Latin grammar

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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.

The grammar of Latin, like that of other ancient Indo-European languages, is highly inflected; consequently, it allows for a large degree of flexibility in choosing word order. For example, femina togam texuit, "the woman wove a toga," which is the preferred word order, could be expressed as texuit togam femina or togam texuit femina. In each word the suffix: -a, -am and -uit, and not the position in the sentence, marks the word's grammatical function. Word order, however, is generally subject–object–verb, although variations on this are especially common in poetry and express subtle nuances in prose. SVO word order was likely very common in conversation, a belief which stems from the construction's prominence in vulgate and the Romance languages.[1]

In Latin, there are five declensions of nouns and four conjugations of verbs (although some words are inflected according to irregular patterns). 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 uses prepositions, and usually places adjectives after nouns. The language can also omit pronouns in certain situations, meaning that the form of the verb alone is generally sufficient to identify the agent; pronouns are most often reserved for situations where meaning is not entirely clear. Latin exhibits verb-framing, in which the path of motion is encoded into the verb rather than in a separate word or phrase; e.g., 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), three persons (first, second and third); are conjugated in six main tenses (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect); have the subjunctive mood for the present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect. Infinitives and participles occur in the present, perfect, and future tenses; and 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) in Latin. They are:

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

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

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:
    The slave used to carry (or was carrying) the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portabat.

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

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: futurum (primum)): describes actions taking place in the future:
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
  • The slave will carry (or will be carrying) the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portabit.
  • Perfect (Latin: perfectum): describes actions completed by the present:
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/ amāvere tenuit tenuērunt/tenuere dīxit dīxērunt/ dīxere audīvit audī(vē)runt/ audīvere
  • The slave carried (or has carried) the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portavit.
  • Pluperfect (Latin: plusquamperfectum): describes actions occurring before another past action:
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amāveram amaverāmus tenueram tenuerāmus dīxeram dīxerāmus audīveram audīverāmus
2nd amāverās amāverātis tenuerās tenuerātis dīxerās dīxerātis audīverās audīverātis
3rd amāverat amāverant tenuerat tenuerant dīxerat dīxerant audīverat audīverant
  • The slave had carried the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portaverat.
  • Future Perfect (Latin: futurum exactum): describes actions that will be completed some time in the future:
Person Singular Plural Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
1st amāverō amāverimus tenuerō tenuerimus dīxerō dīxerimus audīverō audīverimus
2nd amāveris amāveritis tenueris tenueritis dīxeris dīxeritis audīveris audīveritis
3rd amāverit amāverint tenuerit tenuerint dīxerit dīxerint audīverit audīverint
  • The slave will have carried the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portaverit.


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

  • Indicative (Latin: [modus] indicativus), which states facts:
    The slave is carrying wine.
    servus vinum portat.
  • Subjunctive or Conjunctive (Latin: [modus] conjunctivus), which is used for possibilities, intentions, necessities, and statements contrary to fact:
    May the slave carry the wine.
    servus vinum portet.

The subjunctive is also used with the formation of subordinate clauses:

We hoped the slave would carry the wine.
sperabamus ut servus vinum portaret.
  • Imperative (Latin: [modus] imperativus): used for commands:
    "Carry the wine home, slave!"
    "porta vinum ad villam, serve!"
  • Infinitive (Latin: [modus] infinitivus) : it could be translated as a 'to' form: habēre (to have), portāre (to carry), or it could be translated as a verbal noun (gerund): having, carrying.


There are two voices:

  • Active (Latin: [genus] activum), where the verb is done by the subject:
    The slave carried the wine home.
    servus vinum ad villam portavit.
  • Passive (Latin: [genus] passivum), where the verb is done to the subject:
    The wine is carried home by the slave.
    vinum ad villam a servo portatur.
    The wine was carried home by the slave.
    vinum ad villam a servo portatum est.

Note: Latin grammarians attested five voices for Latin, namely 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 (Latin: casus): nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative (special nouns have a seventh "locative" case)
    three genders (Latin: genus): masculine, feminine and neuter, which serve a grammatical function, and not necessarily to distinguish the sex of the object
    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 they refer to or modify.

Most nouns in the 1st declension are feminine;[4] most in the 2nd are either masculine or neuter;[5] Nouns in the 3rd can be masculine, feminine and neuter (3rd consonant decl.), feminine and neuter (3rd vocal decl.) and masculine and feminine (3rd mixed(?) decl.); nouns in the 4th are usually masculine;[6] and in the 5th they are all feminine except two.[7]

It is necessary to learn the gender of each noun because it is impossible to discern the gender from the word itself sometimes. One must also memorize to which declension each noun belongs in order to be able to decline it. Therefore, Latin nouns are often memorized with their genitive (rex, regis) as this gives a good indication for the declension to use and reveals the stem of the word (reg-, not rex).

  • The nominative case, which is used to express the subject of a statement or following a copula verb:
    servus ad villam ambulat.
    The slave walks to the house.
  • The vocative case, which is used to address someone or something in direct speech.
    festina, serve!
    Hurry, slave!
  • The accusative case, which 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 servos vituperabat quod non laborabant.
    The master cursed the slaves because they were not working.
  • The genitive case, which 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 laborat in villa domini.
    The slave works in the house of the master. or The slave works in the master's house.
  • The dative case, which is used to express the recipient of an action, the indirect object of a verb. It also is used to represent agency in a construction with a passive periphrastic. In English, the prepositions to and for most commonly denote this case:
    servi tradiderunt pecuniam dominis.
    The slaves handed over the money to the masters.

N.B. The dative is never the object of a Latin preposition.

  • The ablative case, (may or may not be preceded by a preposition) which 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 denote this case:
    dominus in cubiculo dormiebat.
    The master was sleeping in his bedroom
  • The locative case, which is used to express the place in or on which, or the time at which, an action is performed. The locative case is extremely marginal in Latin, applying only to the names of cities and small islands and to 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), which has the locative "domi", or the noun "tempus", with the locative "tempori" (in time).
    servus Romae erat.
    The slave was in Rome.

Articles, determiners and personal pronouns[edit]

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

In Latin there is no indefinite article or definite article (the, a, an). The function of articles, when really necessary, is usually expressed by the determiner quīdam, quaedam, quoddam (English a, an; but also some in the strong meaning) for the indefinite article:

Homo quidam debebat ultra fluvium transferre lupum, capram, et fasciculum cauli.
A man had to carry beyond the river a wolf, a goat and a bunch of kale.

and by the determiner is, ea, id (English the; but also such a in the strong meaning) for the definite article:

Quo ea pecunia pervenerit.
Into whose hands the money has passed. //pervenerit is in the tense that makes the correct form 'has', not 'had'.

But normally words are alone, without any determiner around them. However, as tendence, the absence of any determiner expresses the function of a definite article. Indetermination indeed, when it really exists, must be explicitly expressed in order to avoid confusion.

In Latin there are also demonstratives, such as hic, haec, hoc (masculine, feminine and neuter proximal, corresponding to English this), ille, illa, illud (distal, English that), iste, ista, istud (medial, for something not very far), and is, ea, id ("weak" demonstrative, he, she, it). As in English, these can act as pronouns as well. There are also possessive adjectives and pronouns, cardinal and ordinal numbers, quantifiers, interrogatives, etc. Iste, ista, istud also could be use to describe someone or something contemptible.

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. Ordinarily a pronoun is not used for the subject of a verb, the function being served by the inflection of the verb.


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

In Latin, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in case and number and gender. Because of this, Latin adjectives must also be declined. 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: than) it matches the word with which it is being compared.
  • If comparing a part to the whole, use the partitive genitive.
  • Use the ablative of degree of difference.


