Have questions about Latin prepositions? This post will tell you everything you need to know!
I will start by defining what a preposition is and giving a few examples in English. Then I will move on to Latin examples and how they work. And, at the end, you can even download a list of the most common Latin prepositions!
(Are you already familiar with the concept of prepositions, prepositional phrases, and objects of the preposition? If so, then you can jump down to the section on using prepositions in Latin.)
What is a preposition?
First of all, time for a definition. A preposition is a word that explains the relationship of a noun (or pronoun) to another part of the sentence.
This relationship can be spatial, directional, or temporal, among other things. But before the terminology becomes too confusing, let’s look at a few English examples.
The prepositions are in bold in the following sentences.
The house is in Italy.
I received a letter from my dad.
They left after the show.
I cried because of the conversation.
In the first sentence, the preposition in describes how the house (a noun) relates to Italy (another noun). Similarly, in the second sentence, the preposition from explains the relationship between my dad (a noun) and the letter (another noun).
In the last two sentences, the prepositions express a noun’s relationship to the action of the verb. After describes how the show relates to the leaving, while because of explains how the conversation triggered the crying.
Now you have an idea of what prepositions look like in English. Note that in English, a single preposition can consist of multiple words. Examples are because of, on account of, for the sake of, etc.
Latin prepositions are typically only one word.
What is a prepositional phrase?
If you remember from above, I defined a preposition as a word that expresses the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and another part of the sentence. This means that a preposition is always accompanied by a noun (or pronoun).
This noun (or pronoun) is called the object of the preposition. In English, and usually in Latin, the object comes after the preposition. The preposition and its object together are called a prepositional phrase.
Examples of prepositional phrases:
under the bed
in front of the blue car
according to them
through many years
in war and peace
As you can see, prepositional phrases can contain multiple words. The requirement is preposition + noun, but sometimes there are two nouns (two objects of the preposition) or the noun is modified by an adjective.
A Guide To Latin Prepositions
In Latin, prepositional phrases work pretty much the same way that they do in English. The prepositional phrase consists of the preposition itself and then the object of the preposition (the noun or pronoun).
Now here’s the thing. Latin is an inflected language, which means that every noun and pronoun has a case. So, you may ask, what Latin case goes with prepositions?
In Latin, the object of the preposition will be in either the ablative case or the accusative case. There are some general rules for when Latin prepositions take which case, and I will explain them below.
But in general, I recommend that you memorize the case that the preposition takes when you memorize the preposition itself.
One last thing. In Latin, the object of the preposition almost always follows the preposition. Occasionally this will vary in poetry for artistic effect.
Latin Prepositions With the Ablative
Prepositions that take the ablative fall into various categories. (For more information about why this is, then you can check out my post dedicated to the ablative case.)
First, prepositions that express place where tend to take the ablative.
- in – in, on
- sub – under, at the foot of
Prepositions that express place from which also tend to take the ablative.
- ab / ā – from, away from; by
- dē – from, down from
- ex / ē – out of, from
There are also prepositions that don’t fit into either of these neat categories. Here are some examples:
- cum – with
- prō – for, on behalf of; in front of
- sine – without
Latin Prepositions With The Accusative
The accusative case also accompanies quite a few prepositions. Some of these fall into the category of motion to or toward.
- ad – to, toward; at
- in – into, onto
But more often than not, you just need to memorize that a specific preposition takes the accusative. Here are more examples:
- ante – before
- contrā – against
- ob – on account of
- per – through
- post – after, behind
- propter – on account of
- sub – under, up to, to the foot of
- trāns – across
I like to think that some of these prepositions have a more “accusative” feel. I associate the accusative with motion of any sort – for example, motion through (per) or across (trāns).
In and sub: ablative or accusative?
You may have noticed that the prepositions in and sub showed up on both the ablative and the accusative preposition lists. There is an easy explanation.
When these prepositions indicate the place where something is or occurs, then they take the ablative.
