Learn Biblical Latin by reading the Vulgata

Lesson 3

In this lesson we'll analyse two more verses (John 1,4 and 1,5). The first will be a review of what you already know:
in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum

In order to translate this, you only need to know three new words:

  1. vita - life
  2. lux - light
  3. hominum - of men, of humans. This case that you translate using "of" is called "Genitive", we'll get back to it later.

Can you translate this short phrase now? It's a good indication of whether you memorised the words from the previous lessons…
The phrase means "In him was life and the life was the light of men".

The next verse is a little more challenging:
et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt

New words :

  1. tenebrae - darkness. This word is always plural in Latin, nobody knows why.
  2. lucet - shineth. Note the -t ending, which indicates the 3rd person singular (he / she / it) again.
  3. eam - her. This is the Accusative form of "ea"(she). Singular nouns in the Accusative case usually ends in -m - compare to "deum".
  4. non - not. In Latin, turning a sentence into its opposite is as easy as adding the word "non", whereas in English students have to struggle with "aren't", "isn't", "don't", "didn't", "won't", etc.
  5. conprehenderunt - they comprehended. The English word is quite close to the Latin one here. Also note the -nt ending again, which tells you that the verb is 3rd person plural and has to fit to "they", just like "sunt".

If you now try to translate this sentence, you will get something like "and light shineth in the darkness and the darkness they didn't comprehend her". This doesn't sound as coherent as it should. The reason: two little annoyances.

First, "eam"(her) refers to the light. Yes, "lux"(light) was considered female, in a way. In Latin, all nouns have a gender assigned to them. It can be either male, female or neuter. Since the words (like "light") aren't actually male or female, just treated as such by the grammar, we use the terms "masculine" for "male" nouns and "feminine" for "female" nouns. This way, it is possible to say that "pirata"(pirate) is feminine but the pirate isn't female. "Lux"(light) is a feminine noun, "deus"(God) is masculine and "verbum"(word) is neuter. When referring to "lux" in Latin, you have to say "she", even though English is right to say "it". Unfortunately, genders of Latin nouns are pretty much random, same as in other languages that have noun genders, such as French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Second, "tenebrae"(darkness) is always plural, without there being any reason for it, and the verb always has to follow suit: if the subject (the actor) of a sentence is plural, or grammatically appears to be, the verb always has to be plural, too, and you'll see the 3rd person plural (they) instead of the 3rd person singular (it).

Knowing this, you can make a meaningful sentence out of "et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt".

It is: "and light shineth in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it".

This is the end of lesson 3.