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So, I have heard an interesting claim about Latin, and I wonder how true it is. The claim is, given that Latin has declensions, you can shuffle words around and keep the sentence's meaning.

Is that always the case, or is there some sentence such that the position of the words alters the meaning?

I was thinking about "Non Dvcor Dvco", the motto of the city of sao paulo, that means "I am not led, I lead". Would "Dvcor Dvco Non" mean the same? Would "Non Dvco Dvcor" mean the same?

Sorry about the newbie question. I am not a student of Latin, I just have this curiosity, so I expect I am glossing over way too much. Detailed explanations are most welcome, but keep in mind the depths of my ignorance :)

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Latin word order is very flexible but not quite free. Even in inflected languages you cannot typically change the word order completely freely. For example, consider: "I want a banana but I don't want an apple". If you swap the words "banana" and "apple" (they would be in the same form in Latin and many other languages), the meaning is inverted.

The placing of words like non does play a role in a very similar way. Typically it goes before the thing being negated. If it's at the end, the sentence looks like gibberish. If you change non ducor duco to non duco ducor the message is inverted. You need to keep the two entities non ducor and duco separated, but their order can be changed; duco non ducor works well.

So, inflections add flexibility but do not remove all restrictions on word order.

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The claim is, given that Latin has declensions, you can shuffle words around and keep the sentence's meaning.

This is, for the most part, true. Latin word order is extremely free.

Is that always the case, or is there some sentence such that the position of the words alters the meaning?

As you might expect, this can sometimes alter the meaning, or add ambiguity. It can certainly make it much harder to read! Look at the word order in Dido's speeches in Aeneid IV, for example; it gets progressively messier and more convoluted as the book goes on, requiring a lot of effort to figure out near the end.

For example, it's standard for non to come before the verb it's modifying, for a possessed noun to come before the genitive that possesses it, and for relative clauses to stick together as single units. If you break these rules, your sentences are going to get harder to understand, and might be misinterpreted.

In other words, duco ducor non isn't nonsensical, but is probably going to be met with a double-take. People will probably understand it as "I lead, I am not led", but only after several moments of "what exactly is going on here?" and "did this author actually know Latin?"

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