Latin is a heavily inflected language, which means that Latin indicates grammatical information by changing the ending of the words. Nouns are grouped into 5 declensions (noun inflection groups), verbs can be classified into 4 conjugations (verb inflection groups).
In order to compose Latin sentences, you must be familiar with the dictionary form of the Latin nouns and the dictionary form of the verbs so that you can identify what declension or conjugation they belong to. These are essential things to understand before you start using Latin words in sentences.
How does Latin use the words in sentences? Does it place them in a particular word order to express grammatical function, such as subject and object? No, it doesn't, and that's the big difference between Latin and English. English uses word order to express who is the subject (the performer, who does something) or the object (which is what the action is being done to, for example, "reading a book", where "book" is the object). In English, the object is always placed after the verb, word order determines whether a word is an object or not. Latin, however, uses word ending to express grammatical function, such as the object. Latin differentiates subject from object by word ending, i.e. by inflections which are called declension.
When you use a noun in a sentence, first you have to determine which declension the noun belongs to. If you have identified the declension, you must use the appropriate word ending, i.e. the proper case in respect to what grammatical function the noun has to serve in your sentence.
In Latin, the subject form of a noun is called the 'nominative case'. Learn more here:
The object form of a noun is called the 'accusative case' in Latin. Check this out, on our website:
The Latin possessive form of a noun is called 'genitive case'. We learned about it when studying the dictionary forms of nouns. We know why the genitive is so important: the genitive ending differentiates what declension a noun belongs to. Therefore the genitive of each noun is given in the dictionary, and when somebody learns Latin nouns, he learns the genitive of the noun together with the first dictionary form, the nominative, because without knowing the genitive of the word, you could not know which declination it belongs to, and thus you could not decline the word, which means you could not use the word in a sentence. Learn more about genitive here:
The indirect object expresses the recipient of an action, like in the following sentence: I give a book to Hortensius - where "to Hortensius" is the indirect object. In Latin, the indirect object form of a noun is called the 'dative case'. Learn more here:
The adverbial form of a noun is called the 'ablative case' in Latin. The ablative can express time, manner, place, cause and similar adverbials. Check this out, on our website:
When using a verb in a sentence, first you have to determine which conjugation the verb belongs to. If you have identified the conjugation, you must use the appropriate word ending respectively to the person and number, time (the tenses) and mood (indicative, imperative or subjunctive), and voice (active or passive) according to what the verb has to express in your sentence.
Unlike English, Latin uses verb endings to express the person and number of the verb, and its tense or mood. These endings are in general the same for all conjugation groups, but there is some variation respectively to the stem vowel, which means that while, e.g. the singular third person ending is "-t" in all conjugations, in the 1st conjugation it's realized as "-at", because it's the A-Stem conjugation, in the 2nd conjugation it's "-et", (as they are the E-Stem) etc.
Please study carefully how the conjugations work in Present Tense:
But how to start writing simple Latin sentences? Let's clarify four rules about Latin sentences.
1. Word order
There is absolutely no obligatory word order in Latin. You can place the words in any particular order. It means that you can not screw up a Latin sentence's word order - but you must be informed that any change in the word order indicates a slightly different emphasis in the sentence. Normal, non-emphatic Latin sentences tend to display a "Subject - Adverbial - Object - Verb" word order. But it's not our level of knowledge, and we will not engage in this depth of Latin grammar. So, for now, write as you like. It can't be wrong.
2. Word endings - using the cases of the declensions
That's a bit more difficult. Latin is a heavily inflected language, which means that Latin indicates grammatical function such as "subject" and "object", by changing the ending of the words. English uses word order to express who is the subject (the performer, who does something) or the object (which is what the action is being done to, for example, "reading a book", where "book" is the object). In English, the object is always placed after the verb, word order determines whether a word is an object or not. Latin, however, uses the accusative word ending to express the object of the sentence. Latin differentiates subject from object (or any grammatical function) by word ending. You must use -
- - the nominative form for expressing subject ("CICERO writes a letter."),
- - the accusative ending to express an object (Cicero writes A LETTER."),
- - the genitive for possession ("It's CICERO'S letter."),
- - the dative for indirect object, ("Cicero writes a letter TO BRUTUS.")
- - and the ablative for various adverbials ("Cicero writes a letter BY HAND/ON PAPYRUS/FOR FUN/etc.").
3. Word endings - using the personal endings of the conjugations
We have said that unlike English, Latin uses verb endings to express the person and number of the verb, and its tense or mood. You must identify who performs the action described by the verb of the sentence: I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural) or they. Once it's determined, you will use the proper personal endings, respectively to the conjugation which the verb belongs to.
There are no articles in Latin. There is no definite (the) or indefinite article (a, an) either. When you write in Latin, you simply forget about them. No rules to be memorized, no problems when to use them or when not to.