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Latin/Lesson 2

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Spelling and PronunciationEdit

The Latin alphabet, on which the English alphabet is based, has mostly the same letters as the English alphabet, except that it has no <k> or <w>, and that in its original form, it lacked <j>, which only some modern texts use, and <u>. Many European languages use the Latin alphabet as the basis for their own alphabet.

Latin pronunciation has varied somewhat over the course of its long history, and there are some differences between Old Latin, spoken in the Roman Republic, Classical Latin, spoken in the Roman Empire, Medieval Latin, spoken in the Middle ages, and Ecclesiastical Latin, spoken in the Catholic Church. This text focuses on the pronunciation of Classical Latin.

a /a/, approximately as in English “palm”
ā /aː/, approximately as in English “father”
ae /ai̯~ae̯/, as in English “letter I”, “snide”
au /au̯/, as in English “brown”, “how
b /b/, as in English “bit”
c always /k/, as in English “ski”, never /s/, as in English “cinder”
ch always /kʰ/, as in English “key”, never /t͡ʃ/, as in English “church
d always /d/, as in “dim”, never /ɾ/, as in “medal”
e /ɛ/, as in American English “best”
ē /eː/, approximately as in English “letter A'”, “hay
f always /f/, as in English “fan”, never /v/, as in English “of
g always /g/, as in English “good”, never /ʒ/, as in English “deluge”
gn /ŋn/, as in English “hangnail”, “sing now”; at the beginning of words it may also be pronounced as just /n/, as in English “no”
gu /gʷ/, as in English “language”, before <a>/<ā>/<o>/<><ō>/<u>/<ū>, /gᶣ/, no English equivalent, before <e>/<ē>/<i>/<ī>, and /gʊ/, as in English “good” elsewhere
h /h/, as in English “ham”
i when all of the following are true: it’s after a consonant, before a vowel, and not in the first syllable, it’s pronounced /j/ as in English “yes”, when it’s between two vowels, it’s pronounced /jː/ as in English “toy yacht”, and elsewhere, it’s pronounced /ɪ/, as in English “kit”
ī /iː/, as in English “letter E”, “fleet”
j used by some in place of Latin <i> when it represents /j/; this is not followed here
k not in the Latin alphabet
l /l/, as in English “leaf” (called l exīlis, “Thin L”), and possibly sometimes /ɫ/, as in English “full” (called l plēnus/pinguis, “Thick L”); scholars do not agree on whether l plēnus still existed beyond Old Latin, and if so, where it occurred
ll always /ll/, as in English “leaf”, but pronounced longer, never /ɫ/, as in “full
m /m/, as in English “map”, unless following a vowel and either before <f> or <s>, or at the end of a word, in which case it’s silent and the previous vowel is pronounced as its long form (the one with the macron over it), and nasalized.
n /n/, as in English “no”, unless it’s preceding <c>, <g>, or <q>, in which case it’s /ŋ/, as in English “hang”, or following a vowel and preceding <f> or <s>, or at the end of a word, in which case it’s silent and the previous vowel is pronounced as its long form (the one with the macron over it), and nasalized
o /ɔ/, approximately as in English “thought”
ō /oː/, approximately as in English “letter O”, “clover”
oe /oi̯~oe̯/, approximately as in English “point”, “boy
p /p/, as in English “spin”
ph always /pʰ/, as in English “pin”, never /f/, as in English “philosophy”
q only occurs with <u>
qu /kʷ/, as in English “queen”, before <a>/<ā>/<o>/<><ō>/<u>/<ū>, /qᶣ/, no English equivalent, before <e>/<ē>/<i>/<ī>
r /r/, like Spanish and Italian <r>
s always /s/, as in “see”, never /z/, as in “ease”
t always /t/, as in English “steam”, never /ɾ/, as in “butter”, or /ʔ/, as in “sit
th always /tʰ/, as in “team”, never /θ/, as in “three” or /ð/, as in “this”
u /ʊ/, as in English “foot”, “put”
ū always /uː/, as in English “food”, not /ju/, as in “mute”, or /ʊ/, as in “foot”
v always /w/, as in English “we”, never /v/, as in “five”
x always /k͡s/, as in English “wicks”, never /g͡z/, as in “exaggerate”, or a Z sound, as in “xenon”
(y) /ʏ/; generally only present in words borrowed from Greek
(ȳ) /yː/; generally only present in words borrowed from Greek
(z) /z/; generally only present in words borrowed from Greek

