This section is not a textbook. Here instead are a few tips on setting out without a textbook. That is a venturesome enterprise. In undertaking it, we pause to notice Julius Caesar, one of the most venturesome of the Romans. We don't know how to pronounce him yet, but we will in a moment.
Friends. As with French, many English words are related to Latin words. Behind "agriculture" and "agrarian" stands Latin ager, "field." But the meaning of an English word may have drifted far from that of its Latin ancestor. So do recognize those relations, but don't get the habit of guessing backward from the English word to the meaning of the Latin word. You will end with a better understanding of how language works if you leave language room to grow.
Pronunciation. The five vowels of our alphabet are derived from the five vowel letters of Latin. Give them their Continental (or Italian) value: a as in father, e as in met, i as in machine, o as in so, and u as in rude. The digraph ae is pronounced as ai (as in aisle). Among the consonants, g is always "hard" (as in get), and so is c (as in cat). Therefore, Caesar is pronounced "Kaisar" (not as "seezer"). Sorry about that, but better you hear it from us in private than later on, in public. The digraph ch (which is only found in loans from Greek) is also pronounced as k. The word ius "law" is sometimes written jus; either way, it is pronounced as use, and Julius is thus pronounced "Yulius." The letter u before a vowel is always written as v, but as you would expect, it is pronounced as w. The English tradition of pronouncing Latin (still used by lawyers and doctors) is simply awful; among modern customs, try to follow the German tradition instead. You will have less to unlearn. If some American lawyer looks at you funny, just raise an eyebrow at him.
Grammar. Many Latin words are irregular, but giving tables of their different forms is not practical here. Just fake it. But you will have an easier time if you know some of the terms describing how Latin words change according to their function in the sentence. It also helps if you have memorized the commonest forms of some of the most basic Latin words. We give just a few samples here. For a systematic treatment, you will have to buy a regular textbook (the best is still Wheelock).
Noun (ager, "field")
Nominative: subject of the sentence. ager
Genitive: the "of" form. agris
Dative: the "to" form. agri
Accusative: object of the sentence. agrem
Ablative: the "from" form. agre.
This is the third of five different noun inflection patterns.
Adjective (ta "meaning")
As with nouns, there are also plural forms.
Verb Parts (examples)
First Person Present: fero
Infinitive: the dictionary form. fere
Participle: also an adjective. latus.
These are the four you have to learn, in order to deduce the others.
Verb Inflection (example)
This illustrates the first of five verb conjugations.
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Envoi. This smattering of Latin will get you a certain distance, which is fun. But don't show off. By definition, if you are reading this page, you don't know enough, and in fact you will never know enough. Try instead to cultivate the art of learning something from other people, even if their pronunciation is historically deplorable, or they hadn't yet gotten around to that line of Horace. Your Latin, and enything else you happen to know, should be a conversation opener and not a closer, a step going somewhere.
It should lead to a better understanding something that is part of all of us. What more could you ask?
10 Dec 2005 / Contact The Project / Exit to Reference Page