Would the right translation be this?

Filia agricolae aquas silvae amat

Is this correct? I feel that I'm missing something since the order of the words could be anywhere and then you would just assume what it means.


On another note, I guess the verb gives it away since it's singular as the Filia subject in this particular example but what if it was Filiae as well as amant.

  • Great question! This is one that I wondered about as well.
    – Adam
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 2:55
  • 2
    The proximity of the words also helps to reduce ambiguity, at least in prose. Word order is freer in Latin than in languages like English, but the most natural reading is still to associate the genitive with the noun that proceeds it.
    – Adam
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


It's not true that the order of words could be anything any more than it's true that "Time flies like an arrow" could be understood in all the 11 different interpretations that one can read into it. Latin is a language that has a syntax that is connected with intonation - it's not some unconnected jumbling of piecemeal English translations that can be put together in any arbitrary way to arrive at any arbitrary but theoretically possible meaning. Poetic speech can lead to various transformations to the unmarked word order, but never to the effect that the result could mean anything and nothing, especially when disambiguated by reading it with appropriate breaks and intonation. These transformations have their own rules and for the most part follow a formulaic/traditional/idiomatic pattern such that given enough fluency and experience, one can often spot them at first sight. Sense alone is usually enough to remove any remaining ambiguity. Anyone who forgets about sense and syntax when dealing with language forgets they're dealing with language, or else forgets that they're a human and not a psittacine. Playing "buffalo buffalo buffalo" is fine as long as one doesn't forget they're just playing a metalinguistic game.

The word order you give is close enough to the default one, presents no ambiguity whatsoever and means what you intended it to. A more neutral word order to me would be agricolae fīlia aquās silvae amat - which mirrors exactly the English "[the farmer's daughter] loves [the waters of the forest]". Using the adjective silvestris is perfectly fine too, and can come in handy when there's real ambiguity involved - and is also more idiomatic.

If you make it the plural fīliae agricolae, it's still clearly the subject (not fīliās) and there's still only one way this subject makes sense outside of some exceptional context (and fīliae would still tend to come last). If you had to say "the daughter's farmers", i.e. "the farmers that the daughter talked about", you could for instance use a demonstrative pronoun and emphatic word order: [agricolae istī] fīliae. Basically Latin has many homophonic (same-sounding) forms, but it has very flexible syntax, arguably to compensate for this. It's mostly in exercises with no context at all that you can't tell what goes with what, but such exercises are often designed to confuse you, and possibly to make a point about the difficulty of Latin. Real Latin is designed to be understood.


It is a good translation, but it is also true that the Latin sentence can be translated back in various ways.

  • The daughter of the forest loves the waters of the farmer
  • The daughter of the farmer of the forest loves the waters
  • The daughter loves the waters of the farmer of the forest
  • The daughter loves the waters of the forest of the farmer

If you want a translation that avoids the ambiguity, here is a suggestion. Of the forest is an attribute of waters. So you can use the adjective silvestris here.

Filia agricolae aquas silvestres amat.

  • Wouldn't this mean the farmer's daughter loves the waters covered with wood? Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 13:36
  • 1
    @JohhanSantana No. Silvestris means primarily "forest-related". While in some situations you could analyze that as "covered with wood", here it doesn't make sene, I think.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 0:25

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