How to Understand Basic Latin

Latin, the language of the Romans, is rarely used these days. However, there are exceptions. For example, the pope and several Latin radio stations. It is also useful for translating texts and poems and, of course, for writing secret notes. Here is how to understand basic Latin.


  1. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 1
    Find out who the sentence is about. In basic Latin there are five main cases: nominative(subject), accusative (object), genitive (possession), dative (to or for someone/something), or ablative (by, with or from someone/something). The nominative is the subject of the sentence, and the person or thing doing the action. For each noun, you will need to look up what declension and gender it is, and then work out its case.
  2. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 2
    Basic Latin will also usually have an accusative, or the object of the sentence. This is the person or object that the action is being done to. For example, "puella poetam amat" Both puella and poetam belong to the 1st declension. The nominative singular ending for the first declension is -a, and the accusative singular ending is -am. This means that puella is nominative, poetam is accusative, and so the sentence reads "The girl loves the poet."
  3. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 3
    Find out what the person in the nominative is doing. For this you need to find the verb.
      • Verbs have many different tenses, Present, Perfect, Imperfect, Future, Pluperfect, and Future-Perfect. Present tense is in the now(someone IS doing something). Perfect is past tense that is a completed action(someone HAS/HAVE done something). Imperfect is past tense of a verb that didn't finish(someone WAS doing something). Future is an action that will occur or hasn't occurred yet(someone WILL do something). Pluperfect tense is a form of past tense that occurred before another action (someone DID something BEFORE he/she did something ELSE). Future-perfect is an action that will happen in the future and be completed (someone WILL HAVE done something) (not used very often but still may come across it)..
      • Verbs ending in "-o" "-s" "-t" "-mus" "-tis" "-nt" are usually in present tense.
      • Verbs ending in "-bam" "-bas" "-bat" "-bamus" "-batis" "-bant" are usually in imperfect tense.
      • "-i" "-is" "-it" "-imus" "-istis" "-erunt" are in the perfect tense.
      • Verbs you are likely to come across are (in the infinitive [infinitive is the base form of a verb from which u get all but the perfect pluperfect and futureperfect tenses from {translates just like English infinitives}]):
          • Dicere: to say (like dire in French)
          • Exire: to go out (like exit)
          • Facere: to make/do (like faire in French)
          • Narrare: to tell (like narrate)
          • Portare: to carry
          • Rogare: to ask (like interROGate)
          • Videre: to see (like video)
          • Est: He/She is (irregular)
          • Potest: He/She is able (irregular)
          • Vult: He/She wants (irregular)
          • Iit: He/She went (irregular)
  4. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 4
    Work out the other words. This is the hardest part, because this article can't explain all the nouns you are likely to come across. However, think about other European languages you know because there are many similarities. Take the context into account as well. A Latin dictionary would be very useful or you could do an Internet search for the many websites with vocabulary lists. Use the same principle of nominative and accusative.
  5. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 5
    Learn common exclamation phrases that the Romans used.
        • Salve: Hello
        • Vale: Goodbye, farewell
        • Vah!: Ugh!
        • Tace!: Be silent!
        • Nonne?: Surely?
        • Minime: No
        • Ita Vero: Yes
        • Gratia: Thanks
        • Cur?: Why?
  6. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 6
  7. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 7
    Know that in the Latin you are likely to be reading, punctuation is used the same as English.
  8. Image titled Understand Basic Latin Step 8
    Practice. Look around for Latin classes if you're interested in it or look on the Internet for more information about the language.


  • Words ending in "-S" are often plural, but like English - there are many Latin singular words that end in "-S" too.
  • Wikipedia est bona (Wikipedia is good) - a useful phrase!


  • The grammar tips apply to the 3rd person (he/she). As always there are exceptions and nouns in the plural won't follow the rules.
  • This is very basic Latin. Only a few examples of words are given to help people get started.
  • Unlike English, the word order of Latin is not strictly Nominative-Verb-Accusative, and so the sentence "puella poetam amat" is translated exactly the same as "amat poetam puella" The order the words are placed in have no effect on the meaning of the sentence.

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Categories: Latin