Syntax Reference

This program assumes that the user has a basic understanding of the elements of Latin grammar; if needed, conjugation and declension paradigms may be found in most dictionaries, all elementary texts, and in any Latin grammar. The on-line Glossary and Parsing sections of each text contain respectively the definition of each word that appears in the text and its site-specific identification.

This on-line syntax reference does not attempt to serve as a complete grammar. It is designed to provide assistance to those who encounter difficulties answering the magister questions or translating constructions found in the texts selected. It provides a brief description of each major syntactic construction, keyed to examples from the text and Magister responses. For those who require greater detail or seek complete references, Allen & Greenough’s Latin Grammar is available on line. For intermediate-level students, a user-friendly paperback grammar, Essentials of Latin Grammar by W. Michael Wilson, was recently published by Passport Books (NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company).


A knowledge of common Latin case usage is assumed: the nominative indicates the subject of the sentence; the vocative indicates direct address; the genitive indicates possession; the dative indicates the indirect object; the accusative indicates the direct object; the ablative expresses spatial and associative relationships (by, with, in, from). Special uses of these cases are listed and described below:


Genitive of Characteristic:

indicates the function (the business) or characteristic (the mark or duty) of something or someone, e.g., Pliny Ep. 8.16: hominis est enim adfici dolore: it is the mark of a man to be touched by grief.

Genitive of Description:

refers to the inherent qualities, nature, or composition of something or someone, always with an accompanying adjective.

Partitive Genitive:

used with any noun, adjective, pronoun, or adverb that signifies a part of a whole, such as nihil, satis, plus; e.g., Ovid Amores 1.1.5: hoc in carmina iuris: this jurisdiction over poetry.

Genitive of Price or Value:

used with certain adjectives that indicate amount (e.g.,tantus, magnus) and substantives which suggest triviality (e.g., pili).

Genitive with Special Adjectives

found after certain adjectives, such as similis, memor, studiosus, indignus, securus.

Genitive with Special Verbs

certain verbs (e.g., memini, obliviscor) may be followed by the object in the genitive.


Dative of Agent:

used to indicate the person who is acting, with the future passive participle (i.e., the gerundive) expressing obligation, and with the perfect passive participle.

Dative with Compound Verbs:

often used after verbs compounded with certain prepositions (e.g., ad, ante, con, in, ob, post, sub), e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.9.38: effusis obstipuisse comis: he was astounded at her dishevelled hair; Pliny, Ep. 8.16: quamquam his solaciis adquiescam: although I find repose in these solaces.

Ethical Dative:

used with pronouns to indicate a matter of interest or feeling in regard to the statement being made.

Dative of Possession:

expressed by the dative of person and the verb sum, e.g., Ovid Amores 1.1.13: sunt tibi magna...regna: you have great kingdoms.

Dative of Purpose:

used with certain nouns (e.g., cura, salus, usus) to indicate the purpose or goal of certain verbs (e.g., sum, habeo, do).

Dative of Reference:

used for persons to whom the action described in the verb refers or for whom it is of concern; often found with the verb est.

Dative with Special Adjectives and Verbs:

many adjectives (e.g., gratus, utilis, par, satis) and verbs (e.g., credo, impero, licet, placeo, servio, studeo) which indicate a connection with a quality, attitude, or relation, are followed by the dative, e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.9.14: aptaque verrendis...aquis: and suitable for sweeping the waters; Pliny Ep. 8.16: solacia duo nequaquam paria tanto dolori: two comforts not at all equal to such great grief.



used to indicate the object of the feeling expressed, e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.1.25: "Me miserum!": "Oh, wretched me!"

Reflexive Accusative:

found after a passive verb whose subject is acting on itself, e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.1.29: cingere...flaventia tempora: bind your golden-haired temples.

Accusative of Respect:

a construction more Greek than Latin, it is used with reference to origin and parts of the body, e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.1.20: longas compta puella comas: a girl adorned with respect to her long hair.

Accusative of Space and Time:

used to indicate distance, length of time, and extent to which, with such terms as aliquid, multum, tantum, nihil.



used with the preposition cum, it expresses association, union, agreement, or companionship.


used after a passive verb with a or ab to indicate the person acting.

Cause or Reason:

used without a preposition to explain the cause of something.


used following a comparative adjective, even if quam is present, i.e., Pliny, Ep. 1.9: omni negotio pulchrius: more beautiful than all business. Also used with cum to express difference.


used without a preposition to describe an external aspect.

