A Latin Course

Below is the start of an online Latin course I created for my son, then 14, in 2005. I closed my account with the original host and lost the interactive exercise forms and Flash graphics I created to go with the lessons so the links are dead. What you see here I rescued with the help of Wayback Machine. It gives you some idea of how I’d teach Latin/Greek, which is a little different from the way they seem to be taught nowadays and closer the way I began learning them at an English boarding school when I was 9.


I Subjects and Objects

The basic Latin sentence has a subject, a verb and an object. The subject and the object are generally nouns or pronouns (pronouns are words like “I”, “you” and “he” which stand in for nouns).

In the sentence “The dog bites the man”, “the dog” is the subject, “bites” is the verb, “the man” is the object.

The word order makes this clear. If we wrote “bites the man the dog”, we would not know for sure who is biting whom (although common sense might suggest the answer).

Latin uses different word endings, or inflections, to distinguish between the subject and object of a verb, so word order does not matter (actually, as we will see, it does, but not in quite the same way).

The endings or inflections represent CASES.

There are 6 cases: NOMINATIVE, VOCATIVE, ACCUSATIVE, GENITIVE, DATIVE and ABLATIVE. From time to time, you will run into a 7th, the LOCATIVE.

The subject of a Latin sentence goes in the Nominative case.

The object goes in the Accusative case.

Here are some Latin nouns in the nominative and accusative case:

agricola (nominative), agricolam (accusative), farmer
nauta, nautam, sailor
puella, puellam, girl
terra, terram, earth/soil
Caesar, Caesarem, (Gaius Julius) Caesar, the general and dictator
Brutus, Brutum, (Marcus Junius) Brutus, Caesar’s assassin
canis, canem, dog
vir, virum, man

Here are some Latin verbs:
arat, (he, she, it) ploughs
amat, loves
mordet, bites
interficit, kills

Here are examples of Latin sentences using some of these words:

agricola puellam amat
the farmer loves the girl (farmer subject, girl object).
puella agricolam amatthe girl loves the farmer (girl subject, farmer object).

Using the above information, fill in this form.


II The Predicate Nominative

Some verbs do not have objects.

Of these verbs, some are called copulative or linking verbs. They include “be”, “seem” and “become”.

Examples:

  • Caesar is a general.
  • Caesar becomes a dictator.
  • Caesar seems a king.
  • Caesar is not a coward.

In these sentences, Caesar is the subject. But as subject he is not doing anything to any object.

“A general” and “not a coward” is what he is; he is not doing anything to “a general” or “a coward”.

“A dictator” is what he is turning into. “A king” is what he might be in some eyes. He is not acting in any way upon “a dictator” or “a king”.

Caesar and “general”, “dictator” and “king” are, are turning into, or appear to be, the same thing.

So they remain in the same case which is NOMINATIVE or, to be more precise, the predicate nominative.

Here are some Latin nouns (in nominative and accusative forms):

Caesar, Caesarem, Caesar
dux, ducem, general
dictator, dictatorem, dictator
rex, regem, king
Messalina, Messalinam, a wife of the emperor Claudius, Claudium
meretrix, meretricem, prostitute
homo ignavus, hominem ignavum, a cowardly man

Here are some verbs:

est, (he, she, it) is
esse videtur, seems to be
fit, becomes, is made
habetur, is held/considered to be

Here are some examples:

Caesar est duxCaesar is a general
Rex homo ignavus habetur, the king is considered a coward

With the information supplied, and what you have learnt from the previous lesson, fill in this form.


III Whither goest thou?

Where are you going? I am going to the city. The Latin for “to the city” would be “ad urbem”.

“Ad” is a preposition meaning to or towards.

“Urbem” is the accusative form of “urbs”, a city.

The accusative case is used after prepositions signifying motion, real or metaphorical, towards or in the direction of something.

Another preposition that takes the accusative in this sense is “in”, into or against.

So the orator Cicero, when he delivered a series of speeches against the rebellious Lucius Sergius Catilina, delivered them “in Catilinam” — against Catilina.

If you are going to a specific, named town or small island, you don’t need to use “ad”, the accusative will do on its own.

Nor do you need it if you are going home (domum).

Eo means I go. Domus means home. Domum is the accusative of domus. domum eo means I go home.

On the other hand…

Pervenio means I arrive. Gallia means Gaul. Galliam is the accusative of Gallia. Pervenio ad Galliam means I arrive in Gaul.

