Beginning Latin and Fundamentals of Latin Grammar

Mother of Divine Grace School uses the Beginning Latin and Fundamentals of Latin Grammar series to teach Latin to younger students. These books were written by Margaret Hayden, MODG's Director of Development. Margaret has many years of experience teaching Latin. Her program is unique because it is rules based. From the beginning, it presents the basic rules and patterns that underlie all of Latin grammar in a simple and straightforward manner. The Beginning Latin series does this principally through observation and memorization, while the Fundamentals of Latin Grammar series adds analysis, in keeping with the method of classical learning according to the stages of formation. We have found that the students who come out of this program are uniquely prepared for further Latin study, having performed excellently in Henle Latin and MODG's Advanced Latin program. These students understand how Latin works as a language and are able to tackle difficult translations by breaking them down into the constituent parts and applying their universal rules. We are so pleased to be able to present a program that lays an excellent foundation for later analysis and a deeper understanding of the concepts, while still attaining a firm grasp of the concepts in the short term.

Why I Developed This Series:

In the early 1900s an elementary grammar text came out which was really a precursor to Henle's Latin. In this text on elementary Latin, the author Franklin Potter stated an important truth about the study of language. Form and function are inseparable in language. For a student to truly master a language such as Latin, it is imperative that the student grasps both the form and function simultaneously. In fact, as I have delved deeper and deeper into Latin, I have realized this is an absolute truth. Latin forms do not make sense — they are random lists of meaningless terms — unless one understands how the endings function in the sentence. Once one can associate a form with a particular usage or type of usage, the form has meaning.

Thus, in this series, form and function are taught side by side. The challenge in developing this material was to make sure the function or syntax of Latin was taught at a level appropriate to the beginner. I have striven to be true to the reality of function while also keeping the distinctions basic. I have found that young students in the analytic stage (doing Fundamentals) are perfectly capable of understanding some more complex ideas, such as a division of the ablative and the many uses of the dative. They can identify the more complex uses of datives and ablatives in sentences as well, both Latin to English and English to Latin with great success. Understanding that these cases are broader in function than the narrow uses they learn in many beginning courses is helpful in understanding the true nature of the case.

A young student does needs to do regular drills with vocabulary and forms to help develop good habits, but this must not be the entirety of a course. When one is beginning Latin with a young student, the goal is to set the student up for success both by teaching forms and by learning how language functions. I remember so clearly as a young student myself doing the text Basic Language Principles through Latin Background and being thrilled to understand the connections between Latin and English. It was the first course I personally experienced that did not neglect function and it was, for that very reason, the most foundational material I ever did in Latin. Our Fundamentals program takes the same principles but adds "how to learn" directions. Beginning Latin starts at a more basic level, but sets the student up for a good understanding of language by teaching the student to identify the different uses of words in a sentence and their corresponding Latin forms.

That one needs to keep form and function together in Latin makes sense. In fact, the whole modern push towards conversational Latin is an attempt to reintroduce function, although often at the expense of form. Perhaps a good parallel to what we are trying to achieve in this area is the Wordly Wise vocabulary series. It is successful because it teaches words in context. Out of context, the meaning of words would be misunderstood quite regularly. A good example is the words "childish" and "childlike." They convey different ideas, yet are similar in meaning.

Further, it is clear that function in Latin is intimately tied to the study of philosophy. The Romans made their words work according to principles. They took into consideration the goal of language: to communicate a particular idea. For example, "to fear, "timor" is a deponent verb — that is, its forms are passive, while its meaning remains active: "I fear, you fear…". This gives us some insight into the meaning of "to fear": fearing is an inherently passive verb — something is causing you to fear. Latin takes this meaning into consideration when determining the grammatical rules for "timor." Thus, a consideration of what is done grammatically leads to a reflection on the nature of the world around us. Latin, done rightly, truly leads to good thinking skills, precision, as well as wonder and understanding.

It is my hope that this course will lead students to eventually excel in advanced Latin studies. Over my many years teaching, I had observed quite regularly that my advanced Latin students struggled with certain common issues. Thus, I decided to teach, early on, the concepts that later seemed to be troublesome, so that I could circumvent their difficulties. Simply making the third declension and third conjugation the most familiar was a huge breakthrough for most students. Also, making the rules for the changes in form clear to the students prevented many misapplications of rules. Knowing that in Latin "short e" changes to "i" before "r" or "n" is like learning in English that "i" comes before "e" except after "c" or when sounded as "a" as in "neighbor" or "weigh". It makes the language complex but systematic instead of chaotic. That's much better. At the end of this program, students can translate difficult Latin sentences by using their understanding of the underlying rules which govern language in general (parts of speech, mood, tense, etc.) and Latin in particular (conjugations, declension, agreement of words, etc.). They are ready for a challenging high school course.


My Latin Program is built with three long term goals in mind: 1) reading Latin; 2) improving critical thinking; and 3) developing precision in language. Some of the unique elements of this program are: