Pin Me

Translating Latin Adverbs into English

written by: John Garger • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 9/13/2013

Although Latin and English adverbs function similarly, each language has its own quirks and complications that make translation from one language to the other difficult for the Latin student. Learn how to recognize, form, and translate Latin adverbs.

  • slide 1 of 4

    Adverbs are those words found in both Latin and English that modify or further describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs often give students of both languages difficulties because it initially seems strange that a word can modify another modifying word such as an adjective or another adverb. Grasping this concept in English is the first step to understanding adverbs in another language such as Latin. Luckily, adverbs function similarly in both languages even though Latin’s adverbial forms differ greatly from English’s.

  • slide 2 of 4

    English Adverbs

    As stated above, English adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Adverbs can be broken down into several categories based on how they function in a sentence; in fact, they can be categorized by which question they answer.

    Adverbs of manner are used to answer the question “how” when modifying a verb, adjective, or another adverb. These adverbs are the most common type found in English and are easily identified by their”-ly” ending. For example:

    The girl answered the question intelligently.

    Notice that the adverb “intelligently” indicates “how” the girls answered the question. Also, notice that without the adverb, the sentence still has the same meaning:

    The girl answered the question.

    The adverb “intelligently” simply indicates “how” the question was answered.

    Adverbs can also indicate the degree of something, or its quantity and intensity. These types of adverbs answer “how much” or “how well.” For example:

    John greatly desires a hamburger.

    Notice that the adverb “greatly” indicates to what degree John desires the hamburger. Again, removing the adverb still leaves the same meaning of the sentence:

    John desires a hamburger.

    The adverb “greatly” simply answers to what degree the hamburger is desired.

    Adverbs also answer the question “when.” These adverbs indicate the time in which something happened, is happening, or is expected to happen. One of the most common adverbs that answers “when” is the adverb “soon.” For example:

    Soon John will eat a hamburger.

    Notice, as with previous adverbs, that the removal of the adverb “soon” leaves the meaning of the sentence the same. Notice also that the adverb need not be placed next to the word it modifies, in this case the verb “eat.”

    Another type of adverb answers the question “where.” For example:

    When Mary saw the ladder, she climbed down.

    The adverb “down” indicates the direction or to where Mary climbed. Although the sentence can stand on its own without the adverb:

    When Mary saw the ladder, she climbed

    the addition of the adverb makes it clear to the listener or reader to where (or in which direction) Mary climbed.

    The final type of adverb discussed here indicates frequency. For example:

    Mark rarely walks to work.

    As always, removal of the adverb leaves a perfectly formed and clear sentence. The adverb “rarely” simply indicates the frequency with which Mark walks to work.

    The English adverbs discussed above represent the majority of adverbs found in English. However, there are others that go beyond the scope of this article. Remember that adverbs always modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb by answering a questions such as “how,” “how much,” “how well,” “when,” “to what degree,” “where,” “how often,” etc.

  • slide 3 of 4

    Latin Adverbs

    Latin adverbs provide the Latin student with a reprieve from the usual need to memorize a Latin word’s gender, form, etc. Unlike other parts of speech, Latin adverbs are invariable. This means that they have one form and only one form regardless of the verb, adjective, or other adverb they modify. Most of Latin’s adverbs are formed by adding “-e” to the base of first- and second-declension adjectives such as:

    longe (the base of longus, -a, -um + -e)

    pulchre (the base of pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum + -e)

    nove (the base of novus, -a, -um + -e)

    Other adverbs are formed by adding “-iter” to the base of third-declension adjectives. One quirk of this convention occurs when then the third-declension adjective’s base ends in “-nt.” In this case, add only “-er” to the base. For example:

    fortiter (the base of fortis, -e + -iter)

    sapienter (the base of sapiens, -tis + er)

    Below are some example Latin sentences with properly formed adverbs:

    Caesar celeriter inimicum superavit. (Caesar swiftly defeated the enemy.)

    Caesar nove inimucum supervait (Caesar defeated the enemy in a novel manner.) (literally “newly” or “novely” but these words are not often found in modern English)

    Puer longe pilam coniecit. (The boy threw the ball far.)

    Femina pulchre carmen canit. (The woman sings the song beautifully.)

  • slide 4 of 4

    Conclusion

    Adverbs are those words found in both English and Latin that modify a verb, adjective, or even another adverb. They function to answers questions such as “how,” “how well,” “when,” “to what degree,” etc. Latin adverbs are not only easy to recognize because of their unique form, they do not decline as Latin nouns and adjectives; they are invariable, meaning they have only one form.

    To the beginning Latin student, this sounds like good news because an adverb in one sentence will have the same form as the same adverb in another sentence regardless of the verb, adjective, or other adverb it modifies. However, this becomes a problem in long sentences with multiple clauses. Recall that Latin word order is far less important than word order in English.

    To emphasize a word in a sentence, Latin speakers and writers have the freedom to move words to any place in a sentence. Without agreement in form, it can sometimes be difficult to identify the word an adverb modifies. The invariability of Latin adverbs is exactly what makes them problematic. Luckily, an adverb is usually found near the word it modifies. However, the Latin student must be prepared to overlook English’s word-order conventions to translate an adverb from Latin to English.


displayed