How English Works

Perhaps to better understand how Latin functions, it is best to learn how English functions first. In this section, the English sentence structure will be discussed. This includes:

  • Parts of Speech
  • Role of Position in Sentences
  • Various Verb Types
  • Basic Sentence Structure
  • Advanced Sentence Structure

Parts of Speech

In English, there exist eight main types of words based on what they do in a sentence. They are nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections, and these eight parts of speech also exist in Latin. One by one, we will go through what each type of word is.

The noun is a word that describes some person, place, thing, or idea. Nouns typically refer to any form that physically or mentally exists and has the potential to be analyzed or perform work. An example of a noun is a dog. The dog is a physically existing being that has a capability of performing some work like barking. Nouns give us direct references as to what a sentence is relating to. An example of an idea-type noun is happiness. Happiness does not physically exist, but it does mentally, and it can be analyzed.

Adjectives modify nouns. In other words, they describe more about a noun in terms of location, state of being, or condition. For instance, we may know that we have a dog, but what kind of dog? We can talk about a happy dog. In this case, "happy" is the adjective since it further describes the dog. Adjectives typically come directly before the noun they modify in sentences. In Latin, adjectives don't necessarily have to come directly before the noun they modify1, but they should be adjacent to the word somehow, and they shouldn't be on both sides of the word.

The verb of a sentence or thought is a direct description of an action taking place. The verb is perhaps the most extensive of the parts of speech due to its many different forms. In English, these forms of verbs are typically shown through the use of multiple words or a variation of the same word. For instance, I can say, "I run." If I want to make that perfect tense, I say, "I ran." Run and Ran are the same words, but because they are slightly different, they say different things. If I wanted to make the same phrase future tense, I sat, "I will run." In this case, the verb is the phrase "will run". Latin verbs also change form for different tenses, and it is the end of the verb that changes to indicate mood, tense, voice, and more.

Adverbs modify verbs just as adjectives modify nouns. So, adverbs further describe a particular verb such as how that particular action is being done. For instance, we know that I am running. But how am I running? I am running quickly. "Quickly" is the adverb since it describes how I am running. In English, it doesn't matter whether the adverb is before or after the verb just as long as it is adjacent. In Latin, the adverb typically precedes the verb.

Pronouns are very much like nouns in that they function the same way except that they are meant to substitute for a particular noun. Let us say that we had a tree. We don't have to say the tree is big, but we rather can say that it is big. In the sentence, "it" is understood to mean the tree, and thus it substitutes momentarily for the tree. However, if I were to just suddenly say "This is small", then we don't quite know what "this" replaces. The noun that the pronoun replaces is the antecedent, and Latin requires antecedents as well in its use of pronouns. Pronouns can get more complex than he, she, or it though since they also include who, what, this, and that.

Prepositions are very important words that indicate location, duration, manner, and much more. Prepositions set off what are called prepositional phrases that describe more about a noun or verb. For instance, "I ran with the dog in the gym." The prepositions are underlined, and the prepositional phrases are italicized. Because of these two prepositional phrases, we know whom I am running with and where. Thus, these special phrases give more information about the action being done. However, the prepositions by themselves are too weak and require at least one noun to form a full phrase. To say "I ran in" doesn't make sense since we don't know into what I ran.

Conjunctions of sentences simply join ideas together. In the sentence "I ran, and you ran", "and" is the conjunction since it seems to be combining two separate ideas/sentences into one. Conjunctions not only combine sentences, but they also conjoin nouns or verbs (that "or" there served as a conjunction between "nouns" and "verbs"). Conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor, yet, and so are considered coordinating conjunctions since they join two complete entities. Consider the clause, "When I run." That in itself isn't a sentence because of the subordinating conjunction "when" at the beginning. Subordinating conjunctions such as when, because, although, while, and many more add a dependent clause ("when I run") to an independent clause ("I get tired") to form a complete sentence: "I get tired when I run."

The final part of speech is the less used interjection. This are simply words of great expression of emotion or feeling. For instance, "wow" is an interjection because you say it in moments of great feeling, emotion, or bewilderment. It isn't commonly used in sentences.

Position in a Sentence

In any sentence, each word plays a different part in the overall conveying of a message. In English, the role of a word is determined by where it is in a sentence. Consider the two sentences:

  • I give the rose to you.
  • You give the rose to her.

In each sentence, the word "you" looks the exact same, but they have different roles in the sentences because of where it is. In the first, we know that "you" is receiving the rose because it comes directly after a "to". In the second, we know that "you" is giving the rose since it is the subject and comes generally at the beginning of the sentences and before the verb. You can mix up these sentences, and you find these to be generally correct.

  • To you I give the rose.
  • The rose to her you give. (something perhaps Yoda from Star Wars may say…)

But these sentences are not standard.

The role of words in Latin is determined by both position in the sentence and the ending of the word. These sentences are the same as the two above, except the order is a bit eccentric with the verb on the very end.

