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This website has the Liturgy of the Hours online. The closing prayer for Laudes and Vespers is (line break mine):

Dominus nos benedicat
et ab omni malo defendat
et ad vitam perducat eternam.

The formula is not "modern". For instance, it can be found in this prayer book from 1617. For some reason, I don't find it in this website, which contains older versions of the Liturgy of the Hours. The one used by the website at the top is more modern (this one, according to the website credits).

Anyway, my question refers to the order of the last words, vitam perducat eternam. Clearly, the meaning is the same if the order were vitam eternam perducat. It puzzles me though why the latter is not used. It would keep the structure of words similar (ending with verb) and would rhyme, something not extraneous to prayers.

Is there any particular reason why the order used is "better", or some reason to suggest why it was chosen?

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I understand this delay of a noun or adjective until after the verb, separating the modifier from what it modifies, to be very common in Latin. (But I am not an expert.) It often serves to emphasize what comes after the verb, though understanding which element receives the greater emphasis always calls upon understanding the sense of the words. Or it can just make a nice cadence by ending on the most important concept.

Here's a typical example, from the Venerable Bede (Historia Ecclesiastica, Cap. XIV):

…visum est fratribus triduanum jejunium agere et divinam suppliciter obsecrare clementiam ut misericordiam sibi dignaretur impendere et sive periclitantes hoc morbo a præsenti morte liberaret seu raptos e mundo a perpetua animæ damnatione servaret.

The brothers [at this monastery] thought to do a fast of three days and to humbly implore the divine mercifulness that they be deemed worthy to devote mercy to: that those in danger from the illness be delivered from immediate death, or that those already taken from the world be saved from perpetual damnation of their souls.

The adjective divinam leads the listener to expect a noun. By delaying the noun until after the verb, the noun gets added impact. The brothers aren't just appealing to God, they're appealing to a certain attribute of God: his gentleness.


Horace uses this trick to great effect at the end of Ode 3.18, which describes the biannual festival day for Faunus, when everyone takes the day off work and gets drunk.

gaudet invisam pepulisse fossor
ter pede terram.

Glad is the ditch-digger to have struck, three times with his feet, the hated ground.

"Three times with his feet" refers to a dance. The humor is in thinking that the ditch-digger's job is so odious that he has come to hate the ground so much that dancing on it is for him a sort of revenge. The grammar and word order set this up by starting with invisam (what is hated? you don't know yet), then introducing the ditch-digger, and only at the last word of the sentence providing the noun.


Now, looking at your example:

Dominus nos benedicat
et omni malo defendat
et ad vitam perducat æternam.

I understand the delayed æternam to emphasize that this is the goal, the endpoint, the ultimate that all the others lead to. Its breaking of the parallel structure further emphasizes it. In English we can get a similar effect like this:

…and may He guide us to life everlasting.

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  • Excelent! That makes a lot of sense. Thanks. – luchonacho Jun 4 at 3:11
  • Being aware of this, it seems is quite common. For instance, Laudes today includes this prayer: Corda nostra, quǽsumus, Dómine, resurrectiónis splendor illústret, quo mortis ténebris carére valeámus et ad claritátem perveniámus ætérnam. I think the formula is similar, with emphasis in ætérnam rather than making it rhyme. – luchonacho Jun 6 at 13:43
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This kind of detachment of two closely connected words is known as hyperbaton. Wikipedia gives an extensive list of examples in Latin (and other languages). This gives the phenomenon a name and points out that it is a common stylistic choice in Latin.

Whether this choice is better than another one is a matter of taste. The tastes of Latin writers are reflected in the rest of the literature, so by the frequency of hyperbaton we can say that it is good style. (This is a very descriptivist view of language: anything that's common is correct.)

I don't know how conscious the choice to make the third part different was. Perhaps there was a slight variation in the last segment, putting one last word after the otherwise final verb, for the very purpose of making it slightly different and so marking the end. Making the last verse like all the ones before can make it feel as if it's left hanging.

In hyperbaton one can inject much more than a single word — like a subordinate clause — between two logically adjacent words. Some might prefer to leave the term for those more extreme cases, as splitting up nouns and their attributive adjectives is quite common in Latin. Perhaps we should just call such a simple case a baton?

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    Some ancient authors use it also as a way of creating imagery with the words. For example, Virgil uses it when talking about caves so as to seem like the person was "inside" the cave, by being placed in the middle of the noun and adjective of the cave. Ovid uses it when describing an arrow being drawn, simulating the arrow being drawn in the bow. I have used it personally when talking about a hammock (Lectulus pensilis according to Wikipedia lol) so as to mimic someone being chilling inside the hammock :) – Victor BC Jun 3 at 23:05
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    Thanks for the answer. I selected the other because it focused particularly on the religious emphasis, which I think is very relevant for this case (particularly with the word ætérnam, as this can be found in several places; see my comment to his answer). – luchonacho Jun 6 at 13:45

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