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I hope this is the correct place to ask, I have 0 experience with Latin but need this one phrase translated. "A killed B" as in "Tom killed John".

From what I understand, for my context the best verb is "occido" but how would you use this verb?

Google offers several options:

  1. "A occisus B"
  2. "A occisus est B"
  3. "A occidit B"
  4. "A occidi B"

I assume the second option will be translated more like "A was killed by B", so for my purposes I should go with option 1?

Thank you in advance :)

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  • Latin has an astounding number of words for "kill". Can you tell us a little more context: what you want to say, the situation where you want to say it, who's killing and who's being killed? That'll help someone choose an appropriate way to say it. – Ben Kovitz Jul 12 at 20:05
  • And by the way, you've come to the right place. Google Translate is so bad, it should be disregarded completely. – Ben Kovitz Jul 12 at 20:08
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    "A has killed B" (B was killed by A). In my context death in battle or by a sword or something like that should work. Hope that clarifies the question :) – Danil Luzin Jul 12 at 20:08
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    For anyone wanting to look over and weigh the choices, this blog post by Carla Hurt lists 33 verbs for "kill". – Ben Kovitz Jul 12 at 21:02
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    Ben, many thanks for this great link! It's really wonderful! – Mitomino Jul 12 at 21:22
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There are many words for killing, but occidere is a good one. The form occidit means "he/she/it kills/killed". For this particular verb the present and perfect tense forms for third person singular look alike, and these forms are also agnostic of gender.

The A and B in "A killed B" are more complicated than you might expect. If you have any such sentence, you cannot replace A and B with any names and expect it to work. Latin is far more concerned with the form of A and B than their order.

To illustrate this, let me replace A with Arrius and B with Baebius. Here are some valid ways to say "Arrius killed Baebius":

  1. Arrius Baebium occidit.
  2. Baebium Arrius occidit.
  3. Arrius occidit Baebium.
  4. Baebium occidit Arrius.
  5. Baebius ab Arrio occisus est.
  6. ab Arrio Baebius occisus est.
  7. Baebius occisus est ab Arrio.

The list is not exhaustive, and options 5–7 are only valid because Baebius is a man. Who killed whom is not decided by the order of the words — you can shuffle the words freely in a sentence like Arrius Baebium occidit without changing meaning — but by their forms. If you wanted to swap the roles, you can change it to Arrium Baebius occidit.

The first item on my list would be the typical way to phrase it. But if you just say "A B occidit", I would have hard time parsing it. Perhaps "A B" is a person? The least ambiguous way would be "A occidit B".

This is your option 3. The others do not mean what you want. Google Translate is horrible with Latin.

Latin works best if the words can be declined. Foreign names or placeholders like "A" make it a little awkward. The best way to say "A killed B" in Latin is A[nom.] B[acc.] occidit, where A is in the nominative and B in the accusative case. There is no easy general format the way you have in English. The required endings are different for different words, and figuring out how all that works is a key element of learning Latin.

In the specific case "Ludwig kills/killed Maria", you should choose "Ludwig Mariam occidit". The name Maria is used as such in Latin, so the different forms are very natural. There is a Latin version of Ludwig (Ludovicus), but that is not needed to make it all work. The important thing is that Maria is marked as the unambiguous object with the accusative case.

  • Thank you for a very detailed answer! I understand that it would be awkward, but would you use um ending every time? For instance in my particular case "Ludwig killed Maria" should I go with "Ludwig Marium occidit" or better stick with "Ludwig occidit Maria" – Danil Luzin Jul 12 at 21:32
  • @DanilLuzin Since "Marīa" is a Latin name, I would always decline it: the accusative is Marīam. (Or Mariam; the mark over the i indicates a slight pronunciation difference that disappeared in later Latin.) – Draconis Jul 12 at 21:40
  • @Draconis Awesome! Thank you very much as well! – Danil Luzin Jul 12 at 21:42
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    @Draconis I'm glad to be able to help! I updated the answer a bit to include a translation for that specific case and to mention that the required ending depends heavily on the word. Knowing how to get all the forms right is a big part of knowing Latin. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 12 at 21:42
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The verb

Here are some choices suitable for killing by sword in a battle:

Thomas Johannem occidit.
(Tom cut John down, or Tom "felled" John—a very common way to express this.)

Thomas Johannem interfecit.
(Tom did John in—a common, generic way to say "killed" in Latin, regardless of how.)

Thomas Johannem obtruncavit.
(Tom killed John by cutting him apart.)

Thomas Johannem deiecit.
(Tom brought John down with a mortal wound.)

Thomas Johannem percussit.
(Tom killed John by thrusting a weapon through him; suggests great force, enough to get through armor. Suitable for an arrow as well as a sword.)

Thomas Johannem peregit.
(Tom ran John through—thrust through, piercing, not implying great force.)

For anyone wanting more options, this blog post by Carla Hurt lists a total of 33 Latin verbs for "kill", with details about each. A common one is neco, the root of the English word "internecine", but neco suggests killing without a weapon.

Who killed whom

Indicating who killed whom works differently in Latin than in English. Latin indicates this not by word order but by the "case" of the nouns—exactly like "who" and "whom" in English, but Latin does this on nearly all nouns. The nominative case indicates the killer, and the accusative case indicates who was killed. If John killed Tom, then you say:

Johannes Thoman occidit.

I've added links to web pages that show all the cases of each name.

Unlike English, Latin lets you rearrange the words in any order without changing the meaning. The word order creates different emphasis, which we usually indicate in English with intonation or additional words:

Thoman Johannes occidit.
(Regarding Tom, John killed him.)

Thoman occidit Johannes.
(Regarding Tom, the one who killed him was John.)

Johannes occidit Thoman.
(John killed someone—Tom.)

Occidit Thoman Johannes.
(The one who killed Tom was John.)

Occidit Johannes Thoman.
(The one whom John killed was Tom.)

If you don't want to deal with noun cases, you can stick with the prosaic word order of "Killer killee verb", as in all the examples in the first section above. Latin has to resort to this word order when dealing with foreign surnames that have no case-endings in Latin.

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    Excellent answer, Ben! The Latin verbs of killing are wonderful! And the link to Hurt's blog is indeed VERY useful! Moreover, I appreciate the English translations you give to the last series of Latin examples, which nicely exemply Marouzeau's famous claim that "word order in Latin is free but not indifferent". Your English translations clearly show the VERY important role of information structure (THEME vs. RHEME // TOPIC vs. FOCUS organization). – Mitomino Jul 13 at 0:40
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    @Mitomino Thanks for confirming that I got those variants right. English speech is filled with locutions like "What works best is to start by sautéing the onions" but these get removed from formal writing because they're clumsy, leaving "Sauté the onions first." As I learn more Latin, I'm ever more impressed with its elegance—and ease. Contra a lot of 19th-century advice, what works best for reading a Latin sentence turns out to be to start with the first word and go forward, presuming a logical order. :) – Ben Kovitz Jul 13 at 0:58

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