I'm about halfway through an introductory course on Latin, and I'm not particularly enjoying it. The problem I'm having is that it's coming across as a very generic, fussy language that's similar to English, just with a fusional morphology and an involved case system. I'm comparing it in my head to my experience with French, which is also very similar to English (and also to Latin) but has a huge body of literature and modern speakers; to Japanese, which is about as far from an Indo-European language as it's possible to get; and to Attic Greek, which has more unfamiliar vocabulary than I had expected and retains a lot of odd vestiges of Proto-Indo-European (nasal infixes, lots of strong aorist verbs, etc.) that are interesting to me. I'm looking for something unusual or remarkable in Latin as a langauge, and so far it seems like it's just a cipher of English with a lot of case endings and verb endings to memorize.

So, what am I missing? People have been thoroughly enjoying studying Latin for centuries at this point, and I don't want to give up on the language after only a few months of it. What unusual, clever, or linguistically interesting features of Latin are on the horizon if I keep at it? Or, if it really is just the most standardized Indo-European language out there, what bits of history or literature am I missing in the translation that would be great to get in the original sources?

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    Welcome to the site! Incidentally, Latin has nasal infixes and lots of strong aorist-perfects. C.f. tango, perfect tetigi, supine tactum.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 18:21
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    I confess I'm baffled by a list which mentions a "huge body of literature" as something French has but doesn't mention it for Latin...
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 18:30
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    I also recommend the question Why speak in Latin in 2020?, which I daresay is still worth reading in 2021. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:59
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    This is a good question! I'm sorry to see it voted down. It's a great opportunity to tell what is special about Latin, and what it has that makes the effort of learning it worth it, at least for many people. You can find a long, excellent, and yet still incomplete answer in the book Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language by Nicola Gardini.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 10:43
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    @anomaly I upvoted, and I think it's a good question overall, but I also understand the reception given that you opened (while addressing an online community centred around Latin) by saying you didn't enjoy Latin and found it fussy and generic. From a tactfulness standpoint it might have been better to start the post the way you started your second paragraph. I hope you're enjoying your continuing studies.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


I get the sense you are most interested in unusual linguistic features of Latin, which I'm not qualified to talk about.

It's also worth noting that 'why study Latin' is a well-addressed question in general (often aimed at the perspective of high school or college students choosing courses); Googling it will get you lots of results.

But besides this, a few suggestions in no particular order:

Access to a wide body of academically- and culturally-significant literature and writing

Heroic epics, mythology, biting satire, carefully-crafted epigrams, political speeches, histories, philosophy, natural science and much more; all of these are not just present in the body of Latin literature but form a canon of work which has influenced Western and global artistic output ever since. Reading these in the original gives you a fuller appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry of the work, as well as avoiding the barrier than any act of translation puts between the reader and author.

Beyond this, I just think it's extremely cool to be able to read something that a person wrote thousands of years ago.

Not to mention, people kept writing in Latin for hundreds more years! Latin was the language of scholarship until comparatively recently. If you want to read about mediaeval academia you'll need Latin.

Access to the study of ancient Rome, one of history's major empires

The Romans conquered and governed a huge part of the ancient world, which is both interesting in itself but also has lasting consequences and lessons for the West and wider world. Only the other day I was reading an article about the lessons that a careful study of the Roman army when it became a volunteer force has for the US military today.

Insight into the Romance languages, and the Latinate words in English

A solid grasp of Latin acts as a key which can unlock, to varying degrees, languages like Italian, Spanish, Romanian, French and more. Together with Greek, the bulk of technical English vocabulary is derived from Latin and having a grasp of Latin enables you to parse vocabulary which might otherwise need to be looked up in a dictionary.

Experience with the language that was historically considered to be a grammatical paradigm

As you sound like you're into linguistics, you've probably come across terminology that seemed odd or categories that were a poor fit for a language; this is often because grammarians based their thinking around Latin. Knowing Latin can help understand where they were coming from.

Cultural capital

For better or for worse, among Westerners Latin is associated with being cultured, sophisticated and knowledgable. If you are cynical, think of this as a fundamentally empty signalling exercise; it could nevertheless benefit you to have that signal. More generously, this is about participation in a scholarly tradition and shared body of knowledge (for the kinds of reasons above).

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    This is a detailed answer, thank you.
    – anomaly
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:44
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    @anomaly You're welcome; I added a comment to recommend Googling 'why study Latin' for other perspectives.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:47
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    FWIW, Latin was the scholarly lingua franca until ~400 years ago, and even afterwards was extremely common. Want to read Descartes' original Meditations or Newton's Principia or Spinoza's Ethics? They're in Latin. Ancient Rome is just the tip of the iceberg!
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:53
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    Great answer, +1. There is probably more Latin that has never been and will never be translated from the 16th to 18th centuries than has survived from antiquity. For me personally, though, it's definitely those nasal infixes ;-) Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:56

What interests you might not interest me; however, I have studied the languages you mention, among others, and might have some similar tendencies in what I find stimulating in language study.

I generally flit from language to language for a time and am currently restoring and extending my knowledge of Latin. What I find most interesting are the following questions:

  1. What is the interplay between word order and discourse concerns? For example, the beginning of Caesars Gallic Wars (the first authentic extended text traditionally recommended to "beginners"): "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres." I have read through Devine & Stephens' Latin Word Order: Structured Meaning and Information and now pay close attention to why "omnis" is not at the beginning of the sentence, "est" is not at the end where verbs generally go, and "tres" comes after "partes," even though numbers usually precede the nouns they modify.

