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A sample of

Get Started in Latin

(Teach Yourself)  2014

To buy online, search by ISBN number:

          Book only   978-1444174786

          Book with audio pack    978-1444174779

          Audio only   978-1444174762

Online supports for this course

This is a revised edition (2014) of Teach Yourself Beginner's Latin, first published in 1997.





This course assumes you are a beginner. Let’s see. These

Latin phrases appear from time to time in English. What

do they mean?

1 bona fide
   a) of good character
   b) in good faith
   c) good dog!

2 vice versa
   a) the other way around
   b) a promise to behave well
   c) adult poetry

3 tempus fugit
   a) the mist is only temporary
   b) time is escaping
   c) tempers cloud the issue


Latin nouns

Nouns are ‘things’, the essential building blocks. When we have to have something in mind. Take the noun food, for instance, It might be fast food, hot food or delicious food, but the thing is the food.

Mulus (a mule) and silva (a wood) are both Latin nouns. An English noun is a word which may have ‘the’ or ‘a’ in front of it. In Latin there is no word for ‘the’ or ‘a’, so when you translate mulus, for instance, you decide whether it is a mule, the mule or just mule. Names of people and places are also nouns, called ‘proper’ nouns, and have capital letters in both Latin and English (Paulus Paul).

Latin verbs

Verbs tell us what happens to these nouns, i.e. what the action is. Take the noun food again. You can buy it, cook it, chew it, swallow it, choke on it, spit it out and so on.

Latin verbs usually come at the endof their sentence or word-group, as spectat (watches, is watching) below.

With the help of the picture translate:

          mulus silvam spectat

Introduction to classical Latin

Latin was the language spoken in Rome and the surrounding region as early as the sixth century BC and possibly earlier. The number of Latin speakers grew as the Roman empire expanded around the Mediterranean, and the vocabulary swelled and forms modified under the influence of languages in the new subject territories (especially Greek).

The classical Latin authors lived within a few decades either side of the life of Christ. In the first century BC Cicero, a brilliant public speaker, had his performances recorded in writing, and so his speeches survive along with his letters and more reflective philosophical works. His Latin became the model for almost all later writers of Latin prose. He was followed by, among others, the historian Tacitus, whose sharp comments on the theme of moral collapse enliven his account of Rome under the early emperors. Among the classical poets there is Virgil, whose story of Aeneas founding Rome was quickly recognized as a masterpiece, and Horace, a friend of Virgil, who is remembered for his Odes, short poems on themes of love, friendship and mortality; and Ovid, a decade or two later, a poet whose wit and fresh invention remained hugely popular in the centuries that followed.

Like any living language, Latin of the classical period would not stay the same forever – despite the efforts of later writers to reproduce literary models like Cicero. The spoken language gradually evolved into French, Italian, Spanish and other ‘Romance’ languages, while the much-prized literary language, by its nature preservable, was embalmed for future generations to study and imitate.

Thus the rules of Latin, the grammar and syntax, have been the same for two thousand years. Later writers of Latin were not always accurate in their reproduction of the classical language, but they knew that was how they would be judged. Of course it was almost impossible to recreate it without sticking closely to the content of classical texts. Things were emerging all the time which needed words to describe them. So new words appeared, or existing ones picked up new meanings – but the rules and grammar remained rooted in the past.

So it is in this course with the story of Augustinus, set in a medieval monastery. One or two medieval words appear (e.g. ecclesia church and presbyter priest), but throughout the course you are in fact learning the rules of classical Latin. Indeed Augustinus loved classical Latin so much his recording of the story follows the rules of classical pronunciation.

Subjects and objects

There are two nouns in the above sentence, mulus (the mule) and silvam (the wood). One is doing the watching, the other is being watched. The doer is the subject noun, and the done-to is the object noun.

In English we usually make this clear by the word order, with who is doing it first (subject), then the verb, and finally the one being done to (object):

          the mule is watching the wood

In the next sentence the same words appear, in the same order. But changes to the word-endings tell us that the subject and object have been switched:

           mulum silva spectat

              the wood watches the mule



In Latin it is the word-endings rather than the word order which tell us who is doing it and to whom.

With both mulum and silvam, the final -m flags up the object:

           as subject:    mulus      silva
           as object:     mulum     silvam


Word order: verbs

A Latin verb usually (although not always) comes at the end of its sentence or word-group. In the sentences above, the verb (spectat) comes at the end, where in English it would be sandwiched between the subject and object. Thus, in a simple English sentence it is the object which we predict:

           This morning the milkman delivered …

What did he deliver? Presumably the milk. Possibly the mail or maybe even twins?

In Latin the final piece of meaning is the action, i.e. the verb:

           Today the milkman … three bottles of milk ...

Did what? Delivered? Stole? Threw at the vicar?


The story of Augustinus (1)

This story runs through the course. Words and support are given with each section. Macrons (which mark long vowels) are shown in the printed course.

Paulus in silva ambulat. mulus cum Paulo ambulat. mulus non Paulum portat sed sarcinam. fessus est Paulus et mulus est lentus. mulus silvam spectat. silva mulum spectat. mulus silvam non amat sed timet.


Online supports for this course, which include a translation of The Story of Augustinus, and notes on the audio support.

Go here for an introduction to Latin cases.

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