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Latin and English/Contrastive Grammar

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This page covers the grammatical differences between Latin and English.

Contents

Articles

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:

Latin English
Puella legit. The girl reads.
Puella legit. A girl reads.
Puella legit. Girl reads. *

*Note: Because it lacks an article, this sentence is not grammatically correct in English.

Nouns

Cases

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, which alters the cases of the words in Latin. The cases of the nouns have been noted in each example.

# Latin English
1 Marcus(nom.) domum(acc.) videt. Marcus sees the house.
2 Marcī(gen.) domum(acc.) videō. I see the house of Marcus.
3 Marcus(nom.) in domō(abl.) sedet. Marcus sits in the house.

To show 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."

Gender

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, each containing a noun of a different gender, but paired with the same adjective.

Gender Latin English
Masc. Canis magnus Big dog
Fem. Arbor magna Big tree
Neut. Cubiculum 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.

Verbs

Conjugation

Latin and English both conjugate verbs according to person, tense, and number, but Latin separates its verbs into four conjugations: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.

These conjugations dictate principle vowel used in the verb ending. This system is not used in English, as verb spellings can vary widely from word to word.

Conjugation Example English Translation
1st (-āre) Amant. They love.
2nd (-ēre) Vident. They see.
3rd (-ere) Legunt. They read.
4th (-īre) Adveniunt. They arrive.

Tenses

There are twelve tenses in English:

Tense Example
simple present I walk.
simple past I walked.
simple future I will walk.
present perfect I have walked.
past perfect I had walked.
future perfect I will have walked.
present progressive I am walking.
past progressive I was walking.
future progressive I will be walking.
present perfect progressive I have been walking.
past perfect progressive I had been walking.
future perfect progressive I will have been walking.

In Latin, however, there are only six:

Tense Example English Translation
present Ambulō. I walk.
imperfect Ambulābam. I was walking.
future Ambulābō I will walk.
perfect Ambulāvī. I walked. (or) I have walked.
pluperfect Ambulāveram. I had walked.
future perfect Ambulāverō. I will have walked.

Word Order

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.

Latin English
Puella ascendit arborem. The girl climbs the tree. *
Puella arborem ascendit. The girl the tree climbs.
Arborem ascendit puella. The tree climbs the girl.

*Note: This is the only word arrangement that makes sense in English

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