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Getting started on classical Latin
Getting started on classical Latin

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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!