  • Cornelia est fortis puella: Cornelia is a strong girl.
  • Cornelia est fortior puella quam Flavia: Cornelia is a stronger girl than Flavia. (Here quam is used, Flavia is in the nominative to match Cornelia)
  • Cornelia est fortior puella Flaviā: Cornelia is a stronger girl than Flavia. (Here Flavia is in the ablative.)
  • Cornelia est fortior puellārum: Cornelia is the stronger of the girls (Comparison to the group, so the genitive.)
  • Cornelia est fortior puella: Cornelia is a rather strong girl.
  • Cornelia est fortissima puella omnium/inter omnes/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 plus; 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. 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. Contrast the adjective clarus, -a, -um, which means bright, to the adverb clare, which means brightly.

The comparative form of an adverb, formed from third declension adjectives, is extremely simple. It is the same as the neuter nominative singular form of a comparative adjective and it usually ends in -ius. Instead of the adjective clarior, which mean brighter, the adverb is clarius, which means more brightly.

The superlative form as well is extremely simple. It has exactly the same base as the superlative adjective and it always ends in a long -e. Instead of the adjective clarissimus, which mean brightest, the adverb is clarissime, which means most brightly.


A prepositional phrase in Latin is made up of a preposition followed by (usually, but there are a few postpositives) a noun phrase in an oblique case (ablative, accusative and rarely genitive). The preposition determines which case is used, with some prepositions allowing different cases depending on the meaning. For example, Latin in takes the accusative case when motion is involved (English into) and ablative when it indicates position (English on or inside of).

Numerals and numbers[edit]

In Latin, Roman Numerals can be used:

I – 1
II – 2
III – 3
IV or IIII – 4
V – 5
VI – 6
VII – 7
VIII – 8
IX or VIIII – 9
X – 10
XX – 20
XXX – 30
XL – 40
L – 50
LX – 60
LXX – 70
LXXX – 80
XC or LXXXX – 90
C – 100
D – 500
M – 1000

But for spelled out words for numbers, the first three have masculine, feminine and neuter forms which are fully declined:

ūnus, ūna, ūnum;
duo, duae, duo; 
trēs, trēs, tria

ūnus has mostly first- and second-declension endings, but -īus is the normal genitive singular and -ī the normal dative singular ending (all three genders) (cf. the adjectives ūllus, -a, -um; tōtus, -a, -um; etc.).

duo has an irregular declension:

duo    duae    duo
duōrum duārum  duōrum
duōbus duābus  duōbus
duo    duās    duo
duōbus duābus  duōbus

trēs, tria is a regular third-declension adjective with the stem tr-.

The numbers four through ten are not declined:


The "tens" numbers are:

vīgintī (20);
trīgintā (30);
quadrāgintā (40);
quīnquāgintā (50);
sexāgintā (60);
septuāgintā (70);
octōgintā (80);
nōnāgintā (90)

Up to 200, only numbers 1 – 3, or compounds containing these numbers, decline; e.g.:

I saw 20 blackbirds = vīgintī merulās vīdī
I saw 22 blackbirds = vīgintī duās merulās vīdī (where duās changes to agree with merulās)

The numbers 11 through 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 21–27, the digits either follow or are added to the word "twenty" by the conjunction et: vīgintī ūnus, -a, -um or ūnus, -a, -um et vīgintī, vīgintī duo or duo et vīgintī, etc. The numbers 28 and 29 are again formed by substraction: duodētrīgintā and ūndētrīgintā. Each group of ten numerals through 100 follows the patters of the twenties, although 99 is nōnāgintā novem rather than *ūndēcentum.

