How to Translate Latin

HOW TO TRANSLATE LATIN

0) If you want to be able to read my corrections, write on every other line!

1) Find the (main) verb

Verbs are the words in a sentence that tell you what is/was happening: ‘kill’, ‘take’, ‘live’ are all verbs.

The verb is often at the end of a sentence.

Verbs can be split into two parts: a root and an ending. The root is the first part like laud- in the verb laudat or cen- in the verb ­cenat and tells you what is happening – praising or dining or whatever. The verb’s ending will tell you (i) the tense of the verb (present, imperfect, or perfect) and (ii) who is doing the verb (I, you, he/she/it, we, or they).

Verb Endings:

1. Present Tense:

Laud- o

‘I praise’

Lauda-s

‘You praise’

Lauda-t

‘He/she/it praises’

Lauda-mus

'We praise'

Laud-atis

'You (pl.) praise'

Lauda-nt

‘They praise’

As in English, the verb of being has very irregular forms:

Sum

‘I am’

Es

‘You are’

Est

‘He/she/it is’

Sumus

'We are'

Estis

'You (pl.) are'

Sunt

‘They are’

2. Imperfect Tense:

Lauda-bam

'I was praising'

Lauda-bas

'You (sg.) were praising'

Lauda-bat

‘He/she/it was praising/used to praise’

Lauda-bamus

'We were praising'

Lauda-batis

'You (pl.) were praising'

Lauda-bant

‘They were praising/used to praise’

Again, there are irregular forms for the verb of being:

Eram

'I was'

Eras

'You (sg.) were'

Erat

‘He/she/it was’

Eramus

'We were'

Eratis

'You (pl.) were'

Erant

‘They were’

The imperfect tense refers to a process in past time. Use ‘were/was’ or ‘used to’ to make it clear that it was a process, depending on what sounds better in English in the context. Sometimes, if the verb’s inherent meaning clearly denotes a state or process, it may sound very awkward in English to translate as ‘was/were’ or ‘used to’, so you may translate as if the verb were a perfect. For example, it would sound odd to translate the verb erat as ‘was being’ rather than just ‘was’: ‘was’ clearly denotes a state/process. Sometimes another way to suggest a process is to translate an imperfect as 'began to do' something.

3. Perfect Tense:

Laudav-i

'I praised'

Laudav-isti

'You (sg.) praised'

Laudav-it

‘He/she/it praised’/’He/she/it has praised’

Laudav-imus

'We praised'

Laudav-istis

'You (pl.) praised'

Laudav-erunt

‘They praised’/’They have praised’

The perfect tense refers to a single event in past time (or sometimes, a longer event seen as a process). Do not translate the perfect as ‘had done something’ – this is not the perfect tense. (It can be especially tempting to translate a verb in this way after a word like postquam. Also with postquam avoid turning the verb into something like ‘after praising’ – this is also a different kind of verb, and not a perfect tense).

An –it ending on a verb is ambiguous: it could be ‘he/she/it’ in the present or the perfect tense. However, the perfect tense forms are distinguished by having a perfect stem. For some verbs, like laudat, this means adding a –v- before the ending. For other verbs the stem changes more: the verb conspic-it ‘he/she catches sight of’ has a present tense stem conspic-, but a perfect stem conspex-. To check a verb’s perfect stem, look it up in a vocabulary list. You will find two forms separated by a colon, such as conspic-it: conspex-it. These two forms are known as principal parts: the first is the ‘he/she/it’ form of the present tense; the second is the ‘he/she/it’ form of the perfect tense. The ending is the same, but the stem is different. The stem changes for the ‘they’ form in the perfect tense too, but this form is already unambiguously a perfect because the ending –erunt is unique to the perfect tense.

Sometimes there are two main verbs joined together with a conjunction like et. Deal with the two verbs in order. Sometimes there will be another verb in a sub-sentence introduced by a word like postquam. These sub-sentences are usually separated off by commas, and can be dealt with like any other sentence.

2) Find a subject

The subject is the noun that is doing the verb. You already know from the verb ending whether it is something/someone singular doing the verb, or someone/something plural.

The subject will be in the nominative case:


First Declension

Second Declension

Third Declension

Singular

Nominative

Ancill-a

Serv-us

Mercator

Accusative

Ancill-am

Serv-um

Mercator-em

Dative

Ancill-ae

Serv-o

Mercator-i

Plural

Nominative

Ancill-ae

Serv-i

Mercator-es

Accusative

Ancill-as

Serv-os

Mercator-es


Dative

Ancill-is

Serv-is

Mercator-ibus

The nominative singular ending of the third declension can be anything. The first of the two forms (‘principal parts’) that you find in vocabulary lists for nouns is the nominative singular form.

The subject is often the first word or the first noun in a sentence. Sometimes it is not clear which noun is the subject from endings alone, for example with nouns of the third declension, whose nominative and accusative plural forms are the same. In these instances, word order and context must guide you.

