Vici Historiae Alternativae
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Notitia linguarum est prima porta sapientiae Roger Bacon

Haec pagina discipulis linguae latinae fit. Ergo linguam anglicam utitur.

Latin is commonly put to use in alternate history. A Latin title lends a certain gravitas (gravitatis, gravitati, gravitatem, gravitate) to a timeline, and fictional countries need fictional Latin mottoes. Yet many AH writers are not very well-versed in the complex ins and outs of Latin grammar - with potentially embarrassing results. With this in mind, this article will give a very brief summary. It won't be enough to make you a fluent reader and writer of Latin, but it will hopefully allow you to know how to seek the information that you need.

Another word on usage: for purposes of this wiki, we will not insist on any particular pure standard of Latin. If something is attested in ancient, medieval or modern Latin, we can use it.

For a more complete guide, see the Latin WikiBook, which everything here is abridged from.

Nouns[]

Latin nouns change their endings - this is known as declension - to reflect their number, gender and case.

  • There are two numbers: singular and plural.
  • There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
  • Case shows how the noun fits in to the sentence. There are five cases (plus an uncommon sixth one):
    • Nominative: the subject of the sentence ("NOUN does something")
    • Genitive: description and possession ("of NOUN")
    • Dative: indirect object ("to/for NOUN")
    • Accusative: direct object ("something does NOUN")
    • Ablative: modifies or limits the verb ("by/with/from NOUN")
    • Vocative: direct address ("Hey NOUN") - For most nouns, this uses the same form as the nominative.

The five declensions of Latin nouns follow different patterns or paradigms when inflected for number, gender and case.

Singular Nouns
Declension (Gender) 1st (feminine) 2nd (masculine / Nneuter) 3rd (masculine / feminine / neuter) 4th (masculine / neuter) 5th (feminine)
Nominative
Subject
puella
"The girl does something"
servus
"The servant does something"
rēx
"The king does something"
gradus
"The level does something"
rēs
"The thing does something"
Genitive
Possessive
puellae
"of the girl"
servī
"of the servant"
rēgis
"of the king"
gradūs
"of the level"
rēī
"of the thing"
Dative
Indirect Object
puellae
"to/for the girl"
servō
"to/for the servant"
rēgī
"to/for the king"
grad
"to/for the level"
rēī
"to/for the thing"
Accusative
Object
puellam
"[verb] the girl"
servum
"[verb] the servant"
rēgem
"[verb] the king"
gradum
"[verb] the level"
rēm
"[verb] the thing"
Ablative
Modifies or Limits Verb
puellā
"by/with/from the girl"
servō
"by/with/from the servant"
rēge
"by/with/from the king"
gradū
"by/with/from the level"
rē
"by/with/from the thing"
Vocative
Direct Address
puella
"Hey girl"
serve
"Hey servant"
rēx
"Hey King"
gradus
"Hey level"
rēs
"Hey thing"

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

Also note that 2nd declension singular nouns are the only ones with a unique ending in the vocative; all others simply use the nominative.

Plural Nouns
Declension (Gender) 1st (F) 2nd (M/N) 3rd (M/F/N) 4th (M/N) 5th (F)
Nominative
Subjects
puellae
"The girls do something"
servī
"The servants do something"
rēgēs
"The kings do something"
gradūs
"The levels do something"
rēs
"The things do something"
Genitive
Possessive
puellārum
"of the girls"
servōrum
"of the servants"
rēgum
"of the kings"
graduum
"of the levels"
rum
"of the things"
Dative
Indirect Objects
puellīs
"to/for the girls"
servīs
"to/for the servants"
rēgibus
"to/for the kings"
gradibus
"to/for the levels"
bus
"to/for the things"
Accusative
Objects
puellās
"[verb] the girls"
servōs
"[verb] the servants"
rēgēs
"[verb] the kings"
gradūs
"[verb] the levels"
rēs
"[verb] the things"
Ablative
Modifies or Limits Verb
puellīs
"by/with/from the girls"
servīs
"by/with/from the servants"
rēgibus
"by/with/from the kings"
gradibus
"by/with/from the levels"
bus
"by/with/from the things"
Vocative
Direct Address
puellae
"Hey girls"
servī
"Hey servants"
rēgēs
"Hey Kings"
gradūs
"Hey levels"
rēs
"Hey things"

Adjectives[]

Adjectives must match the gender, number, and case of the noun they modify. 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. Declension is the only way to tell which nouns pair up to which adjectives, as the words in a Latin sentence can appear in any order.

