Latin For Dummies, 2nd edition
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To get a handle on Latin, you have to study the normal language things like verb conjugations, including those irregular verbs and verb endings. You need to pay attention to noun cases as well, and learn the basic question words and the short words that help you connect your thoughts.

As you discover more Latin, you come to realize that its contributions to English are evident in words you use every day, so, even though there are no native Latin speakers anymore, the language lives on.

Latin noun cases

In Latin, what form a noun takes depends on how it’s being used. You use different forms of a noun if it’s a subject, another if it’s an indirect object. The following table lists noun cases and uses.

Basic Noun Case Uses
Nominative subject
Genitive possession
Dative indirect object
Accusative direct object, place to which, extent of time
Ablative means, manner, place where, place from which, time when, time
within which, agent, accompaniment, absolute

Common irregular Latin verbs

Like any language, Latin has regular and irregular verbs. Regular verbs follow common rules when you conjugate them; irregular verbs follow their own rules. The following table shows some of the most used irregular verbs, their conjugations, and pronunciations:

Verb Meaning
fero, ferre, tuli, latus (feh-ro, fehr-reh,
tu-lee, lah-tus)
to bear, carry
sum, esse, fui, futurus (sum, ehs-seh, fu-ee,
to be
volo, velle, volui (woh-lo, woh-leh,
to want
nolo, nolle, nolui (no-lo, no-leh,
not to want
malo, malle, malui (mah-lo, mah-leh,
to prefer
eo, ire, ii, iturus (eh-o, ee-reh, ih-ee,
to go

Helpful Latin verb endings

In Latin, you don’t always need two words to form a complete sentence. The ending of a verb can provide a pronoun, so the quote attributed to Julius Caesar — “Veni, vidi, vici” — grammatically translates as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The following table shows verb endings and the pronouns they represent:

Singular Plural
–o, –r, –m, –i = I –mus, –mur = we
–s, –ris, –isti = you (s.) –tis, –mini = you (pl.)
–t, –tur = he, she, it –nt, –ntur = they

Counting on and pronouncing Roman numerals

Actual Latin speakers — or more truthfully writers — used Roman numerals instead of the Arabic system English speakers use today. But Roman numerals are still in use, probably most notably in counting Super Bowls and in copyright dates.

The following table shows you the basic numbers in both English and Latin.

Roman Numeral Latin English  
I unus one  
II duo two  
III tres three  
IV quattuor four  
V quinque five  
VI sex six  
VII septem seven  
VIII octo eight  
IX novem nine  
X decem ten  
L quinquaginta fifty  
C centum one hundred  
D quingenti five hundred  
M mille thousand

Useful little Latin words

In Latin, as in other languages, little words can mean a lot. How can you make a point without being able to say, “I see your point, but . . .?” The short Latin words in the following table provide some crucial transition words:

Word Meaning
et , atque, ac, que and
sed but
autem however
aut or
sive . . . sive whether . . . or
neque nec and not
ita, sic, tam so
si if
nisi if . . . not

Latin question words

Being able to ask questions is an important part of learning any language. Latin question words are listed in the following table. Use them and you can sound both knowledgeable (not many people can speak Latin) and puzzled (because they are questions after all).

Word Meaning
cur? why?
ubi? where?, when?
quis? who?
quid? what?
quantus? how great?
quot? how many?
qualis? what kind of? agent, accompaniment, absolute

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Clifford A. Hull has taught Latin, Greek, medical terminology, and classical mythology. Steven R. Perkins has taught Latin for more than a decade.

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