In the "Libera me" prayer, the following verse is said:

Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna, in die illa tremenda
Quando cœli movendi sunt et terra
Dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.

There are similar phrases in other religious texts with the same ordering (element + plural verb + element). Examples from the Vulgata:

Tua est, Domine, magnificentia, et potentia, et gloria, atque victoria : et tibi laus : cuncta enim quae in caelo sunt, et in terra, tua sunt : tuum, Domine, regnum, et tu es super omnes principes.

quoniam quidem epistolae, inquiunt, graves sunt et fortes : praesentia autem corporis infirma, et sermo contemptibilis :

Qui autem fideles habent dominos, non contemnant, quia fratres sunt : sed magis serviant, quia fideles sunt et dilecti, qui beneficii participes sunt. Haec doce, et exhortare

I find the ordering of these phrases in bold "awkward", at least compared with other languages like English and Spanish, where it is (always?) "element + element + plural verb" or "verb + element + element". The phrases are of course perfectly fine, and the plurality of the verb tells you that it applies to both the preceding and the following elements. But, still.

Is there some particular function of such word order, that it is preferred to the "simpler" (more intuitive?) ordering "movendi sunt coeli et terra" or "coeli et terra movendi sunt"? Perhaps more poetic, or emphasising something? Actually, is the above ordering common at all, or are these rather exceptions?

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    I think there are some differences between these examples. Only the first ("cœli movendi sunt et terra") seems to have a subject "split" around the verb; the others have predicative adjectives or prepositional phrases, right? And "coeli" alone would warrant plural agreement on the associated verb, so I don't think any of the examples here shows a verb agreeing with a plural subject composed of singular nouns connected by "et" and placed before and after the verb. That would be interesting to see, though!
    – Asteroides
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:33
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    It seems that plural agreement is not actually always used with compound subjects when the nearest (I don't know whether order is relevant when there's one before and one after) of the coordinated nominative nouns is singular. "Latin: An Intensive Course" gives the example "Multi pueri parvi et una puella parva aderat" and "Bradley's Arnold Latin Prose Composition" gives the example "Et tu ades et frater tuus."
    – Asteroides
    Nov 12, 2018 at 16:00

1 Answer 1


I see a difference in tone between graves sunt et fortes and graves et fortes sunt. I would read graves et fortes sunt as "they are heavy and strong" (or perhaps "weighty" or "important" instead of "heavy"), and graves sunt et fortes as "they are heavy — and also strong". That is, adding the second subject after the verb makes it look more like a side remark.

However, when it comes to Biblical Latin, it is very much possible that some idiosyncrasies are inherited from Greek and Hebrew. I can't tell whether this is a case of such influences, but it does not strike me as weird within Latin. An unusual word order can be used to give emphasis.

The Latin word order is almost free, but certainly not irrelevant. There is such a thing as typical word order (like SOV in simple clauses). Deviations are a tool for style, emphasis, and metric flexibility.

  • So there is such thing as an "unusual" word order? Because one gets the impression that word order in Latin is totally irrelevant, as in almost random, and therefore nothing is per se usual.
    – luchonacho
    Nov 12, 2018 at 14:02
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    @luchonacho Fair question! I added a remark to my answer: The word order is not totally irrelevant. The order rarely affects semantics strongly, but sometimes it does.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 12, 2018 at 14:14

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