Latin and English/Contrastive Grammar
This page covers the differences between Latin and English.
The articles "a," "an," and "the" are used in English in conjunction with nouns to determine if the speaker is referring to a specific noun (in which case the speaker would use "the") or a nonspecific noun (in which case the speaker would use "a"/"an"). Latin does not use this part of speech, and instead requires more context to determine the properties of the noun.
Below are three different ways of translating the same Latin sentence into English.
- Puella legit. - The girl reads.
- Puella legit. - A girl reads.
- Puella legit. - Girl reads. (Note: Because it lacks an article, this sentence is grammatically incorrect in English.)
In Latin, nouns have cases (either nominative, vocative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, or locative)— word endings that determine a noun's function in a sentence. This characteristic is not present in English; Instead, the function of a noun is determined through sentence structure and additional words to provide context.
Below are three sentences translated from Latin to English. Each example contains the words "Marcus," which is a name, and "house," (in Latin, "domus.") The functions of these two words varies in each sentence, changing the cases of the words in Latin. The cases of the nouns have been noted in each example.
- Marcus(nom.) domum(acc.) videt. - Marcus sees the house.
- Marcī(gen.) domum(acc.) videō. - I see the house of Marcus.
- Marcus(nom.) in domō(abl.) sedet. - Marcus sits in the house.
To note that "Marcus" is the subject of the sentence, the nominative ending "-us" is used in sentences 1 and 3. To show possession, the genitive ending "-ī" is used in sentence 2.
In the English translations, the name "Marcus" remains the same throughout. However, in sentences 1 and 3, "Marcus" is at the beginning of the sentences, making that word the subject. In sentence 2, the word "of" is added to note possession.
To show that the house/domus is the direct object of the sentence, the accusative ending "-um" is used in sentences 1 and 2. The ablative ending "-ō" is used in sentence 3 to make the word "domō" part of the prepositional phrase, "in domō" (eng. translation: "in the house").
In the English translations, the word "house" remains the same throughout. However, in sentences 1 and 2, the word "(the) house" follows the verb, making it the direct object. In sentence 3, the word "in" makes "house" part of the prepositional phrase, "in the house."
English nouns do not have gender, but in Latin, a noun is either feminine, masculine, or neuter. Each gender has a unique set of word endings. These endings also affect any adjectives modifying the noun, since adjectives must match a noun's gender, number (singular/plural), and case. Because nouns in English have no gender, adjectives always remain the same, regardless of the noun it modifies.
The following are three phrases (Latin on the left, English on the right), each containing a noun of a different gender, but paired with the same adjective.
- (masc.) Canis magnus - Big dog
- (fem.) Arbor magna - Big tree
- (neut.) Cubliculum magnum - Big room
In the Latin versions, the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender of the noun. However, in the English counterparts, the adjective is unaffected by the noun.
In English, sentences are built around the SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) word order.
In Latin, although word order can be varied to emphasize different meanings, it is not a necessary component of comprehension. Instead, a word's function in a sentence is determined by its ending.
The following are sentences considered grammatically correct in Latin alongside literal English translations without word rearrangement.
- Puella ascendit arborem. - The girl climbs the tree. (This is the only word arrangement that makes sense in English)
- Puella arborem ascendit. - The girl the tree climbs.
- Arborem ascendit puella. - The tree climbs the girl.