Note that Latin, as written by the Romans, did not have <j>, <k>, <u>, <w>, or macrons over vowels (the lines indicating that vowels are long), although they did sometimes mark long vowels with apices (e.g. <ó> for /oː/); macrons are used today as pronunciation guides and do not necessarily need to be written. /w/, /ʊ/, and /uː/ were all represented with <v>. Modern texts often use <v> for /w/, <u> for /ʊ/, and <ū> for /uː/. In some modern texts (this Wikibook not included), <j> is used for /j/.

Declension TablesEdit

The following tables will be both referenced and explained in all of the following sections, and hence are placed here.

Singular Nouns
Declension (Gender) 1st (F) 2nd (M/N) 3rd (M/F/N) 4th (M/N) 5th (F)
puella servus rēx gradus rēs
puellae servī rēgis gradūs rēī
Indirect Object
puellae servō rēgī grad rēī
puellam servum rēgem gradum rēm
Modifies or Limits Verb
puellā servō rēge gradū rē
Direct Address
puella serve rēx gradus rēs

Note that nouns in the 3rd declension nominative can have any ending, hence why none is given in bold.

Plural Nouns
Declension (Gender) 1st (F) 2nd (M/N) 3rd (M/F/N) 4th (M/N) 5th (F)
Nominative puellae servī rēgēs cornūs rēs

Grammar Part 1: Nouns and Their Role in SentencesEdit

Nouns in Latin are inflected, which means that endings (also known as suffixes or suffices) are appended to the end of the stem to denote these things:

  1. Number (whether the noun is singular or plural)
  2. Case of the noun (role of the noun in the sentence)
  3. Gender (the gender of the word - one of masculine, feminine, or neuter)

Most nouns in English can be modified to indicate number (cat versus cats), and many pronouns can be modified to indicate case (who versus whose) or gender (he versus she, his versus hers). Case is especially important in Latin as meaning cannot be determined by word order as it can be in English, but purely by word endings, or "inflection". Indeed, the words in a Latin sentence can appear in almost any order with little change in meaning. Two sentences with the word orders "Sam ate the orange" and "The orange ate Sam" could potentially mean the same thing in Latin, though the spellings of "orange" and "Sam" would have to change slightly to denote which was the subject (the one eating) and which was the object (the one being eaten).

It is important to note here that although the genders of many words make sense (for example, "puella", meaning a girl, is feminine) many are simply assigned and hold no real meaning. Luckily, as you will find, the gender can often be determined by the spelling of the word (words ending in "us" are almost always masculine, and words ending in "a" are almost always feminine). For many words, however, you will simply have to memorize their gender.

Adjectives themselves must match the number, case, and gender of the noun (be it a substantive or a pronoun) they modify. If a noun is nominative singular feminine (see case table below), then the adjective describing it must also be nominative singular feminine. If the noun is accusative plural masculine, then the adjective must be accusative plural masculine. This will be expanded on in the Adjectives section below. The advantage of this system is that adjectives do not need to be adjacent to their respective nouns, as one would be able to tell which noun they modify by which noun they appear to agree with.


All substantives are part of one of 5 categories, called declensions. A substantive is a stem, modified by adding a declension suffix. Each declension has a set of standard suffixes that indicate case and number. Usually gender is indicated by the suffix, although there are many exceptions. Therefore, you must memorize the gender of every substantive you learn.

By familiarizing yourself with the above tables, you could deduce that originally the suffix indicating number, case, and gender was the same for every noun. However, as the language developed, nouns with a common stem formed declensions and sounds changed. Similar processes happen continually over time, even today.