The "hundreds" numbers are:

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
mīlle - 1000 (N.B. mīlle is an indeclinable adjective)
duo mīlia or duo mīllia- 2000 (mīlia is a neuter plural substantive, which is followed by a partitive genitive) e.g.:
 I saw a thousand lions = mīlle leōnēs vīdī
 I saw three thousand lions = tria milia leōnum vīdī

Ordinal numbers are all adjectives with regular first- and second-declension endings. Most are built off of the stems of cardinal numbers (e.g., trīcēsimus, -a, -um ("thirtieth") from trīgintā ("thirty"), sēscentēsimus, -a, -um nōnus, -a, -um ("six hundred and ninth") for sēscentī novem ("six hundred nine"). However, "first" is prīmus, -a, -um, and "second" is secundus, -a, -um (literally, "following" the first; cf. sequī "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, Indirect Object, Direct Object, Adverbial Words or Phrases, Verb (SIDAV). Any extra, though subordinate verbs, are placed before the main verb; for example infinitives. Adjectives and participles usually directly followed nouns, unless they were adjectives of beauty, size, quantity, goodness, or truth, in which case they preceded the noun being modified. Relative clauses were commonly placed after the antecedent which the relative pronoun describes. Since grammatical function in a sentence was not based on word order but on inflection, the usual word order in Latin is often abandoned with no detriment to understanding but with various changes in emphasis. Latin being a pro-drop language would often omit the Subject if it was redundant.

While these patterns of word order were the most frequent in Classical Latin prose, they are frequently varied. The strongest surviving evidence that suggests that the word order of colloquial Latin also was mostly Subject-Object-Verb can be found in some very conservative romance languages, such as Sardinian and Sicilian, where the verb is still now 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. It is, however, important to bear in mind that poets in the Roman world wrote primarily for the ear, not for 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 nos cedamus amori!: Love conquers all, let us yield to love!. The words omnia (all), amor (love) and amori (to love) are thrown into relief by their unusual position in their respective phrases. The meter here is dactylic hexameter, in which Virgil composed The Aeneid, Rome's national epic.

The ending of the common Roman name Marcus is different in each of the following examples due to its grammatical usage in that sentence. The ordering in the following sentences would be perfectly correct in Latin and no doubt understood with clarity, despite the fact that in English they are awkward at best and senseless at worst:

  • Marcus ferit Corneliam: Marcus hits Cornelia. (subject–verb–object)
  • Marcus Corneliam ferit: Marcus Cornelia hits. (subject–object–verb)
  • Cornelia dedit Marco donum: Cornelia has given Marcus a gift. (subject–verb–indirect object–direct object)
  • Cornelia Marco donum dedit: Cornelia (to) Marcus a gift has given. (subject–indirect object–direct object–verb)

Ablative absolute[edit]

In Latin grammar, the ablative absolute (Latin: ablativus absolutus) 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 has to be used as the past and present participle do not exist, only 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 of this construction is needed to write Latin well, and 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. This 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, while the second has been construed to sound more at home in English. The usage of present, passive or future participles will determine the verbal idea in the ablative absolute.

  • urbe capta Aeneas fugit:
    With the city captured, Aeneas fled.
    When the city was captured, Aeneas fled.
  • Ovidio exule, Musae 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 when they occurred:

  • Caesare consule...
    with Caesar as consul...
    when Caesar was consul...

It also indicates the causes of things, as in:

  • ira calefacta, sapientia dormit.
    With anger kindled, wisdom sleeps.
    Wisdom sleeps because anger is kindled.
  • domino absente, fur fenestram penetravit.
    With the master absent, a thief entered the window.
    Since the master was absent, a thief entered the window.

It can be used to add descriptions:

  • passis palmis, pacem petiverunt.
    With hands outstretched, they sued for peace.
    Hands outstretched, they sued for peace.

Sometimes an infinitive or clause occurs in the ablative absolute construction, especially in Livius and later authors:

  • audito eum fugisse...
    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.


  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. ^ a few are masculine; none are neuter.
  5. ^ There are a few feminine, mainly the names of cities and some towns.
  6. ^ But a small number of feminine and neuter exist.
  7. ^ Dies, day, is sometimes masculine, as is its compound form "meridies" (midday)

See also[edit]


External links[edit]