Learn Biblical Latin by reading the Vulgata

Lesson 4

fuit homo missus a Deo cui nomen erat Iohannes

New words:

  1. fuit - he/she/it has been. This is "esse" in the perfect tense form. As you learned before, the corresponding present tense form is "est" and the corresponding past tense form is "erat". The perfect tense is a way of expressing things that are complete ("perfect") by now. Its English equivalent are forms like "has done" or here "has been". That being said, the Latin and the English tense don't always match up and you'll sometimes have to translate it as simply "did" or "was".
  2. homo - human
  3. missus - sent
  4. a - by, from. This is a common shortening. The full word is "ab".
  5. cui - to whom
  6. nomen - name

In this verse you have seen yet another variation of "Deus". Let me give you an overview of what forms this word can have (in the singular) and what the difference between them is. It will serve as a paradigm.

FormCase nameTranslation
De-usNominativeGod (as a subject)
De-iGenitiveof God / God's
De-oDativeto God (as an indirect object or location)
De-umAccusativeGod (as a direct object or direction)
De-oAblativethrough God, with God, etc.

You can see I separated the ending from the word stem here. This is because these endings are the same for many words, not just "Deus". Latin nouns are grouped into classes ("declensions") by how they change their endings. For example, "lux" is also Nominative and it doesn't have the -us ending, and neither does "homo". If I didn't tell you that "homo" belonged to a different declension, you might even think that it is Dative or Ablative of something like "homus". This would considerably screw up your interpretation of the verse. So always take care to memorise what declension words are in. For now, you can memorise that both "Deus" and "Verbum" use the above paradigm, which is called the O-Declension.

The easiest way to learn a declension table like that is to pick a sample word from the declension, e. g. "deus", and to practise saying all forms of it in a row: "deus, dei, deo, deum, deo". Once you have done it a couple times you will develop a rhythm and the rhythm will help you memorise this string of words. Just be sure to always use the same order for the cases (Nominative first, Genitive second, etc.). Then if you see e. g. "deum" in the text you can whisper the string of words, notice it's 4th, so Accusative. After a while you will know automatically.

Here are some examples for how the word "Deus" can be used in different cases. Translate the following sentences and expressions and determine what case the word "God" has in them:

Knowing this, try to translate the verse:
fuit homo missus a Deo cui nomen erat Iohannes (Iohannes = John)

The translation is: There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

Congratulations, you have made it to the end of lesson 4!