The word verbum means "word", but I want to find out whether it can also have the more specific meaning "verb" (as opposed to other kinds of words). Lewis and Short does not list "verb" among translations of verbum, but one of my dictionaries does. What is more important than dictionary entries, Varro uses verbum clearly in the sense of "verb":

De his Aristoteles orationis duas partes esse dicit: vocabula et verba, ut 'homo' et 'equus', et 'legit' et 'currit'.


Cum de his nomen sit primum (prius enim nomen est quam verbum temporale et reliqua posterius quam nomen et verbum), prima igitur nomina: quare de eorum declinatione quam de verborum ante dicam.

Varro, De lingua Latina 8

One English translation can be found here.

I would like to know how often verbum means "verb". Is this meaning restricted to Varro? Do other classical or later authors use it in this sense?

Some backstory (feel free to skip):

I asked about translating the word "vocabulary" for the purpose of tagging, and some of the suggestions involved the word verbum. I dislike the idea of using it for tagging, as it is so prone to misunderstanding. Whether or not it means "verb" in Latin, it is close to the verb word in many languages. And to some extent at least it does also mean "verb" in Latin. The purpose of this question is to find what that extent is.

Years ago I was in contact with an elderly Finnish Latinist who was regarded as one of the most fluent Latinists to have ever lived in Finland. One time he read a letter I had brought him out loud (as the email had not made it to him), and he corrected one word as he read: I had used verbum to mean "word", but he corrected it to vox.

Finally, let me remark that no Latin word seems to mean "word" without some added nuance. It seems that verbum is among the best general translations, but is not a perfect match with the English "word", either. But usually one of verbum, vox, vocabulum, glossa, or dictum will do the trick. (And perhaps I'm still missing a word or two.)


1 Answer 1


The OLD provides several examples of verba meaning "verb" (as opposed to vocabulum or nomen, "noun." Aside from two instances in Varro:

Hor.Ars 235; nec a ~is modo, sed ab nominibus quoque deriuata sunt quaedam, ut a Cicerone 'sullaturit' Quint. Inst. 8.3.32; in ~is...sermonis uis est 9.4.26; Vel.gram.in G.L.7.57; ut pro ~is habentibus patiendi figuram agentia ponerent Gel.18.12.1.

Also, Lewis & Short does indeed give the definition of "verb" for verbum under II.C. I quote in full:

C. In gram., a verb: “Aristoteles orationis duas partes esse dicit, vocabula et verba, ut homo et equus, et legit et currit, etc.,” Varr. L. L. 8, § 11 sq. Müll.; 9, § 95; 10, § 77 al.; Cic. de Or. 3, 49, 191.—

From Cicero and Varro to Aulus Gellius is at least 200 years, and Velius Longus provides an imperial grammarian locus for its use.

On the other hand, it also just means "word," too, such as when Cicero referred to mentula as id verbum (Ad Fam. 9.22.2; though he other times used nomen to refer to a noun).

  • But, is it only in a grammar context? Because "word" (any grammar role) and "noun" are quite different.
    – Quidam
    Nov 18, 2019 at 2:06
  • @Quidam Verbum can mean any word at all, verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc. When used in grammar, verbum is "verb" and nomen is "noun."
    – cmw
    Nov 21, 2019 at 4:17

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