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I'm a very new Latin learner - I'm using Lingua Latina as my primary text to become fluent in reading (with the 'college' supplement and other texts for additional clarification).

I'm on chapter 6 (line number 20), and there is a sentence that I can not quite figure out:

Iulius ab oppido ad villam suam it.

The text is describing our hero Iulius (male) as traveling along Roman roads from the town to his villa. But I'm not sure I understand why 'suam' is there in the feminine form? Is it not HIS villa?

Thanks for the help!

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    Well-asked question. Welcome to the site! – brianpck Dec 2 '16 at 18:48
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    I wonder about the text if this didn't come up until Chapter 6. I admire any effort to learn any language, but you might want to do a rolling review of the material covered so far. – user3131341 Dec 3 '16 at 0:59
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    @user3131341, I converted your answer into a comment because it did not answer the question. I suggest you take a look at our tour. Welcome to the site! If you have questions about Latin or answers to existing questions, go ahead and post them. – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 4 '16 at 11:00
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    @user3131341 - Lingua Latina is a particular textbook designed for total language emersion (no 'support' language), and the 'chapters' are rather short latin texts meant to introduce grammar and vocabulary. The passages (at least in the first part of the book) consist of 3 - 4 pages. As you can imagine, 'Chapter 6' is still very basic language, just touching on passive voice for the first time, etc. – Dave Johnson Dec 4 '16 at 16:26
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    @user3131341 Part of the glory of Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata is that it doesn't explain very much about this kind of thing. The book is written entirely in Latin; you infer both vocabulary and grammar from context. So, it is only natural, and indeed an essential part of the learning process, to occasionally find yourself puzzled about things like this. Usually the answer dawns on you after a while, but it's wise to ask a question when you're stuck, too. (FWIW, I recommend completely eschewing all the English-language supplementary materials.) – Ben Kovitz Dec 7 '16 at 6:53
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This is a really common stumbling block for those approaching Latin from the background of a language like English, so it merits a careful step-by-step explanation. I'll break my response into two steps:

  1. Adjectives agree in case, number, and gender with the noun they modify.
  2. Suus, -a, -um is an adjective.

Adjectives agree with their nouns

Let's start by looking at a simple adjective that doesn't have the "baggage" of an antecedent, like suus. I'll take bonus ("good").

Here are some examples of bonus used with nouns. I will purposely use nouns from the 1st and 2nd declensions to avoid confusion:

  1. Filius bonus ad villam it. - The good son goes to the villa.
  2. Filius ad villam bonam it. - The son goes to the good villa.
  3. Filius domini boni ad villam it. - The son of the good lord goes to the villa.

In this, and all other cases, the adjective bonus agrees in case, number, and gender with the noun it modifies.

Suus is an adjective

Here comes the tricky part: suus, -a, -um functions as a completely normal adjective, just like bonus. Here are some examples:

  1. Filius dominum suum amat - The son loves his lord.
  2. Filia dominum suum amat. - The daughter loves her (!) lord.
  3. Dominus filias suas amat. - *The lord loves his daughters.

Here's the point: the case ending is determined by the thing possessed, not the possessor. The possessor is indicated by the choice of personal pronoun. If its reflexive 3rd person, it will be suus. If it's first-person singular, it will be meus; 1st-person plural, noster; etc.

Hopefully that clears it up a little. Note that this is the exact same as in many other Romance languages, e.g. French: "Il aime sa fille."

  • thank you so much for the comprehensive coverage. This kind of help is really appreciated - I feel like I've gotten a much better grasp on the concept. Thank you for taking the time to write this up! – Dave Johnson Dec 4 '16 at 16:29
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And a little more research shows the answer:

"The choice of gender is determined by the noun possessed, and not by the gender of the person who possesses the object."

So it is HIS villa, but the possessed noun is feminine, ergo the form of the pronoun is feminine. Got it! I must have missed that bit.

Thanks to all that look. I for one really appreciate this resource and all the great answers!

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Consider this a supplement to @brianpck's answer. This is an explanation of why making the possessive pronoun agree with the thing possessed and not the possessor makes sense in Latin.

Agreement

In Latin, as in all languages, we are mainly concerned with linking things we are talking about with concepts that describe them. This happens in two ways: asserting a claim about something, and narrowing down what you're referring to by combining it with another concept. A sentence asserts some predicate of its subject: "Mārcus ridet" asserts of Marcus, the subject, that he is laughing, the predicate. In "Fīlius improbus rīdet", improbus distinguishes one son from the other. To understand a sentence, we have to know which modifier goes with which modified thing. This is the job of grammar.

In English, we mostly depend on word order to link a modifier with what it modifies, but in Latin this is done mainly by grammatical agreement between them. In this sentence:

Iūlius ex hortō silēns vēnit.

silēns, in the nominative case, agrees with Iūlius. So, it means "Julius, silent, came out of the garden." In this sentence:

Iūlius ex hortō silēnte vēnit.

silēnte, in the ablative case, agrees with hortō. So, it means "Julius came out of the silent garden."

To "get" Latin, you have to train yourself to track grammatical agreement until eventually it becomes unconscious. It takes a while, but notice that English exploits grammatical agreement, too, so you already have some experience with this approach. Notice the difference between "John and Stephen met Henry after he was sentenced" and "John and Stephen met Henry after they were sentenced." Grammatical agreement in English is mostly limited to subjects agreeing in number and person with their verbs, and pronouns agree in number and case with their antecedents. In Latin, nouns also agree with their adjectives, in number, case, and gender. These are things that you use for clarity and expressiveness.

Possessive pronouns

If a possessive pronoun—a modifier—agreed not with the thing possessed but with the possessor, it would throw grammatical agreement into confusion. That's probably hard to believe if you're confused now, but here's why it would result in more confusion. What happens if the possessor and the thing possessed have different cases?

Iūlius mihi clāvēs suārum lectīcārum dedit. (Julius gave me the keys to his sedans.)

If we tried to change the grammar so the possessive pronoun agreed with the possessor, what would suārum change to? Iūlius is singular, nominative, and masculine, so suus would be needed to agree with it. But lectīcārum is plural, genitive, and feminine, requiring suarum.

What are you going to do? The only reasonable way, which doesn't suffer constantly from internal contradictions, is to make the possessive pronoun agree with the thing it modifies—the thing possessed—in all three ways: number, case, and gender. If you're constantly tracking grammatical agreement in order to follow a sentence, agreeing with the possessor would feel like a bizarre exception—a confusing inconsistency.

This is particularly important when using non-standard word order to make a point or shift emphasis:

Iūlius mihi clāvēs lectīcārum dedit suārum. (Julius gave me the keys to his sedans.)

Nōn Aemiliae Iūlius mihi clāves lectīcārum dedit sed suās. (It wasn't Emily's keys to the sedans that Julius gave me, but his.)

Se

Here's one other clue that helps: the possessive pronouns in suus are adjectival forms of the reflexive pronoun se, which means "himself, herself, itself". If you let the s remind you of se, you'll be in the Latin groove even without thinking about what should modify what. Of course suam in "villam suam" refers to Iulius: he's the subject of the verb.

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