Here are some nouns, nominative and accusative.

legio, legionem, legion
murus, murum, wall
Pandateria, Pandateriam, Pandateria, a small island (one of the many to which Augustus exiled troublesome family members)
Roma, Romam, Rome
Gallia, Galliam, Gaul

Here are some verbs:

mittit, (he,she, it) sends
se recipit, retreats
pervenit, arrives

Here is one more preposition:

sub, under

Thus informed, fill in this form


IV Of

We’ve looked at the nominative and the accusative cases. Now for the genitive.

In the English phrase “my brother’s keeper”, brother is in the genitive case (yes, there are remnants of cases in English).

Another way of saying “my brother’s keeper” is “the keeper of my brother”, using a preposition, “of”, instead of an inflection, ” ‘s “.

As we’ve already seen, Latin regularly uses cases where we would use prepositions. We say “at home”. The Romans, more economically, said “domum”, relying on the case — accusative in this instance — to say it all.

Likewise, they used the genitive where we would use “of” — or our own genitive, ” ‘s”.

Frater is the Latin word for brother. Custos is the Latin world for guard or keeper. The genitive of frater is fratris. “Brother’s keeper” would thus be “fratris custos”.

Here are some Latin nouns in the nominative, accusative and genitive case. Some should already be familiar.

agricola, agricolam, agricolae, farmer
puella, puellam, puellae, girl
nauta, nautam, nautae, sailor
puer, puerum, pueri, boy
gladius, gladium, gladii, sword
Claudius, Claudium, Claudii, Claudius
uxor, uxorem, uxoris, wife
miles, militem, militis, soldier

Here are some verbs:

est, (he, she, it) is
verberat, whips, beats
capit, takes, seizes

Now, with today’s and last week’s information, fill in this form.


V To, for

Today we consider the dative case.

The word dative is derived from a form of the Latin word do, for our purposes pronounced as Homer Simpson’s doh, or, more accurately, as the stuff you knead to make bread, which means I give.

If I give you a present, you would be in the dative because I am giving the present TO you.

If I showed (to) you my etchings, you would also be in the dative; likewise if I told (to) you a story.

The technical term for you in each of these instance is the indirect object. What I give, show or tell you is the direct object.

Here is another use of the dative case.

In the sentence to the sailor the sea is pleasing the sailor would go in the dative.

Nautae is dative of sailor and can be translated as to the sailor or for the sailor or as far as the sailor is concerned or with respect to the sailor.

Here are some Latin nouns that should (mostly) be familiar by now in their nominative and dative forms:

Caesar, Caesari, Caesar
puella, puellae, girl
nauta, nautae, sailor
fabula, fabulae, story
vir, viro, man
magister, magistro, master
liber, libro, book

Here are some Latin pronouns, nominative and dative:

ego, mihi, I
tu, tibi, you

Here are some Latin verbs:

dedit, (he, she, it) gave
monstravit, showed
narrat, tells (as in a story)
placet, pleases, is pleasing to

Let’s go to the form


VI Whence

Today’s treat: the ablative case.

The word ablative comes from the Latin verb which means “take from” or “take away”. It contains the preposition a or ab which means from.

Urbs, as we’ve seen, is the Latin word for city. Urbe (pronounced urbay) is the ablative of urbs. Ab urbe means from the city.

The English word absent means away. It comes from the Latin verb absum, which is a combination of ab and sum, I am. Absum means I am away.

The ablative is used with other prepositions that imply motion away or seperation from something: e or ex (out of or from), de (out of, down from).

Exit is an English word meaning way out. It is also a Latin verb meaning he, she or it goes out or exitsHe leaves home is exit domo, where domo is the ablative of domus.

Here’s another way of looking at the ablative.

Nouns in the ablative often answer the question: “where from?”

If you ask where something is from, you are asking what its source is.

Another way of saying “Where does that wine come from?” is “What is the source of that wine”.

If you see a man whose head is bleeding, you might ask him “How did you get that wound?”

Another way of saying that is “Where did your wound come from?” or “What was the source of your wound?” or “What was the cause of your wound?”

The man would likely reply using a noun in the ablative to refer to the source or cause of his wound or the instrument that caused it.

He might say, for example, uxore, which is the ablative of uxor, wife. “I was beaten uxore, BY the wife”.

Or he might say gladio, that being the ablative of gladius, sword. “I was struck gladio, BY or WITH a sword”.

(Technically, if his wife was conscious and deliberate when she hit him, he would probably use the preposition a or ab, which can mean by as well as from: ab uxore. But if someone hit him over the head wielding the wife as a club, he would not use ab, just uxore on its own. The distinction is between the wife being the agent of his distress and the tool or instrument which inflicted it.)

