Latin Sentence Structure

In English, the meaning of a sentence depends on the order of its words: the subject of a sentence is placed before the main verb, adjectives go with the nouns they are next to, and so on.

Consider the sentence below:

The plump cow drinks the warm water.

Based on how the sentence is structured, you can figure out all the information you need to know. The cow that is plump is the sentence’s subject; the cow is also the one doing the verb, drinking, to the water, which is warm. The sentence would be very different, however, if the plump water were drinking the warm cow!

The typical sequence of a basic Latin sentence is usually subject-object-verb, but the order of words is far looser in Latin than it is in English. The order of words is less important than their endings, which reveal what they are doing in the sentence. Consider the sentence below, in Latin this time:

Bōs pinguis aquam calidam bibit.

This sentence means the same thing as the English sentence above, that the plump cow drinks the warm water. This is true even if, when translated literally, the sentence could be read as “The cow plump water warm drinks”! Take note of the endings of the words in this sentence. You can see that bōs and pinguis, the subject and its adjective, share an ending in -s, and that aquam and calidam, the object and its adjective, share an ending in -am.

Don’t get confused if the word order in a Latin sentence changes! The example sentence above would mean the same thing if it read as “Aquam calidam bōs pinguis bibit,” or “Bibit bōs pinguis aquam calidam.” Even when arranged differently, the words have not changed in their grammatical function.