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Teach Yourself Latin?

Ancient History

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Jan 16, 2011, 9:53am Top

Does anyone have suggestions for books, courses, online resources to teach yourself Latin? I'd like to learn to read and - yes - speak Latin but I have neither the time or money to take a formal course.


Jan 16, 2011, 10:49am Top

Frederic M. Wheelock's Wheelock's Latin is a standard text book.

Have you been following Garp83's struggles with Greek? Just like Greek, Latin works very differently from English, so if you don't have some grounding in grammatical terms, it's very difficult to get your head around what's going on. Garp83 can probably advise you better on this aspect than I can. However, I've found John Warriner's Handbook of English helpful for grammar terms.

Both Wheelock and Warriner can usually be found inexpensively used. We have the newish 6th revised ed. of Wheelock which mentions an official website www.wheelockslatin.com. The preface also indicates that they anticipate that some people will be using the book without a teacher.

Jan 16, 2011, 11:30am Top

Thanks. In fact Garp83 was one of my inspirations and as was the thread on learning Greek. Your tip on grammatical terms is welcome, too. I remember nouns, verbs, etc. but even in school I was overwhelmed by grammar terminology such as "transitive verbs".

Jan 16, 2011, 12:45pm Top

Yep, Wheelock's is the standard textbook, but it's also designed as a teach-yourself book too, so it would be perfect for you.

I would also second the notion of getting some kind of grammar handbook foryourself too if you need to brush up on the terms and whatnot. Luckily I had a good grounding in grammar early in my education, but I realize that for most people born after the 50s, it wasn't generally a high priority in schools :-D

Jan 16, 2011, 3:14pm Top

The people who offer the online course for Greek I am taking also offer Latin. Not expensive. You should check it out.


Jan 16, 2011, 5:36pm Top

Thanks, Feicht and Garp, for your suggestions. I wish I were so young that I could blame an inadequate school system. No, my teachers tried valiantly in grade school and high school but I was a sneaky son of a gun. I was good enough at other things in class that I compensated for my mediocre understanding of the finer points of grammar.

I think I'll begin with the Wheelock and work from there.

Again, thanks!

Jan 16, 2011, 11:01pm Top

I don't necessarily agree with him, but here's one professor's take on Wheelock:

Suppose you want to make sure that, no matter how many years you put into studying Latin, you'll never be able to really "read" a sentence. Is there a recipe for disaster here?

There is.

Here's how to do it: (1) begin studying from
Wheelock's Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors, (2) following the book, learn little snippets of Latin grammar, always moving around among categories so that you're thoroughly confused -- e.g., study a couple of verb forms the first week, then learn a noun declension, then learn a different verb tense, then move to adjectives -- and (3) make sure that your reading consists of short sentences taken from Latin authors about how the Romans hated money.

This way, you can make sure that you'll never be able to read Latin even if you study it for forty years. It passes the time.

Jan 17, 2011, 12:45am Top

If you're set on learning Latin outside of a classroom, then Lingua Latina: Part I: Familia Romana (Latin Edition) isn't the worst way to do it. You won't find as many online resources for the Ørberg book as you will for Wheelock, but you shouldn't need them. outside of a book, there are Latin fora, dictionaries and even chatrooms from which you can get help when the textbook isn't making sense.

Jan 17, 2011, 1:16am Top

I am actually trying to do the same -- using three different textbooks - Robert J. Henle's Latin Year 1, Wheelock's Latin and Yale University Learn to Read Latin - I learned the hard way that I can learn languages but I usually get bored with any program - so having more than one at the same time helps a lot :)

Henle is the closest to what I found the best way for me to learn English - we were bouncing from one program to another but the old-fashioned 50s style textbooks helped me the most (usually combined with a second program that was getting all in a bit different order). Wheelock also has some of these features and the Yale class is a modernized version of the style (or the parts of the style that I like).

Lingua Latina is probably the way for me to make sure I never learn Latin - I know the modern theories and so on but that way of learning had never worked for me - I am more a "Give me the grammar and don't make me guess it and learn expressions by heart" type of learner :)

Jan 17, 2011, 8:12am Top

I'm not sure what the professor quoted in 7 thinks is a better way to learn. If you don't move around among parts of speech, you're stuck with memorizing and not being able to read anything at all.

