Elements of Latin Lesson 23
Latin Order of Words

Lupus in fābulā — The wolf in the story
From Terence, a writer of Latin comedies.
This expression applies to an unexpected and unwelcome appearance; cf. "Speak of the devil."

197. Order of Words in English and Latin Compared. In English, words are arranged in a fairly fixed order, and this order cannot be changed, as a rule, without changing or destroying the meaning of the sentence.

198. In Latin the office of the words in a sentence is shown by their forms (§ 39), and their position is much more free. Still there are general rules of order, which should be carefully observed. The rules already given in the preceding lessons are here summarized for review.

   a. The Subject generally stands first, the verb last. But, to avoid obscurity, est, is, and other forms of the verb to be usually stand, as in English, between the subject and a noun or adjective in the predicate.

   NOTE: In connected narrative each succeeding sentence begins with the word or words that link it most closely to the sentence preceding. For example, in "The Rhine was the frontier of Germany. Caesar built a bridge across the river", the order of words in Latin would be "The Rhine was the frontier of Germany. Across the river Caesar a bridge built." Observe that the first words of the second sentence, "Across the river", link it to the sentence preceding and are therefore placed before the subject, "Caesar".

   b. The indirect object may either precede or follow the direct object.

   c. The vocative case rarely stands first.

   d. An adjective or genitive may either precede or follow its noun.

   e. The possessive adjective regularly follows its noun.

   f. Adverbs normally stand directly before the words they modify.

199. Words are made emphatic by placing them in unusual positions. Thus we have seen that possessive adjectives, which regularly follow their nouns, are made emphatic by placing them before their nouns (§ 137); and any adjective or other modifier is made emphatic by separating it from the word to which it belongs. Observe the following sentences:

Caesar agrōs pulchrōs Gallōrum occupat

Caesar pulchrōs Gallōrum agrōs occupat

In the first sentence pulchrōs is not emphatic. In the second sentence it has been made so by separating it from its noun agrōs. The order of words, therefore, in a Latin sentence tells the eyes of the reader as much about the emphasis as his ears tell him when he hears a man speak. If you do not note the order, you will often fail to get the sense.


Print Lesson 23 Exercises

200. Derivatives. What Latin derivatives can you find in the following paragraph? Give the meaning of each derivative and the Latin word from which it is derived.

Britain, because of its insular character, was not occupied by the Romans for many years. Its inhabitants were a great multitude, barbarous in their habits of life, very belligerent, and not slow to fight for their liberties. Then, too, the visible and the invisible perils of navigation in the open seas, though not insuperable, made the Romans timid.


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