A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language/Lesson 1

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Note: Much of the information given in Lesson 1 is now known to be inaccurate. We include it for historical purposes only.
Transcription of this lesson is complete


  • A. Latin Grammar, considered as a science, has for its object the investigation of laws which govern the forms and the construction of the language. When destined for the practical purposes of instruction, it becomes the art of learning to read, write, and speak the Latin language with correctness.

Of the Alphabet.[edit]

  • B. The letters of the Latin alphabet are twenty-five:—A, a; B, b; C, c; D, d; E, e; F, f; G, g; H, h; I, i; J, j; K, k; L, l; M, m; N, n; O, o; P, p; Q, q; R, r; S, s; T, t; U, u; V, v; X, x; Y, y; Z, z.

Letters are divided into vowels (litterae vocales) and consonants (litterae consonates).

The sound of vowels is complete in itself, whereas that of consonants becomes distinct only in conjunction with a vowel.

Of Vowels and Diphthongs.[edit]

  • C. The simple vowels of the Latin alphabet are six: a, e, i, o, u, y. To these may be added the double vowels or diphthongs ae (æ), ai, au, ei, eu, oe (œ), oi, and ui.
  1. The vowel y (ypsilon) is only found in words adopted from the Greek, as Cyrus, tyrannus, syngraphus.
  2. The diphthongs ei, oi, and ui occur only in a few interjections, such as hei, eia, viei, hui, and in dein, proin, huic, and eui, when these words are contracted into one syllable.
  3. The diphthong eu is found in words originally Greek, and in the Latin ceu, seu, heu, heus, neu, and neuter.
  4. Respecting the proper sounds of these vowels, there is at present no uniformity of usage, the common custom in vogue among the different nations of Europe being that of following the analogy of their respective vernacular idioms. This has given rise to a diversity of pronunciations, among which the English and the Continental are the most conspicuous. The following table exhibits the difference between the English and the German sounds of the vowels, both long ( ¯ ) and short ( ˘ ): &mdash
English sound. German sound.
a māter, mannă1 ā always āh, ă as in am.
e dēlĕo, fessus ē like a in fate, ĕ as in fre.
i, y fīnis, mīrābǐlǐs ī like ee in keen, ĭ as in fin.
o corōnă, dŏmĭnus ō as in bōne, ŏ as in shone.
u ūsŭs, dŭumvir ū like oo in moon, ŭ the same sound short.
ae Caesar, caestus2 like ā in fate.
ai Māǐa,3 āiō broader, with the sound of both vowels.
au aurum, causa like ou in house.
ei eia, omneis like i in shine
eu Orpheus,4 neuter nearly like oi in foil.
oe poena, foedus like the French eu in feu.
ui huic, cui5 like ooi rapidly sounded.

Remark.—In the above examples, the learner is expected to sound the vowels as he would under similar circumstances in English words.

Of the Consonants.[edit]

  • D. The consonants are divided into liquids, mutes, and double consonants.

The liquids are l, m, n, r.

The mutes comprise the remaining simple consonants of the alphabet, with the exception of the sibilant s.

The mutes are again subdivided, with reference to the organ by which they are pronounced, into labials (v, b, p, f), gutturals (g, c, k, qu), and linguals (d, t).

The double consonants are x and z (called zeta). The former combines the sounds cs, the latter ds.

  • E. The power of these consonants is upon the whole the same as that of the corresponding English letters. Nor are there as many international discrepancies of pronunciation as in the vowels. The following remarks will illustrate their force more particularly:—
  1. C before a, o, u, or a consonant has the hard sound of k, as caput, cultus, clāvis; and, before e, i, y, ae, ei, eu, and oe the soft sound of s, as Cerēs, cīvis, caelebs, caelum.6
  2. Ch has the force of k, as pulcher, machina.
  3. G before a, o, u, or another consonant is likewise hard, as in English, e.g. garrulus, guttus, glēba; but it is soft before e, i, y, or another g, e.g. gener, gingīva, gypsum, agger.7
  4. H is a mere aspiration, and not regarded as a consonant. In some words it is either expressed or omitted, e.g. hāvē or āvē, ahēnum or aēnum, mihi or .
  5. The ancient Romans made no distinction of form between the consonants j, v and the vowels i, u but the same characters I and V had sometimes the power of vowels and sometimes of consonants.
  6. K has now become a superfluous letter, and is only used in certain abbreviations, as K. for Kaesō; Kal. for Calendae.
  7. M at the beginning or in the middle of a word is sounded as in English. But m final, when preceded by a vowel, was not so distinctly pronounced by the Ancients. Hence, when the following word commenced with a vowel, the m final was either entirely silent (in poetry always so) or regarded as a mere connecting link between vowels.
  8. Q occurs only in connection with u followed by another vowel, as quum, quī, coquus.
  9. S has upon the whole the same power as in English. Among the older Latin writers, however, it seems to have had the stronger sound of ss, as they wrote cāssus, caussa, accūssō, &c., instead of the later cāsus, causa, accūsō.
  10. Ti and ci short, when followed by another vowel, are generally sounded like shee, as in Horatius, nuntius, iustitia; Fabricius, novicius, &c. But ti retains its proper sound, a) when the i is long, as in istīus, tōtīus; b) when the t is preceded by an s, x, or another t, as in ostium, mixtiō, Bruttiī; c) in words originally Greek, as Militiadēs, Aegyptius; d) before the er of the infinitive passive, as nītīer, flectīer, &c. e) at the beginning of a word, as in tiāra.