Though I suppose it makes the point that after the first lesson on a part of speech, you haven't learned all there is to know. You will return again and again to noun and verb forms until you learn all the tenses and cases in all the regular and irregular forms. And other grammar points have subtle things that need to be mastered. So it's important when returning to review what you already know and see how what you're learning this time fits into the whole.

Jan 17, 2011, 11:13am Top

My prof complained about Wheelock too, but I think it was mostly because he hates Cicero, whereas Wheelock must be getting paid by Cicero's estate, based on the overwhelming number of that man's quotations he uses ;-P

Jan 17, 2011, 2:05pm Top

"overwhelming number of (Ciceroʻs) quotations he uses. . ."

I donʻt know much about Wheelock, but the
"data base" available to anyone who wants to
use quotations from the Late Republic/Early Empire is very skewed, quantitatively, in favor of Cicero;
so W. may have done that inadvertently. The chances are that anyone browsing for quotations will come upon a Ciceronian rather than a non-Ciceronian quote.
Cicero is one of the few authors in all of Latin Literature that can be called "voluminous". Pliny the elder (much less-read) is another. Most of the other great names of the era can be fitted into one not very large volume.

Edited: Jan 17, 2011, 5:20pm Top

If you want a good grounding in some of the basic grammar before you start Wheelock, I found Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age to be very useful.

It only covers the first and second declensions, the first (and second maybe) conjugations (indicative present active only) and adjectives of the first and second declensions. There are numerous exercises which allow you to become familiar with each element before moving on and you can also download accompanying audio for each lesson.

It certainly won't get you speaking or reading much Latin, but it gives you a fairly straight forward introduction to most of the grammatical terms and concepts.

Edit to force touchstone

Jan 17, 2011, 6:41pm Top

Thanks, TineOliver, I've added your suggestion to my wishlist with the Wheelock's.

Jan 17, 2011, 6:49pm Top

Roland, I was just being facetious ;-D I know that Cicero was one of the most prolific Latin writers, not to mention the only one with such an extant written record of work.

Jan 17, 2011, 9:17pm Top

Listening to Robin Lane Fox's intro to a talk on Mithradates, I remember him saying - with some regret - that had Mithradates defeated Rome, we'd have been spared having to read Cicero...

Jan 18, 2011, 1:25am Top

I'm coming late to this discussion, but I did want to throw my two cents in for Wheelock. I took Latin several decades ago in junior high -- see, I'm aging myself already, that was back when they actually HAD junior high. At any rate, I decided I'd like to brush up and move forward, because I seem to run into Latin quotes with great regularity in my reading.

I really like Wheelock. I'm up to chapter 27 of 40. At this point, I'd like to find someone to check my translations, now that things are getting a bit more complex. But that's for another discussion.

At least for half the book, if you have a good grounding in grammar, as others have said, you can't go wrong with Wheelock. And his explanations are about as clear as any I've seen in a language textbook.

Good luck. I say dive right in!

Jan 18, 2011, 3:00am Top

There is actually a resource online where someone has all the answers to Wheelock, but I forget what it was called. Maybe someone else here can enlighten us...

Jan 18, 2011, 10:03am Top

Have a look at:

English Grammar for Students of Latin by Norma Goldman. You can preview it online at Amazon. It will give you a good conceptual framework for the study of Latin.

This book is part of a series by Olivia & Hill Press. Each volume reviews English grammatical constructs that we use daily and links them to their counterparts in the target language. Though I have never used the Latin volume, I have found others in the series to be very useful.

I would recommend keeping a copy nearby for reference throughout your study of Latin.

Jan 18, 2011, 11:22am Top

LadyMondegreen, Thanks for the tip. I'll add it to my wish list.

Edited: Jan 18, 2011, 12:05pm Top

Keller and Russell's Learn to Read Latin is likely to be more expensive than Wheelock's, but it's vastly superior as an incremental grammar-based approach.

Oh, and >18 Feicht:, no one has "all the answers to Wheelock," because the myriad revisions are partly intended to keep out in front of that sort of activity. Revisions also have the more urgently-desired effect of routinely obsoleting the book so students have to buy new copies instead of used ones, and the miserable byproduct of introducing new errors on a regular basis.