Instrumental (Means):

used without a preposition to indicate the means or the instrument employed, e.g., Pliny, Ep. 1.9: nulla spe...sollicitor: by no hope am I made anxious.


used with or without cum to indicate the way in which an action is carried out.

Place Where:

used with or without in to indicate the place where; with names of towns, and other common places (e.g., domi, ruri, foris, mari), no preposition is used for place where or from which.


used without a preposition to indicate the respect in which a statement is being made.


used with verbs of separation, both without a preposition (e.g., emitto, egredio, cedo, moveo), and with the prepositions ab, de, ex (e.g., venio, progredior, refero, discedo); the preposition is usually used for separation referring to persons.

used after adjectives of separation, with or without the preposition ab (e.g., liber, nudus, vacuus, alienus).

Special Verbs:

used following the verbs utor, fruor, fungor, potior, vescor.

used without a preposition with verbs of exchanging, mixing, joining, carrying, receiving, holding.



CONDITIONS: Introduced by si, quodsi, or nisi (negative): the if clause is the protasis (assumption); the conclusion is the apodosis (statement of fact based on the assumption). Conditions of fact are in the Indicative mood (see also subjunctive conditions).

CUM CLAUSES: are of several kinds (when, athough, since, because; see also subjunctive cum clauses); cum with the Indicative is a Temporal clause, translated when, whenever (e.g., cum adulescens eram, Caesar consul factus est: when I was young, Caesar was elected consul).



an infinitive that completes the meaning of a main verb or phrase which expresses one's attitude or position in regard to action , such as volo, cupio, studeo, paro, propero, scio, videor, soleo, possum. The infinitive uses non in the negative. E.g., Cicero De Amicitia 2 (6): sed existimare debes: but you ought to consider; Cicero De Amicitia 2 (7): ut eruditi solent appellare: as learned men are accustomed to call a man wise.


this use of the infinitive is also called "Poetical" because it was used by poets of all periods to express purpose with verbs of motion (e.g., eo, venio) and with verbs of giving (e.g., do, trado) or undertaking (e.g., sumo).


A phrase which follows a main verb of thinking, speaking, or perceiving reports the statement indirectly by placing its subject in the accusative and its verb in the infinitive. Translation of this construction is more difficult than recognition, as English uses the conjunction that after verbs of mental activity and requires a finite verb. Infinitive tenses in Latin are relative to the main verb: present infinitive indicates simultaneous action; perfect infinitive indicates prior action; future infinitive indicates subsequent action. E.g., Ovid, Amores 1.1.9: Quis probet in silvis Cererem regnare iugosis: Who would recommend that Ceres reign in the mountain forests?; Pliny Ep. 8.16: nec ignoro alios...vocare: nor am I unaware that other men call....



A phrase which indicates the circumstances under which the main clause takes place (time, cause, or situation) is often expressed in Latin by a noun or pronoun in the ablative, which is modified by a present or perfect participle in the same case. The phrase is self-contained grammatically, though it is connected in meaning to the main action. In English the construction is translated variously: after, although, since, when, or while. The participle in the phrase may also take a direct object, e.g., Ovid, Amores 1.1.12: Aoniam Marte movente lyram: while Mars plays the Aonian lyre.



Hortatory (1st person) /Jussive (2nd or 3rd person): expresses encouragement or is a polite order. Usually in the present subjunctive, it is translated let; introduced in the negative by ne (e.g., orator dicat: Let the orator speak; Ne timeas: Don't be afraid).

Optative: expresses a wish. Introduced by utinam, ut or uti, or in the negative by ne; translated may, if only. In the Present tense it expresses a wish capable of fulfillment, e.g., di te ament: may the gods love you. In the Imperfect it expresses a wish not fulfilled in the present, e.g., utinam hic esses: if only you were here. In the Pluperfect it expresses a wish not accomplished in the past, e.g., utinam hic fuisset: if only you had been here.

Potential: represents the opinion of the speaker as an opinion, introduced in the negative by non. In the Present or Perfect tense it refers to the present or future and is translated should, would, may, must; e.g., Pliny Ep. 8.16 non...velim durior fieri: nor would I wish to be harsher. The Imperfect represents the speaker's opinion in the past, e.g., crederes: you would have thought.

