Getting started on classical Latin
Getting started on classical Latin

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4.3.3 English and Latin: word order and meaning

As the subject–verb–object order is normal in English, the difference between a word as subject and the same word as object is not shown by inflection; this is unnecessary. Some English pronouns form an exception, nevertheless:

Table 7 English pronouns that change form

Subject (in the subjective case)Object (in the objective case)

This change of form is a vital point to bear in mind when learning Latin, because Latin nouns and pronouns (and adjectives) change their form according to whether they are the subject or object in their sentence: it is the form of the word, or ‘case’ as it is usually known, that determines whether it is the subject or the object.

This is a particularly important point, as English usually relies on word order to distinguish between subject and object, as we have already noted: ‘The dog bit the postman’ is in the conventional order of subject–verb–object, but changing the order of words to ‘The postman bit the dog’ substantially alters the meaning of the sentence.

This would not be so in Latin, because the different case-endings on the nouns (etc.) indicate which word is the subject and which the object, even if the order of the words is unexpected: object–subject–verb, for example. All the same, there is a word order in Latin which is more usual than others, and this is subject–object–verb. Because of this, the Latin reader has to wait until the end of the sentence with great anticipation to find out what the action (the verb) is!

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371