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

Pronouns[]

1st/2nd Person Pronouns[]

Singular Plural
Case 1st Person 2nd Person 1st Person 2nd Person
Nominative ego I you nōs we vōs you
Genitive meī of me tuī of you nostrī(nostrum) of us vestrī (vestrum) of you
Dative mihi to me tibi to/for you nōbīs to us vōbīs to/for you
Accusative me you nōs us vōs you
Ablative from me from you nōbīs from us vōbīs from you

The genitive is used in certain phrases like:

  1. memor nostrī, mindful of us
  2. paucī vestrum, a few of you.

For the possessive uses (my sister, your bicycle) sometimes uses the possessive adjectives:

Latin English
meus, mea, meum my
tuus, tua, tuum thy
suus, sua, suum his/hers, its, their
noster, nostra, nostrum our
vester, vestra, vestrum your
Pater noster Our father

3rd Person Pronouns[]

3rd person pronouns do not exist in Latin as they do in English. However, they do have equivalents.

Adjectives modify nouns and take the gender of the noun which they modify. However, adjectives do not necessarily need a substantive present in the sentence to modify. The substantive can be presumed. In this way, '3rd person' pronouns are formed.

For example: take the masculine form of the adjective 'ille'. Literally it means 'That (masculine) thing.' However one could take it for simply meaning 'he', depending on the context. Similarly, the pronoun 'iste' means 'that (masc.) thing'. Iste and ille are declined in exactly the same way, but there are a slight difference of meaning between them: 'ille' is often used with proper names for marking dignity or worth and 'iste' conveys a contemptuous sense.

Examples:

- Annibal, ille inclytus filius Amilcaris (Hannibal, that renowned Hamilcar's son).

- Iste servus improbus ante te (this bad slave in front of you).

If no noun is provided, assume words like 'man', 'woman', 'thing', 'idea', 'concept', 'reason' etc. Let context be your guide.

Verbs[]

Verb concepts[]

Latin verbs change their endings - this is called conjugation - to show their person, mood, voice, tense, and aspect. Just as there are five noun declensions, there are four conjugations that represent different patterns or paradigms for Latin verbs.

There are three persons in both singular and plural, so that every verb form has six personal endings. The following chart gives the English equivalents to each of the six, and the Latin verb endings most typically used with each one.

person Singular Plural
1st (I) -o or -m (we) -mus
2nd (you) -s (you) -tis
3rd (He/she/it) -t (they) -nt


Each verb mood has its own uses to convey different sorts of actions. The moods are:

  • Indicative: statements of fact
  • Imperative: commands
  • Subjunctive: actions that are possible, desired, feared; also used for some commands
  • Infinitive: not a mood, properly speaking; it is equivalent to the English construction "to VERB".

There are two voices that show the how the action relates to the subject of the sentence.

  • Active: The subject did the action: "I smash the car."
  • Passive: The subject received the action: "The car was smashed."

The three tenses show when the action occurs: past, present, or future. Aspect refers to the nature of the action: simple, completed, or repeated. The "completed" aspect is termed perfective and repeated aspect imperfective.

Note that some combinations of tense and aspect do not have separate forms. Latin has six total forms reflecting combinations of tense and aspect.

Tense
A
S
P
E
C
T
Present Future Past
Simple Present Tense
"I walk" or
"I am walking"
Future Tense
"I will walk"
-
Imperfective
-
-
Imperfect Tense
"I was walking" or
"I used to walk"
Perfective Perfect Tense
"I have walked"
or "I walked"
Future Perfect Tense
"I will have walked"
Pluperfect Tense
"I had walked"


When you look up a verb in the dictionary, the principal parts are given. From these principal parts you can generate every other form of the verb. They also show which of the four conjugations the verb belongs to.

Declension Present Indicative Active 1st Person - "I VERB:" most basic form of the verb, stem of all present forms. Present Infinitive - "to VERB:" also the Imperfect stem. Perfect Indicative Active 1st Person - "I have VERBed:" stem of all perfect forms. Supine - "having been VERBed:" source of adjectival forms of the verb (participles).
1st amō
"I loved"
amāre
"to love"
amāvi
"I have loved"
amātum
"having been loved"
2nd videō
"I see"
vidēre
"to see"
vīdī
"I have seen"
vīsum
"having been seen"
3rd capiō
"I take"
capere
"to take"
cēpī
"I have taken"
captum
"having been taken"
4th sentiō
"I feel"
sentīre
"to feel"
sēnsī
"I have felt"
sēnsum
"having been felt"

Indicative verbs[]

Imperative verbs[]

Subjunctive verbs[]

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