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Glossary of Latin (and English) grammatical words



Entries are listed alphabetically. Words in bold have their own listing in the glossary.

There is a more fulsome introduction to English grammar here.




One of two voices of a verb (the other is passive), e.g.

            he wrote a letter  (active)

            the letter was written by him  (passive)


An adjective describes or qualifies a noun or pronoun, e.g.

            a hungry soldier

            the meal was delicious


Adverbs qualify verbs and many (but not all) end -ly, e.g.

            they ran quickly

            she visited us often

Adverbs also qualify adjectives and other adverbs:

            he is highly qualified
            they ran very quickly


The subject is behind the action of an active verb. If you make the same sentence passive, the subject becomes the agent, in English expressed with by..., e.g.

            Thomas wrote a letter  (subject)

            the letter was written by Thomas  (agent)


Nouns which are said to be in apposition are placed close to each other, the one explaining the other, a little like an adjective. In Latin such pairs are made clear by appearing in the same case.

In this sentence both the subject noun (Jane) and object noun (football) have nouns in apposition:

            Jane, the girl next-door, hates football, my favourite sport.


The definite article is the. Indefinite articles are a, an, and some.

case The ending of a noun, pronoun or adjective changes according to its ‘case’, which defines the grammatical role of the word in the sentence. In Latin there are six regular cases: nominative (subject), vocative (person addressed), accusative (object), genitive (possessor or source), dative (indirect object), ablative (method, manner, instrument or location). The locative (place where) is no longer listed in regular tables, having been largely superseded by the ablative.

More on Latin cases


A clause contains (or implies) a subject and a finite verb:

            the sun shines

A main clause can form a sentence by itself. A subordinate clause needs a main clause to complete the sentence:

            if the sun shines ...

            although he was innocent ...

            because they were late ...

A subordinate clause is introduced by a conjunction (if, though, because, etc) or relative pronoun (who, which, etc), e.g.

           I never met the vicar, although she lived not far away

           The cat stared at the pile of leaves, which suddenly started to move

A coordinate clause (i.e. an additional clause in the sentence with the same grammatical status as the one it is joined to) is introduced by a conjunction like and or but, e.g.

            he emptied his glass and left the room

            he walked all day although he was tired and had not eaten

In the second example above, the main clause (i.e. the one which could be a sentence by itself) is he walked all day.


A form of verbs like indicative, imperative or subjunctive, usually expressed in English with would (in some languages this is expressed with a subjunctive or optative):

            if I were you, I would leave at once


Also used in some languages in a polite request:

            I would like more raspberries please

A group of verbs which share the same ending patterns. In Latin there are four regular conjugations, with a fifth which is a hybrid of the third and fourth, usually called the

‘mixed conjugation. To conjugate a verb is to go through its various endings (amo, amas, amat’, etc)


Words which join together words, phrases, clauses or sentences, e.g.

            although, and, as, because, but, however, if, or, since, therefore, when

A group of nouns which share the same endings, in all the cases, singular and plural. In Latin there are five declensions. There are some variable forms within the same declension, especially in the nominative case, e.g. servus and magister in the second declension, and in the third declension there are many different nominative forms (e.g. urbs, senex, uxor).

To decline a noun is to go down the list of different case endings (rosa, rosa, rosam, etc).

Adjectives and pronouns are also declined. These have additional endings for the three different genders, as well as case and number.

finite The finite form of a verb must have (or imply) a subject, unlike an infinitive or gerund.

The future tense describes an action of a verb yet to happen, e.g.

            tomorrow he will leave the farm

future perfect

The future perfect tense imagines a point in the future when an action has been completed, e.g.

             this time next week you will have finished this course


There are three possible genders: masculine, feminine or neuter (neuter is the Latin for neither). English has gender-specific pronouns and nouns only to clarify the sex e.g.

            she, he, uncle, aunt, etc

In many other languages like Latin and German, all nouns have gender, including inanimate objects and abstract concepts.


An English gerund ends -ing and looks like an English participle. Indeed both gerunds and participles are created from verbs. The difference is that a gerund is a noun and a participle is an adjective:


            you can stay healthy by walking (gerund)

            he broke his nose walking into a wall (participle)

            walking into a wall is not wise (gerund)


In the first, walking is doing the work of a noun. In the second, walking is a participle, an adjective dependent on the subject he. In the third walking is a noun once more even though the phrase is identical to the line above. This gerund is the subject of the verb is.

