English Grammar for Latin
If English is your first language then I don’t expect that you think too much about the importance of English grammar in everyday conversation. It’s probably the case that as a native English speaker you read or write in a grammatically correct way because that’s how you were taught to do so at school, so for many of us, the basic elements of English grammar come naturally. The big question that I want to address in this section of ‘Learning Latin’ is… Why is English grammar so important? Well, the simple answer to this question is that its important because Latin is what’s known as an inflected language. Wikipedia tells us that..
‘inflection is a process of word formation, in which a word is modified to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, and mood’.
If you take a moment to think about what ‘inflection’ means you’ll see that in the case of Latin it’s not just about the words, it’s actually all about the ‘endings’ of the words (word modification). In Latin, differences in the word endings can change the entire meaning of a sentence and that’s why understanding grammar is crucial. Take this example for instance…
Source: Twitter- Legonium @tutubuslatinus
There’s a great deal of grammar that comes with learning Latin and as you progress with the language you’ll come to see that there’s no easy way around this – there’re no shortcuts, Latin grammar is something that you’ve just got to accept and learn! That being said, for the time being there’s nothing too heavy to be concerned about so let’s start with some basics.
When I started learning Latin the first major barrier that I hit was not pronunciation, nor was it learning a vast vocabulary of new words. The biggest barrier that I came up against was my apparent and rather disconcerting lack of understanding of basic English grammar. I’d been taught at school that a verb was a ‘doing word’, a noun was a ‘thing’ and that an adjective was a ‘describing word’ but other than that I had no conscious notion of how these things worked in a grammatically correct sentence. If you want to learn Latin it’s crucial that you know how things like verbs, nouns, adjectives and the various other grammatical terms work and more importantly how they function in a sentence. So, let’s revisit some of the basic concepts of English grammar that’ll set you up for the early stages of learning Latin.
The following is taken from Oxford Latin Grammar…
1. Verb – A verb is a word or group of words that describes an action.
2. Transitive Verb – A transitive verb is a verb used with a direct object, e.g. pick (v) apples (n), i.e the apples are being picked thus they are the object of the verb.
3. Noun – A noun is a word that names a person or a thing.
4. Adjective – An adjective is a word which describes a noun.
5. Clause – A clause is a self-contained section within a sentence that includes at the very least a subject and a verb.
6. Subject – The subject forms part of a clause or sentence It’s best described as the noun or pronoun that causes the action of the verb.
7. Object – The object in a clause is a noun or its equivalent that is acted upon by a transitive verb, e.g the dog (n) bit (v) the boy, i.e the boy is the object of the dog’s bite.
More detailed definitions of the above grammatical terms, including some Latin examples can be found on the ‘Selected Glossary’ Tab’ of ‘Learning Latin’.
There’ll be plenty more grammatical concepts that you’ll need to get to grips with as you progress with Latin and I’ll introduce them bit by bit, but for the time being we’ll just stick with these examples.
If you’re confident and understand how English grammar works that’s excellent! But if like me you needed a little refresh then take a look at these two videos which cover some of the points mentioned above…