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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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2.3 ‘Missing’ words

Counting words is a rather simplistic way to analyse the difference between Latin and English. Nevertheless, it demonstrates one reason why it is impossible to relate English to Latin on a word-for-word basis. Some words in English have no direct equivalent in Latin. Where, then, are the ‘missing’ words?

There are some words which Latin cheerfully lives without. The lack of indefinite and definite articles (‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’) is perhaps surprising for English speakers. Latin has no direct equivalents, in spite of the fact that the Latin words unus (‘one’) and ille (‘that’) are ancestors of the indefinite and definite article in Romance languages (such as ‘un’, ‘una’ and ‘el’, ‘la’ in Spanish).

However, the ‘missing’ words of most interest here are those which reveal something about the way Latin works. Look again at the translations. The words in bold have no direct equivalents in Latin but are instead represented by the endings of words. We will see how this works in detail in the following pages.

Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.16.1.


You ask that I describe to you the death of my uncle, so that you can transmit it more truthfully to future generations.


petis ut tibi auunculī meī exitum scrībam, quō uērius trādere posterīs possis.

Catullus, Poems, 1.1-2.

Catullus introduces his poems.


To whom do I give my charming, new booklet

recently polished with dry pumice?


cui dōnō lepidum nouum libellum

āridā modo pūmice expolītum?