A gerund overlaps with the infinitive. Sometimes they are interchangeable:

            to see is to believe

            seeing is believing

but not always:

            he stopped smoking

            he stopped to smoke


This grammatical form occurs in Latin. It looks similar to a Latin gerund but has different functions. There is no gerundive in English. Well, at a stretch, we can create some to show the meaning:

            not to be disturbed

            to be watered

            not to be missed

Gerundives are adjectives and have passive meanings. They often carry a sense of obligation (something to be ...).

Latin gerundives are formed from verbs and have endings like the adjective bonus,-a,-um:

             -ndus, -nda, -ndum

Some Latin gerundives have passed into English, e.g.

            addendum  (neuter - to be added)

            agenda  (neuter plural - things to be done)

            Amanda  (feminine - to be loved)

            dividend(-a)  (neuter plural - to be distributed)

            Miranda  (feminine - to be admired)

            propaganda  (neuter plural - to be propagated)

            referendum  (neuter - to be reported, referred)

            reverend(-us,-a)  (to be held in awe)


The science of language and in particular of inflexions or changes of shape which express particular functions, e.g.

            he = subject, him = object

            looks = present, looked = past

Many such changes are shared with other words and so form regular patterns, which makes the learning of a language’s grammar easier.

idiom An expression using words or grammar in an abnormal way (idios = private, peculiar in Greek).

The form of a verb which expresses a command. The subject is implied (the person addressed):

            sit!  wait!  

A past tense of a verb, describing an incomplete, continuous or repeated past action (imperfect = unfinished):

            they used to watch the local team

            she visited us every Tuesday

            at six o'clock every evening he would light his pipe

            we were travelling to Spain when it happened

An impersonal verb, or a verb used impersonally, appears in the third person. It is

impersonal because there is no person as subject. In English the subject is the pronoun it... used in an unspecific way, e.g.

            it seems

            it is raining

            it is necessary


The usual, regular form of a verb which describes something which happens or exists (whereas the subjunctive describes a potential or hypothetical action or condition).

If these verbs were in Latin they would be indicative or subjunctive as noted:

            if he is in Spain he will miss the party                  (indicative)

            if he were in Spain, he would miss the party         (subjunctive)


The form of a verb which normally appears with to in front:

            she wants to see a film

            to be or not to be
inflexion Variable endings of words to express case, number, gender, tense or person.

One of the traditional eight parts of speech. These are brief words thrown in (interjected), generally used suddenly or in exasperation. They could be verbal grunts like eh? huh? ouch! uhm? Or ruder and more brusque expressions like hey! oy! here! out!

The line between these and some imperatives (which are from verbs) is a little blurred in English. When we say here! this is an abbreviated expression of come here!. You could say that here! is an implied imperative, an interjection, or indeed an adverb as in the more complete version.

interrogative A word which asks a question (who, what, etc).  

An intransitive verb cannot take a direct object like a transitive verb can, but only an indirect one (where a preposition has to be used before the object noun). E.g. to go is an intransitive verb:

            we go to the beach                  (to is needed before the beach)

mood A finite verb belongs to one of three moods: indicative, subjunctive or imperative.

A noun is a ‘thing’. It may be a living thing like rabbit or teacher, or something inanimate like rock or chocolate. It may be something you can see or touch like cheese or water, or something less concrete like happiness or pain (called ‘abstract’ nouns). Names are nouns too (John, London, Himalayas), called ‘proper’ nouns, recognizable by their capital letters.

A noun often has ‘the’ or ‘a(n)’ in front of it, e.g. ‘a table’, ‘an apple’, ‘the Simpsons’. This is not always so with names: e.g. we do not say ‘the London’.


Singular or plural (and in a few languages thedual’ which describes two of something and then the plural, three or more).


A direct object is the noun or pronoun on the receiving end of the action of a verb (while the subject is the one that ‘does’ it):

            she reads the book   (object)

An indirect object is usually preceded by a preposition:

            she reads the book to them

Note how an indirect object can be obscured:

            she reads them the book 

            (i.e. she reads the book to them)

parse To analyze the grammatical or syntactical function of word(s) in a sentence.

One of two voices of a verb, the other being active:

            the book is read by her    (passive)

            she reads a book              (active)

Note how the subject in the passive expression (the book) becomes the object of the active one. See also agent.

