Learn Biblical Latin by reading the Vulgata

Lesson 8

In the last lesson, we left off at (Iohannes) non erat ille lux sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine. Now, the idea of the light is picked up again: erat lux vera quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in mundum

in principio creavit Deus caelum et terram

That looks easy enough, only a few new words:

  1. creavit – he created
  2. caelum, caeli – sky, heaven
  3. terra, terrae – earth, land, ground, soil

“terram” is the singular Accusative of “terra”. You can see the characteristic –m (here: -am) ending. “terra” belongs to a declension called A-Declension because the Nominative Singular of this declension always ends in –a. All words in this declension are feminine. In vocabulary lists, I will now always indicate a Genitive ending in –ae to confirm to you that words ending in –a belong to the A-Declension. The declension is entirely regular, there are no weird stem changes.

Can you translate this first verse? in principio creavit Deus caelum et terram In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

Now for the next verse: terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas

There are quite a few more unknown words in this one, but not very difficult ones:

  1. autem – however
  2. inanis – void
  3. vacuus, vacua, vacuum – empty (think of the English word “vacuum”)
  4. super – above, over (a superman has abilities above those of a human)
  5. faciem – face (Accusative singular)
  6. abyssus, abyssi – abyss, chasm, hell
  7. spiritus – spirit, breath
  8. ferebatur – he/she/it moved
  9. aqua, aquae – water (aquas is the Accusative plural)

There is one more concept I need to further clarify before you are ready to translate this verse: the one of adjectives. As I already explained before, adjectives belong to a declension just like nouns. However, adjectives always have to adapt to the noun that they determine, so you can tell which adjective belongs to which noun. For this, they take the same case and number (e. g. Accusative singular) as their noun, but also the same gender. Adjectives of the A- and O-Declension take the masculine O-Declension endings for masculine nouns like “Deus”, feminine A-Declension endings for feminine nouns like “aqua” and neuter O-Declension endings for neuter nouns like “Verbum”.


In practise, this means that they have exactly the same ending as the noun they accompany if that noun belongs to the A- or O-Declension. For example: “Deo sancto”, “aquam sanctam”, “Verbum sanctum”. When they accompany a Consonantic noun however, the endings may not look similar, only analysis will reveal that they belong to the same case, number and gender (CNG). For example: “nomen sanctum”, “hominem missum” or “lux vera”.
In order to identify an adjective of the A- and O-Declension in the vocabulary, I will provide 3 forms: masculine, feminine and neuter, which should end in -us, -a and –um. Now for the verse:

terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi (erant) et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas

Once you know all the words, the translation isn’t hard at all : the earth however was void and empty and darkness was over the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved over the waters.

As an exercise, translate all noun-adjective combinations that were given as examples above. Also identify the case, number and gender (CNG) .




- Deo sancto = holy God (Dative singular masculine)
- aquam sanctam = holy water (Accusative singular feminine)
- Verbum sanctum = holy Word (Nominative or Accusative singular neuter)
- nomen sanctum = holy name (Nominative singular neuter)
- hominem missum = sent man/human (Accusative singular masculine)
- lux vera = true light (Nominative singular feminine)

This is the end of lesson 7.