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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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5.2 Subject and object in Latin

In Latin, the subject and object are indicated not by their position in the sentence but by the ending of the word.

Tiberius Līviam amat – Tiberius loves Livia

In Latin the subject is placed in the nominative case, the object in the accusative case. Nouns are recorded in the dictionary in the nominative case, e.g. puella or populus. As a result, if you are familiar with a Latin word you already know its nominative singular form. Nouns in the accusative case are formed using a variety of endings across the five declensions. However, singular nouns in the accusative case almost always end in a vowel followed by the letter ‘m’, like Līviam in the example.

The chief use of the nominative and accusative cases is to mark subjects and objects. It is therefore helpful to think of the nominative case as the ‘subject’ case, and the accusative case as the ‘object’ case.

Activity 24

If subjects and objects in Latin are marked by word ending rather than word order, what, if any, is the difference in meaning between the following sentences?

1. Tiberius Līviam amat.

2. Līviam Tiberius amat.

3. amat Tiberius Līviam.


There is no difference of meaning because the word endings are identical in all three sentences. Tiberius is always the subject; Līviam is always the object.

There may, however, be a slight change of emphasis. By shifting the object to the front, the writer of the second sentence might be trying to emphasise Livia. You could bring this out in English by translating, ‘It is Livia whom Tiberius loves’.