Deliberative: implies doubt, indignation or the impossibility of accomplishing something, introduced in the negative by non. In the Present tense it signifies deliberation about the present or future, e.g., quid agam? what am I to do?; quis non timeat? who wouldn't be afraid? The Imperfect tense indicates deliberation about a past action, e.g., quid agerem? what was I to do?



PRIMARY present, future, perfect (have/has), future perfect present (action at the same time or after);
perfect subjunctive (action completed before)
SECONDARY imperfect, perfect (without have), pluperfect imperfect (action at the same time or after);
pluperfect (action completed before)

Purpose Clause: expresses plan or purpose. Introduced by ut or in the negative by ne, it uses the present or imperfect subjunctive, e.g., venio ut te videam: I am coming (in order) to see you. Purpose clauses may also be introduced by a relative pronoun, e.g., Pliny, Ep .4.19: disponit qui nuntient sibi...: she appoints someone who may announce to her (someone to announce to her)....

Result Clause: express an outcome. The subjunctive is introduced by ut or in the negative by ut non, nemo, nihil, numquam, preceded in the main sentence by tam, ita, sic, tantus. E.g., cucurrit tam celiter ut caderet: he ran so fast that he fell down; nemo est tam stultus ut hoc faciat: no one is so stupid that he would do this.

Indirect Question: a question which follows a verb of thinking, saying, or feeling is always in the subjunctive, its tense ruled by the sequence of tenses found above. E.g., Pliny, Ep. 1.9: mirum est quam...ratio aut constet: it is amazing how the account either balances...; Pliny, Ep. 8.16: an magni sapientesque sint: whether these are great and wise men; Pliny Ep. 4.19: quem adsensum quos clamores excitarim: what approval, what shouts of acclaim I received.

Clauses of Fearing: indicate expressions of fear, introduced by ne in the affirmative (fear that) and ut in the negative ( fear that ... not). E.g., timeo ne me sequaris: I fear that you are following me.

Clauses in Indirect Statement: Subordinate statements of fact in indirect statement are often found in the subjunctive, ruled by the sequence of tenses above; e.g., Cicero, De Amicitia 7 (24): vaticinatum...quae in rerum natura...constarent: prophesied that the things which (he said) were fixed in nature....

Subjunctive of Quoted Reason: Just as dependent clauses in indirect statement take subjunctive verbs, so causal conjunctions such as quod, quia, quoniam will take subjunctive verbs when the speaker is indicating that he/she is stating someone else's reason; e.g., Pliny Ep. 4.19: ...quod me sibi dederis: [my wife thanks you] because you gave me to her.

Subjunctive Cum Clauses: are of several kinds (when, athough, since, because):

Jussive Noun Clause: preceded by a verb of command or request, it expresses an indirect command. It is introduced in the positive by ut and in the negative by ne (e.g., imperavit vobis ut hoc faceretis: he ordered you to do this; imperat vobis ne hoc faciatis: he orders you not to do this).

Relative Clause of Characteristic: a dependent clause describing what kind of a person or thing is indicated (of such a sort, the type of person who). E.g., Pliny Ep. 1.9 : nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat: I say nothing which (is the kind of thing that) I would be sorry to have spoken.

Doubting: introduced by dubito or dubium, followed by an in the positive (e.g., dubito an veniat: I doubt if he is coming; dubitabam an veniret: I doubted that he would come) or non...quin in the negative (e.g., non dubium est quin veniat: there is no doubt but that he is coming).

Consecutive Clauses: ut (positive) or ut non (negative) with the subjunctive follow after the verbs accidit, restat, efficio. E.g., accidit ut nos audiat/conspexerit: it happens that he hears/has seen us.

Anticipation: antequam or priusquam followed by the subjunctive describe a past event which was avoided (e.g., fugimus antequam nos caperent: we fled before they could capture us).

Prohibition or Prevention: the subjunctive follows after verbs expressing prohibition or prevention, introduced by ne or quominus in a positive statement (e.g., eum prohibuit ne diceret: she prevented him from speaking), or quin in negative statements (e.g., non impedies quin dicam: you will not prevent me from speaking).

Proviso: dum, modo ut, dum modo with the subjunctive translate as until, as long as, provided that. E.g., oderint dum metuant: let them hate, provided that/as long as they fear.

CONDITIONS: Introduced by si, quodsi, or nisi (negative). The if clause is the Protasis, the assumption; the conclusion is the Apodosis, or assertion based on the assumption. Statements of ideal certainty take the subjunctive; (see also indicative conditions).