The above tables allow you to familiarize yourself with the existence of each declension, though by no means are you expected to memorize it now. Nonetheless, you will have to memorize it as you are formally introduced to individual cases and declensions in future lessons. Because of its introductory purpose, it is considerably simplified and incomplete, and therefore should not be used as a reference in the future.

Adjectives are also classed into declensions which must match the declension of the noun it describes:

  1. 1st/2nd declension adjectives...
    1. ...Use 1st declension suffixes from the substantive declension table when describing feminine nouns.
    2. ...Use 2nd declension masculine suffixes from the above table when describing masculine nouns.
    3. ...Use 2nd declension neuter suffixes (not found in the above table) when describing neuter nouns.
  2. 3rd declension adjectives behave as 'i' stem substantives unless specified. An 'i' stem substantive is one where the stem word ends in the letter 'i.' Masculine and Feminine suffixes (which are the same) will be used if describing masculine and feminine nouns, and Neuter suffixes will be used when describing neuter nouns.

Pronouns are not part of any declension, as they are all irregular, and simply have to be memorized.


Cases (Latin: casus) determine the role of the noun in the sentence in relation to other parts of the sentence.

There are six cases, Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative, and Vocative. Vocative case (Lesson 3), can be considered a sort of miniature case, generally not being accepted as a true one. Additionally, some nouns have a vocative case, which will be covered later. As nominative and accusative are the most basic, these will be taught first (the rest will be covered in later lessons).

The Use of the Cases
(all words in bold are in the case specified in the first column)
Case Role in sentence Example (Latin) Example (English)
Nominative Subject (performs the verb) Vir lupum vult. The man wants a wolf.
Genitive Description and possession Lupus virī est. It is the man's wolf/It is the wolf of the man.
Dative Indirect object (receives the direct object) Lupō dedit vir. The man gave to the wolf.
Accusative Direct object (receives the action of the verb) Vir lupum videt. The man sees the wolf.
Ablative Various (modify or limit nouns by ideas of where, when, how, etc.) Ā quō datum? Ā virō. By whom given? By a man.
Vocative Direct address (speaking to somebody directly) Salvē, Brute! Hello, Brutus!


All substantives, including inanimate objects, have a particular gender (genera), which is either masculine, feminine, or neuter.

For example, Vir, "a man," is masculine. Marītus, "a husband," is also masculine. Puella, "a girl," is feminine. Māter, "a mother," is feminine. Even inanimate objects are assigned gender, including all the moons, stars, trees, tools, and so forth. Logic will give you little help in determining what the genders of inanimate objects are, and with many nouns memorization is required. Luckily, for many nouns, the spelling of the word indicates the gender.

Certain rules may be utilized to determine the gender of an inanimate substantive. Declension is a good indication of gender, especially for 1st and 2nd declension substantives. 1st declension substantives (substantives with an -a suffix) are usually feminine and second declension nouns (substantives with an -us suffix) are usually masculine or neuter. There are a few exceptions, and they will have to be learned. 3rd declension nouns can be either masculine, feminine or neuter (thus the gender will often have to be memorized). 4th declension nouns are usually masculine, sometimes neuter while 5th declension nouns are usually feminine.

1st/2nd declension adjectives alternate the set of endings depending on the gender of noun it describes (see above: Agreement of the Gender of Nouns and the Adjective). If the adjective describes a feminine noun, the adjective must use 1st declension endings, if the adjective describes a masculine noun, the adjective must use 2nd declension masculine endings, if the adjective describes a neuter noun the adjective must use 2nd declension neuter endings.

3rd declension adjectives use the same set of endings for masculine and feminine nouns. However, a slightly different set of endings are used when describing neuter nouns.


As stated above, adjectives must match the gender, number, and case of the noun (be the noun a substantive, or a pronoun) they modify. Similar to the "Sam ate the orange" example above, if the adjective uses the wrong declension it could change the meaning of the sentence. For example, "The girl loves big trees," versus "the big girl loves trees" have different meanings. There are many occasions where logic cannot be used to determine the gender of inanimate objects, as genders are generally arbitrary when the noun has no literal gender. Furthermore, the declension of the noun, often determined by the spelling, can in turn be used to determine the gender, especially for the 1st and 2nd. However, this is never the case for the third declension, as the declension itself is not primarily assigned to any gender and the spelling of the nominative ("default") stem is random, leaving you with no hints.