Another example is in this sentence of Aesops' fable about the ass and the old man: "Asellum in prato timidus pascebat senex." A straightforward translation would be: "A timid old man was pasturing an ass in a meadow." However, the Latin puts the two participants at the beginning and end of the sentence to set the scene, putting the more important one first and uses hyperbaton with "timidus" to foreshadow the man's actions in the story. I haven't looked at the Greek to see whether the order of the words actually comes from there. In any case, I have a similar interest in word order and discourse issues in Attic and Koine Greek; however, I think the details are different, since Greek is not so clearly a verb final language.

Another example is the phrase "neque ulla ad id tempus belli suspicione interposita" ("nor with any suspicion of war intruding on the mind up to that time"). The dislocation of "ulla" to the left brackets the other words in a way that sounds like German, which is a language that does such bracketing as a matter of course. This is probably to emphasize "ulla."

  1. What underlying meaning must Romans have understood from the cases that permitted their fusion in the way that transpired? In trying to understand Latin at sight in the order that I read it, I have been having success by apply certain semantic principles that unify for me such disparate things as the ablatives of separation, location, instrument, and circumstance. I was not originally taught Latin in this way, so had to develop it myself for my learning style. I basically am wondering about the interface between semantics, syntax, and discourse that made these sentences easy to read for Latin speakers.

Another example of what I find interesting is understanding why the agent is represented by the ablative in passive sentences and by the dative when used with gerundives. Only after reading an explanation in Allen and Greenough did the difference in semantics become clear to me. Gerundives are at heart expressions of what is necessary for a person to do and thus take the dative, unlike passives that have no such implications.

  1. There are many cognates and false friends among Latin, French, and English where you need to go back to the actual roots to understand the Latin. For example, every time I read "renuntiaverunt" in Caesar, I have to recall the root meanings of "re-" and "nuntio" to understand it as "reported back," rather than as "renounced." Similarly, I was wondering why "comparabat" didn't seem to have any relationship to "compare," and only when I looked it up did I realize that there were two different verbs with different etymologies and that the prefix "com" probably had different meanings as well. One verb is apparently related to "con- +‎ pār" ("something equal with") and the other to a perfective use of "con" and "paro" meaning "to produce" or "furnish" represented in the cognate "prepare."

  2. Both Latin and Japanese can be considered verb final languages. I find this slightly off-putting as a native English speaker, since it seems that sentences leave you hanging until the last word and even the last syllable. Japanese, however, is pretty rigidly verb final even in subordinate clauses and even the phrases are all head final. In Latin, the subordinate clauses are much more varied in structure and in word order, so you have to play close attention to the clues to figure out what is what.

I read a sentence like the following and wonder what semantic and syntactical clues I may have missed if I haven't understand it at sight (assuming I know enough of the vocabulary): "Compluribus navibus fractis, reliquae cum essent funibus, ancoris reliquisque armamentis amissis ad navigandum inutiles, magna, id quod necesse erat accidere, totius exercitus perturbatio facta est." (Somewhat literally, "With several of the ships broken, the rest, since they were, with the ropes, anchors, and remaining armaments lost, useless for sailing, great, as would necessarily happen, was made the consternation of the entire army.") Again, I find the discourse implications of the word order interesting in a language that otherwise seems much closer to English than Greek or Japanese.

  1. Not long ago, I became aware that some languages, like Quechua, make a fundamental use of evidentiality and was aware that French and German make limited use of such forms, especially in news reporting--the former using the conditional forms instead of the present tense and the latter using subjunctives instead of the regular indicative to avoid taking responsibility for facts asserted by others. In studying accusative and infinitive constructions, I became aware how extensive this type of evidentiality is in Latin. In addition to these constructions, I now see evidentiality concerns behind many of Latin uses of the subjunctive, for instance, in subordinate clauses in indirect speech. French does not use the subjunctive anywhere near as much as Latin.

  2. Having become more interested in etymology, I am fascinated by the links between words in English, Latin, Greek, and other languages I have studied. For instance, who knew that "arm," "arthritis," "aristocratic," "arma," "ars/artis," "ōrdō," ἄρτι, ἄρα, ἁρμονίᾱ, and even "archnid" may all be related by the semantics of "fitting (together)"? Since so many Latin words survive in English in one form or another, every word is a clue to a world of relationships. For example, recently, I was surprised to read about an etymology of the word "Latium" that related it to the word "latus" and the meaning "the region forming the side of the Apennine Mountains." Even if incorrect, it helps me remember the quantity of the "a" vowel, since it is short in the "latus" that means "side," unless, of course, I don't get the word confused with lātus meaning "broad" or "plain" and think the meaning is the "broad plain next to the Apennine Mountains.":-)

  3. I find the interlocking adjectives used in Latin poetry, and not, I think, in Attic poetry, quite interesting. An example is this first line of Horace's Ode 1.22:

Integer vitae scelerisque purus non eget Mauris iaculis neque arcu nec venenatis gravida sagittis, Fusce, pharetra,

The phrase "venenatis gravida sagittis [] pharetra ("a quiver with arrows, heavy with poisoned ones" or "a quiver heavy with poisoned arrows") has interlocking agreement with every other word going together. I find this very beautiful and even accentuated with the vocative word "Fusce" thrown in just before you can fully resolve the meaning with the final head word "pharetra." I don't think Greek poetry uses this device, but maybe I'm wrong.

  1. Lastly, although I much prefer Homer to Virgil, I find it easier to hear the rhythm of non-epic Latin poetry than non-epic Greek poetry because of the difference in pronunciation. At first I had to work at it, but I recently read a theory of Lyric poetry that made a lot of sense for me and made it easier to listen for the rhythm in the poetry and enjoy it more. I still have to work at the Greek lyric meter because the pronunciation is so different from English.

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