Participles are created from verbs and used as adjectives

            the moving story          (verb = to move)

            the astonished guests   (verb = to astonish)

Participles act as adjectives yet may have certain functions not shared by other adjectives. They are created from verbs, and may have their own object or other dependent words, much as an ordinary verb does:

            after helping my mother I caught the bus home

particle A word which does not belong to any of the major parts of speech (i.e. noun, verb, adjective or pronoun) but is an adverb, conjunction, interjection or preposition. Latin particles have fixed endings.
parts of speech

Traditional parsing would allocate each word in a sentence to one of the eight parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions and interjections.

A word may serve as different parts of speech, dependent on the sentence in which it appears. For example, adverbs appear as prepositions,

            dont jump off

            dont jump off the bridge

Or nouns as verbs and vice versa,

            any more trouble and I will bin this computer

            put your socks in the bin, please

Or adjectives as nouns,

            the good, the bad and the ugly

Or nouns as adjectives (very popular with the print media),

            a church wedding

            vicar facebook page uproar


The Latin perfect tense can be translated into English either as the simple past (he walked into the city) or the present perfect (i.e. the past with have) as in he has walked into the city. The simple past belongs to the historic sequence, for the action is over and completed, while the present perfect belongs to the primary sequence and describes something which could still be going on, e.g.

            he lived in Rome for many years                 (and does not any more)

            he has lived in Rome for many years           (and still does)


The first person of a verb is  I... or we...
the second person  you...
the third person  he..., she..., it..., one..., there..., or they...


The pluperfect tense is sometimes called the past perfect in English, always with had:

            I had left the premises before she arrived

plural The plural describes two or more (a plural verb always has a plural subject).

An addition to the front of a word:  pre-, post-, sub-, etc.


Prepositions are words used with nouns, like at, by, for, from, in, of, on, through, to, with, without, often to express when, where or how something happens, e.g.

            with kindness, in the house, under the bed, at midday

present The present tense describes an action happening now or in the current period. The present tense of Latin verbs represents both the English present simple (e.g. I walk) and the present continuous (I am walking).

Pronouns are used in place of nouns (Latin pro means in place of):

            I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they, me, you, him, her, us, you, them

A reflexive pronoun is one which refers to the subject, e.g.

            he cannot wash himself

            she talks to herself

            you shouldnt push yourselves too hard

sentence A sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. It should contain (or imply) at least one finite verb and a subject.

The noun or pronoun responsible for the action of the verb (or the one described if the subject of a verb like to be, which describes a condition, status or quality), e.g.

            Jonathan devours the cakes

            he is hungry

subjunctive Like the indicative and imperative, the subjunctive is a mood. It deals with ideas, with potential, with hopes and desires, with intention or speculation, with what might happen or might have happened, with what would happen if. See indicative.
suffix An addition to the end of a word, e.g. -wise (otherwise); -ship (friendship)
syntax The structure of a sentence and the interrelationship of the words within it.

The tense of a verb indicates when the action took place. Strictly speaking English grammar has only two tenses, the simple present (e.g. sing) and the simple past (e.g. sang). The others are constructed with auxiliaries.

On the left are the tenses which appear in Latin and the sub-Latin Romance languages. On the right are the English tenses or expressions which represent the Latin ones:

Latin, French,                

Spanish, Italian,

Portuguese, etc              English

PRESENT                    wash

                                     am washing

                                     do (not) wash

FUTURE                      shall/will wash

                                     am going to wash

                                     shall/will be washing

                                     am washing *

                                     wash *

                                     (* the future is sometimes represented by what appears to be the present,

                                              as in ‘tomorrow I am returning home ’)

IMPERFECT                was (in the course of) washing

                                     used to wash

                                     began to wash

                                     would wash #


                                     (# as in ‘every week he would wash his car’)

PERFECT                    washed

                                     did (not) wash

                                     have washed

                                     have been washing

FUTURE PERFECT     shall/will have washed

PLUPERFECT             had washed

                                     had been washing

A transitive verb may take a direct object (which an intransitive verb does not), e.g.      

                  they eat a meal


Verbs describe the action, what is done by the nouns, e.g. have, run, speak. They may describe a condition rather than an action (especially the verb to be, as in he is hungry).

Every sentence should have a finite verb (or imply one), e.g.

                  we visit a restaurant

                  he is in the house

From its earliest days English has been a very supple language, with verbs created from nouns and vice versa, e.g. these verbs from nouns

                  paper over the cracks

                  butter the toast

                  bin the leftovers

and these nouns from verbs

                  a long run

                  a hard sell

voice A verb has two voices: active and passive.  
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