A noun and its adjective must also be in the same case. Otherwise, it is impossible to tell which nouns pair up to their respective adjectives in a sentence, as the words in a Latin sentence can appear in any order. See the examples below.

Notice how "magna" changes to "magnae" to agree with the pluralized "puellae".
Latin English
Puella (nominative sing., fem.) Girl
Puella magna The big girl
Puellae (nominative pl., fem.) Girls
Puellae magnae The big girls
Notice how "magna" becomes "magnus" to agree with the masculine word "servus". Also notice that "magnus" changes to "magnum" to agree with the noun it's describing in case, though do not concern yourself with the difference between cases for the time being.
Latin English
Servus (nominative sing, mas.) Slave
Servus magnus The big slave
Servum (accusative sing, mas.) Slave
Servum magnum The big slave
Notice that "magna" is feminine because "arbor" is feminine, despite that it does not end in "a" like "puella". The word "arbor" is one of the situations where you will simply have to memorize the gender.
Latin English
Arbor (nominative sing, fem.) Tree
Arbor magna The big tree


  • Declensions are used to categorize nouns in groups. There are 5 declensions total.
  • Each of the five declensions has a distinct set of endings which are appended to nouns of that declension.
  • The endings indicate the case and number when appended to the stem of a noun.
  • A substantive may use only the endings of the declension of which it is a part.
  • Each substantive has a predefined gender which almost never changes and is separate from the suffix.
  • Adjectives are a part of the 1st/2nd declension and 3rd declension.
  • Adjectives use the gender of the noun that they modify.


  • An adjective of the 1st/2nd declension uses 1st declension endings when describing a feminine noun, a 2nd declension masculine ending when describing masculine noun, and 2nd declension neuter when describing a neuter noun.
  • An adjective of the 3rd declension uses the same set of endings when describing masculine and feminine nouns and another set of endings when describing neuter nouns. (Actually, there are 3-termination, 2-termination, and 1-termination 3rd declension adjectives. If the adjective is 3-termination, e.g., acer (f. sing.), acris (m. sing.), acer (n. sing.), acres (f. pl.), acres (m. pl.), or acria (n. pl.), then use the appropriate ending; if the adjective is 2-termination, then one termination will be masculine/feminine and the other neuter; if the adjective is 1-termination, the common form is used.)

Before you proceed to the next lesson, complete the exercises below so you will be able to apply this knowledge to Latin.


EXERCISE • Lesson 2 • Questions
  1. What are the three genders?
  2. What is the number (singular/plural) of the following English words:
    1. cow
    2. dogs
    3. genders
    4. adjective
    5. children
    6. slice
    7. mice
    8. geese
  3. Describe the relationship between an adjective and the noun which it modifies.
  4. How many declensions are there?
  5. Determine the declension of each Latin word:
    • puella (girl)
    • ianua (door)
    • amicus (friend)
    • ludus (game)
    • casa (house)
    • rex (king)
  6. What gender are 1st declension substantives mostly?
  7. What genders are 2nd declension substantives mostly?
  8. What grammatical features of a word that can be determined by looking at its ending?
SOLUTION • Latin/Lesson 2 • Questions
  1. Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter
  2. What is the number (singular/plural) of the following English words:
    1. S
    2. P
    3. P
    4. S
    5. P
    6. S
    7. P
    8. P
  3. The adjective takes on the number, case and gender (but not always the declension) of the noun it describes
  4. Five
  5. Determine the declension of each Latin word:
    1. 1st
    2. 1st
    3. 2nd
    4. 2nd
    5. 1st
    6. 3rd
  6. Feminine
  7. Masculine
  8. It varies slightly from word-to-word; Declension/Case, Number, and sometimes Gender.