Of the Hiātus.[edit]

  • F. The concurrence of two vowels, either in the middle of a word or at the close of one and the beginning of another, gives rise to what is called an hiātus. This the Romans avoided, especially in poetry, a) by the contraction of the two vowels into one long one, as in audīstī for audiistī, dēprēndō for dēprehendō,8 &c.; b) by Synaeresis, i.e. by pronouncing the two vowels rapidly like a diphthong, as deinde, huic, omnia; and c), when the hiātus occurred between two words, by the elision (i.e. by the suppression in reading) of the final vowel of the first word, as in atque ego, sapere audē, which as thus elided read atqu' ego, saper' aude.

Of Syllables.[edit]

  • G. A syllable may consist of either a single vowel or diphthong, or of the union of a vowel or diphthong with one or more consonants, e.g. ō-vum, du-ō, i-ste, cōn-stāns.
  1. The Latin language generally tolerates no more than two consonants at the end of a syllable or word; when there are three, the last is always an s, as in stirps.
  2. Nor does a syllable commonly commence with more than two consonants, except where at the beginning of the word sc, sp, and st are followed by an r, or where in the middle of a word one of the letters c, p, or s is followed by a mute and liquid, as scri-ptor, sprē-tus, stri-ctim; do-ctrīna, clau-strum, i-sthmus, magi-strī, corru-ptrix.
  3. The division of words into syllables may be regulated by the following laws:—
    • a) A consonant between two vowels belongs to the last, as e-go, pa-ter, so-ror.
    • b) The consonants which may begin a Greek or Latin word (according to Remark 2) belong together in the division of a word into its component syllables, as pa-tris, i-gnis, a-ctus, o-mnis, i-psī, pa-stor, po-scō, fau-stus, sce-ptrum, ca-strum, &c.
    • c) Combinations of consonants which never occur at the beginning of a word are treated according to the analogy of the rest, e.g., Da-phnē, rhy-thmus, smara-gdus, &c.
    • d) Compounds are usually divided according to the parts of which they are composed, as ab-est, abs-condō, inter-sum, ob-tulī, red-eō, &c. But where the composition is uncertain or obscure, or when the first component has lost a part of its original termination, the division is effected as in simple words, e.g. am-bāges, ani-madvertō (contracted for animum advertō), long-aevus, po-tes (for potis + es), &c.
  4. Words consisting of one syllable are called monosyllables; those of two, dissyllables; and those of more than two, polysyllables.

Of the Quantity of Syllables.[edit]

  • H. The quantity of a syllable is the relative time occupied in its pronunciation. It is upon this principle that the entire fabric of Latin versification depends.

Every syllable is either long ( ¯ ), or short ( ˘ ),9 or common (   ), i.e. sometimes long and sometimes short, as amāvī, lĕgĕrĕ, volucris.

  1. A syllable is long by nature, when its vowel is naturally long, as causa, concīdō; it is long by position, when its vowel is followed by two consonants or a double consonant, as stirpis, sermō, discessit.
  2. All diphthongs and such simple vowels as have originated in a contraction are by nature long, as caedō, proelium, audāx; cōgō (from coăgo), bōbus (for bovĭbus).
  3. A vowel before another vowel is commonly short, as mĕus, dĕa, pĭus, tonĭtrus.
  4. A vowel before a mute and liquid is common, as lucrum, tenebra, tonitrus.
  5. The quantity of the simple vowels under other circumstances can only be determined by the authority of the poets, and is commonly given in the Lexicon. The rules respecting the quantity of final syllables, &c. belong to Prosody.

Of the Accent.[edit]

  • I. Accent is the peculiar tone or emphasis with which a particular syllable of a word is uttered.

Every Latin word has one principal or leading accent, and only one.

The leading accent is either the circumflex ( ˆ ) or the acute ( ´ ).

