (to love), tenēre (to hold), dīcere (to say), audīre (to hear)

1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amō amāmus teneō tenēmus dīcō dīcimus audiō audīmus
2nd amās amātis tenēs tenētis dīcis dīcitis audīs audītis
3rd amat amant tenet tenent dīcit dīcunt audit audiunt
  • Imperfect (Latin: imperfectum): describes actions continuing in the past:
servus vīnum ad vīllam portābat.
The slave was carrying (or used to carry) the wine home.

Building the tense: [present basis of the verb]+[temporal modal morpheme]+[personal endings]

1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amābam amābāmus tenēbam tenēbāmus dīcēbam dīcēbāmus audiēbam audiēbāmus
2nd amābās amābātis tenēbās tenēbātis dīcēbās dīcēbātis audiēbās audiēbātis
3rd amābat amābant tenēbat tenēbant dīcēbat dīcēbant audiēbat audiēbant
  • Future (Latin: futūrum (prīmum)): describes actions taking place in the future:
servus vīnum ad vīllam portābit.
The slave will carry (or will be carrying) the wine home.
1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amābō amābimus tenēbo tenēbimus dīcam dīcēmus audiam audiēmus
2nd amābis amābitis tenēbis tenēbitis dīcēs dīcētis audiēs audiētis
3rd amābit amābunt tenēbit tenēbunt dīcet dīcent audiet audient
servus vīnum ad vīllam portāvit.
The slave carried (or has carried) the wine home.
1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amāvī amāvimus tenuī tenuimus dīxī dīximus audīvī audivimus
2nd amāvistī amā(vi)stis tenuistī tenuistis dīxistī dīxistis audivistī audī(vi)stis
3rd amāvit amā(vē)runt/ amāvēre tenuit tenuērunt/tenuēre dīxit dīxērunt/ dīxēre audīvit audī(vē)runt/ audīvēre
  • Pluperfect (Latin: plusquamperfectum): describes actions occurring before another past action:
servus vīnum ad vīllam portāverat.
The slave had carried the wine home.
1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amāveram amāverāmus tenueram tenuerāmus dīxeram dīxerāmus audīveram audīverāmus
2nd amāverās amāverātis tenuerās tenuerātis dīxerās dīxerātis audīverās audīverātis
3rd amāverat amāverant tenuerat tenuerant dīxerat dīxerant audīverat audīverant
  • Future perfect (Latin: futurum exactum): describes actions that will be completed some time in the future:
servus vīnum ad villam portaverit.
The slave will have carried the wine home.
1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amāverō amāverīmus tenuerō tenuerīmus dīxerō dīxerīmus audīverō audīverīmus
2nd amāverīs amāverītis tenuerīs tenuerītis dīxerīs dīxerītis audīverīs audīverītis
3rd amāverit amāverint tenuerit tenuerint dīxerit dīxerint audīverit audīverint


There are four moods (Latin: modus):[2]

  • Indicative (Latin: [modus] indīcātīvus), which expresses facts:
servus vīnum portat.
The slave is carrying wine.
  • Subjunctive or Conjunctive (Latin: [modus] conjunctīvus), which is used for possibilities, intentions, suggestions, 3rd person commands, and statements contrary to fact:
servus vīnum portet.
May the slave carry the wine.
The subjunctive is also used in many types of subordinate clauses:
cum servus vīnum portāret
When the slave was carrying the wine...
  • Imperative (Latin: [modus] imperātīvus): used for commands:
portā vīnum ad vīllam, serve!
"Carry the wine home, slave!"
  • Infinitive (Latin: [modus] īnfīnītīvus): it can be translated as a 'to' form such as habēre (to have) and portāre (to carry) or as a verbal noun: having, carrying.
  • There is also a gerund, or verbal noun, such as amandum, or "loving": thus ars amandī, the art of loving. Also a gerundive, for instance amandus, meaning "which should be loved", which has an important role in Latin syntax.


There are two voices:

  • Active (Latin: [genus] āctīvum) if the verb indicates an action done by the subject:
servus vīnum ad vīllam portāvit.
The slave carried the wine home.
  • Passive (Latin: [genus] passīvum) if the verb indicates an action done by someone or by something other than the subject:
vīnum ad vīllam ā servō portātur.
The wine is carried home by the slave.
vīnum ad vīllam ā servō portātum est.
The wine was carried home by the slave.

However, Latin grammarians attested five voices for Latin: active, passive, neuter, deponent and common.[3]


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).

  • The nominative case is used to express the subject of a statement or following a copula verb:
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 pronouns[edit]

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

There is no indefinite article or definite article (the, a, an). Sometimes the weak determiner is, ea, id (English that, this) can serve for the definite article:

Persuāsīt populō ut eā pecuniā classis aedificārētur (Nepos)[4]
'"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"),[5] 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)[6]
"This man is not sane"
Hic, putō, sānus erat (Martial)[7]
"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 comparison[edit]

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.
Regular adjectives
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
Irregular adjectives
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 numbers[edit]

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 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").

Word order[edit]

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).[8] 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. Latin being a pro-drop language, a pronominal subject would often be omitted if obvious.

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).

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)

Ablative absolute[edit]

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.

Sometimes, an infinitive or clause occurs in the ablative absolute construction, especially in Livy (59 BC-17 AD) and later authors:

  • 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...

The ablative absolute construction serves similar purposes to the nominative absolute in English. An example appears in a line spoken by Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 1, Scene 1):

  • Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, The rest I'd give to be to you translated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Ethan Allen Andrews; Solomon Stoddard (1837). Grammar of the Latin language... Crocker & Brewster. p. 85. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Aelius Donatus in his Ars Minor (De Verbo): "Genera verborum quot sunt? Quinque. Quae? Activa passiva neutra deponentia communia".
    Maurus Servius Honoratus in his Commentarius in Artem Donati: "Verborum genera quinque sunt, activa passiva neutra communia deponentia".
  4. ^ Nepos, Them. 2.2
  5. ^ Gildersleeve & Lodge (1895), p. 192.
  6. ^ Plautus, Am. 402
  7. ^ Martial, 11.28
  8. ^ Andrew M. Devine, Laurence D. Stephens, Latin Word Order. Structured Meaning and Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, page 79.


External links[edit]