Jan 18, 2011, 3:07pm Top

Doesn't Wheelock have that odd, mixed-up scheme of declensions? The vocative following the nominative, and some other changes... Messed up my head when I was helping a kid here with his homework.

We were taught nom., gen., dat., acc., voc., loc. abl. Anyone know something about different traditions concerning this?

Jan 18, 2011, 3:56pm Top

"different traditions concerning (how text books present) declensions. . ."

My high school text (I donʻt remember the authorʻs name) had a one-sentence disclaimer for the vocative case: "The vocative is LIKE the NOMINATIVE, and will not be taken up as a separate case." (Emphasis added.) Later, they had to, somewhat embarrassedly, make mention of it, cursorily (and perhaps cursing) as being, in fact different in the 2nd declension. (The 2 voc. endings -e --as in "Et tu BrutE" -- and -i (long i). The locative also was not considered on ongoing case-occurrence in any declension.
Minus "voc." and "loc.", we were taught the cases in the same order as you say (22).

Iʻm told that the ablative was the first to
disappear. It is so often identical with the dative that Iʻm not sure most Romans of Ciceroʻs era were aware of which they were using. There were grammarians -- Julius Caesar is said to be one of them-- but the great age of Grammar came later. The accusative provided the origin of most nouns in the Latin-derived modern languages.
To me, a dictionary listing of the nominative, followed by the ACCUSATIVE, rather than by
genitive would make sense, but I was brought up on Nom. followed by gen.

Jan 18, 2011, 5:04pm Top

Interestingly, I was brought up on Nominative followed by Genitive, being told that it was from the Genitive that most Latin-derived words ultimately come from.

Edited: Jan 18, 2011, 5:19pm Top

Interesting, Roland and Feicht. So where did the Wheelock sequence originate? I thought that was probably the English tradition.

In case it's not clear what I meant, the declension for puella,-ae, n.s. would be given like this in my schoolbooks:

1. Nom. puella
2. Gen. puellae
3. Dat. puellae
4. Acc. puellam
5. Voc. puella!
6. Abl. puella

rosa, rosae, rosae, rosam, rosa, rosa etc.

Modern European languages with declensions also follow this one, no?

Jan 18, 2011, 5:17pm Top

" . . .it was from the genitive that most Latin-derived words ultimately come." (24)

Itʻs more historically accurate to say that they come from the accusative, because the gen. disappeared earlier (being substituted for by
phrases with "De...." (about, concerning and,increasingly "of" was the ordinary-speech meaning of "de" (long e)).
For practical purposes of learning, it makes little difference whether you follow the structure of the genitive or of the accusative, as they follow the same patterns.

Jan 18, 2011, 5:39pm Top

Fair enough :-)

And Lola, that is the order in which I was taught Latin and Greek (and English, for that matter). I never could figure out why I had such trouble with German grammar until I realized my teachers had been using a different order! (I think it was N/A/D/G... but I'm not sure). At university in Austria however my professors use the "right" way that I was taught, and things magically make much more sense :-D

Jan 18, 2011, 5:48pm Top


Exactly, it's quite confusing. I'm used to languages with declensions, but if you asked me to roll one off in a different case sequence, I'd have to stop and think at each one...

Jan 18, 2011, 8:09pm Top

i seem to remember one of our latin lecturers last year mentioning this and saying that the nom-gen-dat-abl order was used in america, taken from german grammarians whereas the n-a-g-d-a-v was the more usual european methodology, going back to ancient grammarians. This seems to fit with Feicht's experience.

Gildersleeve & Lodge and Allen & Greenough’s mostly use N.G.D.Ac.(V.)Ab,
which the Donatus on thelatinlibrary also seems to use.
Langensheidts & Pons Lateinisch-Deutsch dicos have N.(V.)G.D.Ac.Ab

kennedy’s and the Collins (british) use N.V.Ac.G.D.Ab, and a french reader of Phaedrus i have lying about seems to use N.Ac.G.D.Ab.

I learned NAGDAV which is handy, because my name’s Dave and I need nagging to study.

Jan 18, 2011, 10:26pm Top


Er, the opposite, I think. I was educated in Europe; and never saw the "nagdav" until coming to North America (actually, until looking into a Wheelock...)

European languages with declensions all, to my knowledge, follow the nom., gen., dat., acc., voc., loc. abl. (although some have fewer or more cases than the Latin).