Here are some Latin nouns, nominative and ablative. When nouns in the ablative end in -a, the -a is pronounced as ah.

castra, castris, camp
hasta, hasta, spear (pronounced haster, hastah)
vallum, vallo, rampart
hostes, hostibus, enemy
nostri, nostris, our side
morbus, morbo, disease

Verbs

repellunt, they drive away, repel
perit, (he, she, it) perishes, dies
discedit, departs


VII Ablative 2

Yesterday, we saw how the ablative expressed seperation, source and cause: from and by, essentially.

Today, two more uses of the ablative: with and in/on

If you do something in the company of someone, you do it cum that person and the person goes in the ablative. Cum in this instance is a preposition that means with in the sense of in the company of.

If, however, you were translating the Ian Dury song “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”, you would still put “Rhythm Stick” in the ablative, but without cum. The with in this instance means using not accompanied by.

You also use the ablative with the preposition in — in or on in English — to express location. In the city is in urbe. On the rampart is in vallo.


VIII Hello, Sailor

We’ve looked at the main Latin cases. There’s one more we need to a quick look at before moving on: the vocative.

The vocative is the case you put a person or a thing into when you are addressing them directly.

When Caesar saw Brutus stab him, he reportedly said, “et tu, Brute (pronouned Brut-eh)?” — “you as well, Brutus?” Brute is the vocative of Brutus.

The poet Horace addressed one of his most famous odes to a spring in a place called Bandusia. The poem begins “O fons Bandusiae…” — “oh fountain of Bandusia”. Fons, meaning a spring or fountain, is in the vocative case.

The vocative of fons is the same as the nominative. This is not at all unusual as we will see as we deal, over the next few days, with the declension of nouns.

But today, let’s just recap the basic meaning of cases as we have studied them so far.

CaseUsed For
NominativeSubject and with “is”, “seems” etc.
VocativeDirect address
AccusativeDirect Object & motion towards
GenitiveOf
DativeIndirect Object, to, for
AblativeFrom, with, by, in

IX The First Declension

The endings of Latin nouns change to reflect different cases.

Latin nouns are classified by how their endings change.

There are five classes of Latin noun. These classes are called declensions.

The word for table, mensa (mesa in Spanish), belongs to the first declension. It declines as follows:

Nominative………. Mensa
Vocative…………… Mensa
Accusative………… Mensam
Genitive……………..Mensae
Dative……………….. Mensae
Ablative………………Mensa (the a is long, pronounced “aah”)

Say to yourself several times: “mensa, mensa, mensam, mensae, mensae, mensa“. As you say this, you are declining mensa in its singular form, ie in reference to one table.

The plural form of mensa — for when we are talking about tables and as opposed to just one table — goes likes this:

Nominative…………Mensae
Vocative………………Mensae
Accusative…………..Mensas
Genitive………………Mensarum
Dative………………….Mensis
Ablative……………….Mensis

Decline mensa in full, reciting its cases, both singular and plural, in order.

Do the same with puella, nauta and agricola. They decline in exactly the same way.


X The First Declension Continued

As we saw last time, puella and nauta are examples of First Declension nouns. They decline exactly like mensa in the last lesson. Keep an eye on mensa, below, as you listen to the audio. Then fill in the form.


XI The Second Declension

Servus, slave
Puer, boy
Magister, master
Bellum, war

SERVUS mSingularPlural
Nominativeservusservi
Vocativeserveservi
Accusativeservumservos
Genitiveserviservorum
Dativeservoservis
Ablativeservoservis
PUER mSingularPlural
Nominativepuerpueri
Vocativepuerpueri
Accusativepuerumpueros
Genitivepueripuerorum
Dativepueropueris
Ablativepueropueris
MAGISTER mSingularPlural
Nominativemagistermagistri
Vocativemagistermagistri
Accusativemagistrummagistros
Genitivemagistrimagistrorum
Dativemagistromagistris
Ablativemagistromagistris
BELLUM nSingularPlural
Nominativebellumbella
Vocativebellumbella
Accusativebellumbella
Genitivebellibellorum
Dativebellobellis
Ablativebellobellis

XII First verbs

Nouns decline. Verbs conjugate. Just as there are several declensions (we’ve touched on two out of five so far), so there are several conjugations. Four, to be precise.

Amo, I love, is a verb of the first conjugation. Here are some others:

pugno, I fight
occupo, I seize
rogo, I ask
monstro, I show
ambulo, I walk

Click here to see how the present tense of amo conjugates. Study it closely. Note how the stem, am-, remains the same, while the endings change. Now fill in the form