Soror sēdet sub arbōre. = The sister sits under the tree. (no motion; ablative)
Domus est in silvīs. = The house is in the woods. (no motion; ablative)
But when in or sub indicates motion into or under a place, then they take the accusative.
Soror currit sub arbōrem. = The sister runs under / up to the tree. (she was previously not under the tree, and now she runs under it; motion = accusative)
Canis currit in silvās. = The dog runs into the woods. (motion; accusative)
Pay close attention whenever you see in or sub in a sentence, and you will soon get the hang of it. You can also check out my Instagram post on the topic:
Latin Prepositions With The Genitive?
Sometimes textbooks will say that Latin has prepositions that take the genitive. This is sort of correct – it depends on how you look at it.
Latin has two nouns that, when they are in the ablative case, can act like prepositions.
- causā = because of, for the sake of
- grātiā = in favor of, for the sake of
Causā is the ablative singular of causa, ae “reason, cause”. Grātiā is the ablative singular of grātia, ae “favor”. Both causā and grātiā act as ablatives of cause – they explain the reason that something is occurring.
These nouns can be modified by a noun (or pronoun) in the genitive. Technically this would be a possessive genitive, but since causā and grātiā are acting like prepositions we can think of these genitives as genitives with prepositional phrases.
Note: the noun in the genitive almost always comes before causā or grātiā.
pācis causā = for the sake of peace
honōris grātiā = for the sake of honor
From a grammatical perspective, causā and grātiā are technically not prepositions. But it is often simpler for students to think of them as prepositions!
List of Common Latin Prepositions
Prepositions are important building blocks of language. As we have seen, we need prepositions to express the relationships between nouns and other parts of the sentence. This is crucial for communication and understanding.
So I have put together a printable handout containing around 20 of the most common Latin prepositions. They are organized in two different ways: first alphabetically and then according to which case they take.
This preposition study guide can be yours right now! Join my email list to download. You will also receive weekly emails about Latin and you will have access to all future Latin-learning freebies.
So download your study guide and make sure you are comfortable with the most common Latin prepositions!
Prepositions vs. Adverbs
By now you should have a pretty good idea of what Latin prepositions are and which cases they can take. But I want to address one more topic that can cause confusion for Latin learners (especially those that are speakers of English).
In English, many prepositions can also be adverbs. Consider the following two sentences:
- I fell in the water.
- I fell in.
In the first sentence, in is a preposition. You can tell because in is followed by an object of the preposition (the water).
But in the second sentence, in is an adverb. It describes the action of the verb and explains where I fell. There is no noun or pronoun accompanying in, and that’s how we know it is an adverb and not a preposition.
In Latin, in can only be a preposition. You will never see it on its own as an adverb.
There are some prepositions in Latin that can also be used as adverbs, but most cannot be. If you look at the dictionary entry for a preposition, you can check its various meanings and see if it can be used adverbially.
Here are three common prepositions that can also be adverbs:
- ante – 1. before, in front of (preposition) 2. before, earlier (adverb)
- post – 1. after, behind (preposition) 2. after, later (adverb)
- contrā – 1. against (preposition) 2. on the contrary, in reply (adverb)
Let’s look at an example.
- Ante cēnam vēnī. = I came before dinner.
- Ante vēnī. = I came earlier.
In the first sentence, ante is a preposition, since it is used with the noun cēnam. In the second, on the other hand, ante is used on its own as an adverb to mean “earlier”.
Pay attention when you see prepositions and make sure you don’t confuse them with adverbs. Most of the time, this won’t be an issue – but sometimes it can cause trouble if you aren’t careful.
(Confused about adverbs? Click here to read all about Latin adverbs.)
Latin Prepositions: Final Thoughts
I hope this post has helped you to feel more confident with Latin prepositions. Don’t forget to download your Latin preposition study guide – it will help you to prioritize the most important prepositions.
If you memorize the prepositions in the study guide, then you will rarely come across a preposition that you don’t recognize.
You may also find the following articles helpful as you continue your Latin studies: