Latin grammar

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, aspect, voice, and mood. The inflections are often changes in the ending of a word, but can be more complicated, especially with verbs.

Thus verbs can take any of over 100 different endings to express different meanings, for example regō "I rule", regor "I am ruled", regere "to rule", regī "to be ruled". Most verbal forms consist of a single word, but some tenses are formed from part of the verb sum "I am" added to a participle; for example, ductus sum "I was led" or ductūrus est "he is going to lead".

Nouns belong to one of three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The gender of a noun is shown by the adjectives and pronouns that refer to it: e.g., hic vir "this man", haec mulier "this woman", hoc nōmen "this name". There are also two numbers: singular (mulier "woman") and plural (mulierēs "women").

As well as having gender and number, nouns, adjectives, and pronouns have different endings according to their function in the sentence, for example, rēx "the king" (subject), but rēgem "the king" (object). These different endings are called "cases". Most nouns have six cases: nominative (subject), accusative (object), genitive ("of"), dative ("to" or "for"), ablative ("with" or "in"), and vocative (used for addressing). Some nouns have a seventh case, the locative; this is mostly found with the names of towns and cities, e.g. Rōmae "in Rome".

There is no definite or indefinite article in Latin, so that rēx can mean "king", "a king", or "the king" according to context.

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 word order tends to be subject–object–verb; however, other word orders are common. Different word orders are used to express different shades of emphasis. (See Latin word order.)

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.

Latin usually omits pronouns as the subject except for emphasis; so for example amās by itself means "you love" without the need to add the pronoun "you". (A language with this characteristic is known as a pro-drop language.) 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".

In this article a line over a vowel (e.g. ē) indicates that it is long.


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