For instance, the German case sequence is nom., gen., dat., acc.

This is why I think Wheelock's system is ultimately confusing, although it may not matter to those who only wish to learn Latin.

Edited: Jan 18, 2011, 10:42pm Top

Come to think of it, making the accusative the
case to follow the nominative carries one ambiguity: in 2nd decl. neuters the acc. is THE SAME as the nominative. So the order: "Bellum, Belli" (where GEN. is the next following) is better than the order "Bellum, Bellum" (where ACC. is the next following.)

In Greek there is also this peculiarity of neuters:. A plural seems to be "less Plural" than a masc. or fem. plural is. And itʻs perfectly all right for a neuter plural noun to have a singular verb. Iʻm told this situation exists in many
Indo-European languages, at one stage or another, including some dialects of English.

Jan 19, 2011, 1:13am Top


so your wheelock uses NAGDAV? mine has NGDAAV (4th ed.)

Jan 19, 2011, 1:35am Top

A much older text that I've been using along side Wheelock is Latin for Beginners by D'Ooge. It uses NGDAA in its declension table. Voctave and Locative are given separate sections in the book, but not presented in any of the declension tables throughout.

But I have to say, I'm a little bit confused about this conversation about declension order - does it really matter unless you're actually giving the whole declension for a particular noun? To gain fluency, you should be able to identify where (for example) the dative plural is being used without thinking about the whole declension.

Jan 19, 2011, 7:26am Top

10: if you follow the link, he tells you what he thinks is better. (FWIW, my favourite language text ever is Hansen and Quinn's Greek: An Intensive Course, which Dowling would probably dislike a little less than Wheelock just because it doesn't jump around as much. But having some longer and more meaningful sentences, like the stories in Lingua Latina (or Athenaze, in Greek) would be a big improvement. The exercise sentences are often somewhat cryptic with no context, and the longer readings often too difficult, at least for those trying to learn on their own)

Jan 19, 2011, 7:47am Top

>29 binders:: That might explain why my "German" German grammar education didn't make any sense, but my "Austrian" German does (That is to say, if the two areas handle it differently). Though at this point I feel compelled to point out that the idea that real Austrians speak the German language is in fact a myth ;-D

>30 LolaWalser:: My Wheelock (and my earlier education in Latin in secondary school) went in NGDAA order, actually; for ME it wasn't until actually trying to "learn" German grammar that I encountered a different order!

I guess we all have different experiences :-)

Jan 19, 2011, 9:53am Top

I've replaced my Wheelock (third edition I think? Second?) with an older text by Moreland-Fisher (as I only wanted something to help along when tutoring English kids), precisely because the order of the cases was confusing me.

But I just looked into the Humez brothers' Latina pro populo and they stick the vocative immediately under the nominative too, displacing the genitive into the third spot.

So "rosa" would decline through rosa, rosa, rosae, rosae, rosam, rosa--havoc!

We were taught to always give nouns with nominative, genitive and gender (rosa, rosae, femininum etc.), so learning declensions in ngdaava order seems the most natural.


Very strange! I don't have any German Latin textbooks at the moment, but I've never seen any except with the ngdaava order.

Jan 19, 2011, 9:57am Top

For what it's worth, German Wiki on Latin has it ngdaava:


Curiousior et curiousior.

Edited: Jan 19, 2011, 10:58am Top

Maybe everyone has wisened up, with only the producers of German textbooks in America lagging behind the times ;-D

EDIT: I also feel the strong need to further reiterate my earlier stance about Austrians not knowing German... haha... today someone tried to convince me that the town I currently live in is called "Soibl." That's right, Soibl... spelled out S-A-L-Z-B-U-R-G. Hahaha

Jan 19, 2011, 3:18pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jan 19, 2011, 3:46pm Top

The UK system is as follows:

Nom. servus
Voc. serve
Acc. servum
Gen. servi
Dat. servo
Abl. servo

Nom. τονος
(Voc. τονε
Acc. τονον
Gen. τονου
Dat. τονωι

Nom. der
Acc. den
Gen. des
Dat. dem

Nom. baitun
Acc. baitan
Gen. baitin

Nom. школа
Acc. шкопу
Gen. школы
Dat. школе
Inst. школей
Prep. школе
(I have seen instrumental and prepositional reversed)

This is why when you buy Athenaze or the Cambridge Latin Course, for example, you need to know whether you're buying the UK or US/North American edition, as the case orders do differ (and it feels just so wrong to us to have genitive second!)

Jan 19, 2011, 4:09pm Top

Ah, the UK. I thought it would be some Anglo deviltry!

and it feels just so wrong to us to have genitive second!

But why? After all, the dictionaries have it "nominative, genitive (suffix)..." it seems so counter-intuitive to introduce a different case order when declining.

Jan 19, 2011, 4:22pm Top

Okay so it is the fault of the British... just like everything else!!!

hehehe jk ;-D

Edited: Jan 19, 2011, 5:05pm Top

Put like that, LolaWalser, I see a case for the US system, but our system seems so much more logical to us - naturally, since we've used it since childhood. Subject Object then the complex stuff. I take it that German and Russian are done with accusative in different places?

I've just looked up everything I can find at arms length, and see that my Langenscheidt German German grammar prefers:
Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen.

My three German grammars of Armenian (two in German, one in Latin) differ, but like:

Gen. or Dat.
Dat. or Gen.

From which I took it that German order is like the British but Gen and Dat reversed. But you say it's not, LolaWalser. And I see that Brockelmann's Arabic grammar uses the order Nom. Gen. Akk.

All very confusing! At least the British system is consistent across languages!

I can't find my pocket Greek grammar in Italian, but vaguely think it differed slightly from the UK.

(And one of those Wheelocks must be a UK edition.)

Jan 19, 2011, 5:04pm Top

>39 Feicht:: Soibl vs Salzberg.

My home town is Bawlamir or Bawldamir, known to the rest of the world as Baltimore.

And speaking of the dastardly British, years ago I was horrified when I listened to a British recording of American Civil War songs and heard them cheerily sing, "Mare-ee--land, my Mare-ee-land", when the proper way to sing it is "Mare-rill-lynn, my Mare-rill-lynn".

Edited: Jan 19, 2011, 5:19pm Top

Oh, come to Gloucester (/'glos.ta/) or, notoriously, Cirencester (/'si.si.sta/, though many pronounce it as spelled). Or visit Belvoir (/'bi.va/) Castle. Though US names based on Indian names are unguessable and are almost as hard as Irish or Scottish Gaelic names (and about as romantic-sounding).

Jan 19, 2011, 5:17pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jan 20, 2011, 12:54am Top

Hehe... fair enough!

Jan 20, 2011, 1:23am Top

my Langenscheidt German German grammar prefers:
Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen.

Well, that's ganz verrückt. My Duden Grammatik (1995) and my Wahrig have nom. gen. dat. akk., and I can't right now look up others--time for bed. Isn't Langenscheidt's more of a general language-teaching-stuff seller, rather than a scholarly one? Or, is it possible the stuff sold in UK, say, is prepared in conformation with the UK usage?

I think Feicht (currently in Germany?) ought to pop into a bookshop and check some schoolbooks for us... :)

Jan 20, 2011, 5:27am Top

Haha... well, I'm in Austria currently... but my Langenscheidt (it is actually an English dictionary, but yeah...) has the "correct" way: N-G-D-A :-D

Jan 20, 2011, 6:49am Top

Is your Langenscheidt one you brought over with you from the States, Feicht, or one you bought locally?

Jan 20, 2011, 12:04pm Top

I bought it at Rupertusbuchhandlung right here in scenic "Soibl", Österreich ;-D

Edited: Jan 23, 2011, 2:00pm Top

For a well-written introduction to the history and development of the Latin language I warmly recommend A Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson. Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler is also interesting (albeit in a sligthly more dry semi-academic style).

I always wanted to learn Latin myself. The teach-yourself Latin software package from Rosetta Stone (http://www.rosettastone.co.uk/learn-latin) is excellent!
For self-learning book, I would definately recommend the Cambridge Latin Course series, unit 1-5.

Jan 23, 2011, 2:23pm Top

I have the Janson and Ostler books. I haven't read the former, but I enjoyed the latter, even though it was a bit tough going once he got out of the classical period and into the medieval churchy period, which.... I am "not exactly interested in", to be politic about it :-P

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