The nouns for ‘I/me’, ‘you (sg.)’, ‘we/us’, and ‘you (pl.)’ are irregular:


'I/me'

'You (sg.)'

'We/us'

'You (pl.)'

Nominative

ego

tu

nos

vos

Accusative

me

te

nos

vos

Dative

mihi

tibi

nobis

vobis

If you cannot find a noun in the nominative case, you may have to imply the subject from the immediate context. Usually this means that the subject of the verb is the subject of the previous verb.

3) Find an object

The thing/person that the subject is doing the verb to is the object. The object is a noun that is in the accusative case. The accusative endings are:


First Declension

Second Declension

Third Declension

Singular

Nominative

Ancill-a

Serv-us

Mercator

Accusative

Ancill-am

Serv-um

Mercator-em

Dative

Ancill-ae

Serv-o

Mercator-i

Plural

Nominative

Ancill-ae

Serv-i

Mercator-es

Accusative

Ancill-as

Serv-os

Mercator-es


Dative

Ancill-is

Serv-is

Mercator-ibus

The object is often the next word after the subject or the next noun after the subject. Sometimes it is not clear which noun is the object from endings alone, for example with nouns of the third declension, whose nominative and accusative plural forms are the same. In these instances, word order and context must guide you.

Irregular nouns:



'I/me'

'You (sg.)'

'We/us'

'You (pl.)'

Nominative

ego

tu

nos

vos

Accusative

me

te

nos

vos

Dative

mihi

tibi

nobis

vobis

Not all verbs will have objects – think of English verbs like ‘fly’, ‘die’, etc.

For some verbs (so far, favet, placet, and credit), the object of the verb is not the in accusative but in the dative. Compare the following sentences:

Servum laudo ‘I praise the slave’ – object in the accusative

Servo laudo ‘I trust the slave’ – object in the dative

Sometimes the verb that takes the dative can be translated with a phrase involving the word ‘to’ (e.g. give trust to, give support to, be pleasing to), but it is not necessary to translate datives after these verbs with ‘to’ or ‘for’.

4) Deal with any indirect objects

An indirect object is a noun affected indirectly by the subject. In English we mark these by putting 'to' or 'for' before a noun: 'he gave the books to the emperor'; 'Caecilius carries wine for his son'. When you meet a Latin noun in the dative therefore, you must translate it with 'to' or 'for':

Caecilius vinum filio portat - 'Caecilius carries a toga for his son'


First Declension

Second Declension

Third Declension

Singular

Nominative

Ancill-a

Serv-us

Mercator

Accusative

Ancill-am

Serv-um

Mercator-em

Dative

Ancill-ae

Serv-o

Mercator-i

Plural

Nominative

Ancill-ae

Serv-i

Mercator-es

Accusative

Ancill-as

Serv-os

Mercator-es


Dative

Ancill-is

Serv-is

Mercator-ibus

Irregular nouns:


'I/me'

'You (sg.)'

'We/us'

'You (pl.)'

Nominative

ego

tu

nos

vos

Accusative

me

te

nos

vos

Dative

mihi

tibi

nobis

vobis

4) Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe nouns, like laetus ‘happy’, magnus ‘big’, or omnis ‘all’. To reduce ambiguity, the adjective will be in the same case and number as the noun it is describing, e.g. laet-a ancill-a, ‘the happy slave girl’, irat-os serv-os, ‘the angry slaves’. Some adjectives have endings like ancilla and servus; others have endings like mercator.

An adjective that ends in –issim-, like laet-issim-a or irat-issim-i, is a superlative, and should be translated as ‘most’ or ‘very’, e.g. ‘most happy’ or ‘very happy’.

An adjective that has -ior- in the middle, like callid-ior-es or fort-ior-em is a 'comparative', and should be translated as 'more' or '-er', e.g. callidior 'more clever', or 'clever-er'.

So far we have met two irregular comparatives. The comparative of magnus 'big' is maior; the comparative of bonus 'good' is melior.

5) Questions

As in English, questions in Latin are formed with a question word (‘who’, ‘what’ = quis, quid) or simply by tone of voice (‘you the ring?’ = tu anulum habes?)

However, Latin can also turn a sentence into a question by adding the ‘particle’ –ne on the end of one of the words in the sentence. Consider the following sentence:

Laudas servum – ‘you praise the slave’

With –ne, this becomes a question:

Laudas-ne servum? – ‘do you praise the slave?’

6) Now fit in any remaining words

Now that you have the bares bones of the sentence sorted out, fit in any other words left: connecting words like tamen, time words like hodie, and place phrases like in arena, and anything else.

7) Don’t miss out words

I cannot give you marks for words you do not translate. Before you finish working on a passage, make sure you have not left any words out. The best way to do this is literally to tick off every single word in the passage when you have translated it.

Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:18 AM