  • Rosam tibi do.
  • Rosam ei das.


Verbs are extremely flexible in how they are used. Overall, there can be potentially over 100 forms of a verb. The various forms come from the many delimiters of a verb. It can be:

  • Either active or passive in voice
  • Either indicative or subjunctive in mood
  • Either present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, or future perfect in tense
  • Either singular or plural
  • Either first, second, or third in person

Furthermore, there are the additional imperative, infinitive, participle, gerund, and supine forms. We will talk about most of these briefly.

In English, verb form is determined by the general appearance and presence of other indicator words. For instance, skated and will skate are both variations of the verb skate. In Latin, verb form is determined by the ending. This will be discussed more in later Latin verb lessons.

The voice of a verb can be either active or passive. The voice tells you what in a sentence is receiving the action. In an active voice, the direct object is receiving the action (direct object discussed later), and in the passive voice, the subject is receiving the action. "I love her" is in the active voice because the direct object, "her", is receiving the action or idea. "I am loved by her" is in the passive voice because the subject, "I", is receiving the action or idea.

The mood of a verb can be either indicative or subjunctive. This pretty much tells you…

The tense of a verb hints at when the action is happening: either in the past, present, or future. The six possible tenses indicate at least some mixture of these three: present, past, future. Here is a chart indicating the role of the six tenses:
Tense Indicates… Example
Present Action happening now I run. I am running. I do run.
Imperfect Action that was started in the past and continuing now I was running. I used to run. I have been running.
Future Action happens in the future I will run.
Perfect Action started and ended in the past I ran. I have run.
Pluperfect Action ended in the far past I had run.
Future Perfect Action will have ended in the past once the future is over I will have run.

A verb can be either singular or plural depending on what is doing the action. If the subject is singular, the verb is singular such as in, "The star shines." If the subject is plural, the verb is plural such as in, "The stars shine." This rule is the same in Latin.

Finally, there is the person of a verb further clarifying who is doing the action. First person indicates an "I" or "We" performing the verb. Second person indicates "you" doing the action. Third person indicates "he", "she", "it", or "they" doing the action.

There are additional forms of verbs. The imperative is a command telling whoever "you" is to perform the verb. The simple sentence, "Sit!", is imperative, and as you can see the subject of "you" is not written. The infinitive form, such as "to be" or "to eat", indicates the idea of an action occurring, and is formed in English by preceding the verb with the word "to". In "I want to fly", two verbs are present, but the verb "fly" is in the infinitive here. A verb is a participle when it acts as an adjective describing some noun. For instance, in the sentence, "I like sliced ham", the ham was sometime in the past sliced, so the verb "to slice" is used as a participle to describe the condition of this ham.

All this is the same in Latin, though Latin verbs normally don't need more than one word to form the verb.

Sentence Structure

In English, there are typical parts that represent certain things. Consider the following sentence:

  • The small boy wants to give a rose to the small girl on Valentine's Day.

I have underlined each key part separately. Thus this sentence seems to have five key parts. Let us consider each part carefully.

  • The small boy

This is the subject part of the sentence. From this, we know who is responsible for the action in the rest of the sentence (or in passive, who is receiving the action). This sentence part is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and without it a sentence cannot exist. The subject consists of the primary noun or compound noun with its respective adjective. This is known as a nominative part. This will be discussed later.

  • wants to give

This is the verb part of the sentence. This is the action being done by the subject to something, or in the passive the action being done to the subject by some agent. This part of the sentence is also essential. With just this verb and the subject, a sentence can actually be formed ("The small boy wants to give."). Other parts of the sentence provide only extra and perhaps necessary information. You can see in this particular part that there are two verbs (want and give) with one in the present form and the other as an infinitive. Thus, the verb part can consist of more than one verb with respective adverbs.

  • a rose

This is the direct object, or the receiver of the action in the active voice. The action is literally done to this direct object. In our example, the boy is giving something. The rose is being given and thus is the direct object. This is the accusative part of the sentence.

  • to the small girl

This is the indirect object, the noun to or for which the action is being done — specifically, that which is receiving the direct object. For instance, though the rose has the action being done to it, the rose is for the girl, and thus she becomes the indirect object. This part of the sentence is dative.

  • on Valentine's Day

This is a prepositional phrase, along with a possessive noun (underlined for your edification). The prepositional phrase simply tells more about the sentence. It can tell location, information on time, or perhaps even the manner in which something is done. In this case, we are using a time prepositional phrase. There can be more than one prepositional phrase in a sentence, and they are either ablative or accusative.

Finally, let us talk of the possessive noun. Possession seems to act like adjectives since they modify nouns, but they don't look like adjectives in Latin. Possession is marked by either the apostrophe s or the word of. I could have said "on the day of Valentine" rather than "on Valentine's day", but the former sounds silly. Possessive parts of the sentence are known to be genitive.

Equipped with this knowledge, you are now ready to face the world of Latin in all of its splendor.

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