There is also a subordinate accent called the grave ( ` ). But this denotes rather the absence of the principal accent, and is scarcely used. In words of several syllables, the last syllable but one is called the penult or penultima (sc. syllaba), and the last but two, the antepenult or antepenultima.

The place of the accent is determined by the following laws:—

  1. Monosyllables have the circumflex, when their vowel is long by nature, and the acute, when their vowel is short by nature or long by position, as flôs, spês, môns, fôns, but árs, dúx, fáx, párs.
  2. In words of two syllables the accent is always on the penult, and it is a) circumflex, when the penult is long by nature and the last syllable short, as jûris, lûce, mûsă, spînă; but b) acute under all other circumstances,10, as fócŭs, hómŏ, víllă, áxĭs, déōs, músā.
  3. Words of three or more syllables are accented either on the penult or on the antepenult:—
    • a) When the penult is short, the antepenult has invariably the acute, as accéndere, caédere, hóminēs.
    • b) When the penult is long by nature and the last syllable short, the former has the circumflex, as hūmânus, amâsse, audîsse.
    • c) When the penult is long by position, or when the last syllable is likewise long, is has the acute, as modéstus, ēdúctus, hūmánīs.
  4. The antepenult is the limit of the accent, and polysyllables are all treated like words of three, e.g. poēmatátĭbus, Cōnstantinópŏlis, sollicitūdínĭbus.
  5. Some words are entirely unaccented, as ne, que, ve, ce. But these never appear alone, being always appended to other words, of which they often change the place of the accent,11 e.g. mūsáque, mūsâque, habêsne, plēráque, &c.
  6. The quantity of a word being given (as it commonly is in Lexicons), its accent can be easily determined according to one of the above rules.—The beginner should carefully distinguish between quantity and accent, which in Latin are not only distinct, but often apparently at variance. The former is the principle of versification, the latter the indispensable condition of a correct pronunciation and the very soul of living discourse.

Of the Parts of Speech.[edit]

  • J. The words of the Latin language, arranged according to the signification, may be reduced to nine classes, usually called parts of speech, of which five are inflected, and four invariable.
  1. The declinable parts of speech are: Substantives or Nouns, Adjectives, Pronouns, Verbs, and Participles.
  2. The indeclinable are: Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections.
  3. To these classes may be added the Gerunds and Supines, two forms of verbal substantives peculiar to the Latin.

Of Declension.[edit]

  • K. Nouns and adjectives are said to be declined, and their inflection Declension. Verbs are said to be conjugated and their inflection is called Conjugation.

In the declension of substantives and adjectives, the relations of Gender, Number, and Case are indicated by certain changes of termination.

Latin nouns have three genders, the Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter; and two numbers, the Singular and the Plural.

They have six cases: the Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Vocative, and Ablative.

The Nominative is, as in English, employed as the subject of a finite verb.

The Accusative corresponds upon the whole to the English Objective.

The remaining cases serve to express various relations, which in English are usually denoted by such prepositions as of, to, for, with, by, &c.

There are five different modes of inflecting substantives, called the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth declensions. These are distinguished from each other by the termination of the genitive singular, which in the first declension is ae, in the second ī, in the third is, in the fourth ūs, and in the fifth ëī.


1 A final is generally sounded broad, like ah; but this is not prolonged unless the vowel is long, as Mūsa = Mūsăh, but Mūsā = Mūsāh.

2 In the diphthongs ae and oe (which are also printed æ, œ) the sound of e (long) only is heard.

3 But ai is also written aj, as Achāja, Māja, &c.

4 This may become, by diæresis, Orpheus, gen. Orphěi. The same is true of other vowels usually treated as diphthongs, as Laīus, Laertēs, &c.

5 Pronounced in English like hīke, kī

6 It is, however, probable that the Romans once sounded the letter c always like k, as the Greeks did. But the above distinction is too old and general to be disregarded.

7 But, in words of Greek origin it retains the hard sound of the original γ, as gigās, gignō, &c.

8 The h, not being regarded as a consonant, does not prevent the hiātus. In verse this is equally true of m final, so that multum ille et is pronounced mult' ill' et, &c. In a similar manner the older Latin poets elided the final s of the terminations us and is, but only before consonants, as nuntiu' mortis for nuntius mortis, &c.

9 The short syllable being taken as the unit of measure, the pronunciation of a long syllable would occupy double the time of a short one.

10 That is, 1) when both syllables are short (fócŭs, hómŏ); 2) when the first is short and the second long (déōs, méōs); 3) when the first is long by position only (áxĭs, víllă); 4) when both are long (músā).

11 This is generally thrown back upon the next syllable preceding them.