Last week we covered the concept of the reference grammar for Greek. But what if you’re not a Hellenist? Just like there are grammars to help with advanced questions in Greek grammar, there are also grammars for Latin. But unlike for Greek (where Smyth is the ultimate authority), there are many reference grammars for Latin: Allen and Greenough, Bennett, Gildersleeve and Lodge, and Woodcock are the classics. Depending on where you take your intermediate Latin, one of these will be the “right” grammar and the others will be “wrong”. Rather than weigh in on that debate here, I will let you make your own decisions.
All of the reasons for using a grammar from last week’s post will be helpful for students of Latin, regardless of which text you end up using. In fact, one of the secrets about the wide variety of Latin grammars is that there aren’t many differentiators among our various texts. But they do present the material in completely different order, so you need to make sure that you’re consulting the correct grammar. Bennett and Woodcock are typically cited by last name only; Allen and Greenough are called AG, A-G, or A&G; Gildersleeve and Lodge are typically G&L.
Section numbers are used for citation in all of the grammars — which is excellent in older books, like A&G, which have gone through several editions. TIP: the edition doesn’t matter as long as you’re using section numbers instead of page numbers. The section numbers will never change (which is great for another reason that we’ll get to in a minute), although pagination changes from edition to edition.
You can navigate through the various forms and syntax thanks to both the table of contents and the index. Of the four grammars we’ve mentioned, three are widely available in inexpensive print editions and can be downloaded online at archive.org (A&G and G&L) and Project Gutenberg (Bennett). But they can also be accessed completely online. These online-only editions are really useful, because you can simply click on a section number and go to the material you want to find, without having to flip through pages (see why section numbers are so useful?).
The online edition of A&G is probably the easiest to navigate, as well as the newest.
The grammar main page is the index. Clicking on one of the index sections (in this case MAS-MYT) opens up all the index entries with links to the section numbers where the information can be found (remember that, just like for Smyth, numbers are always section numbers).
If we needed a refresher for Mixed i-stem verbs, we would click on the link for sections 70-72.
Section 70 is quite brief, offering only a definition of what constitutes a mixed i-stem. More information can be found in sections 71 and 72, which are easily accessible by using the Previous and Next navigation buttons at the top right of the navigation pane (immediately above the index entry for FAC-FUT). After the text of the entry is an image of the page which links to a very high resolution image of the page.
Finding a section that someone has cited is quick and easy. The second tab of the navigation frame is “Go to Section.” Clicking on it reveals a list of sections in numerical order.
Clicking on a section takes you to it and the sections can be navigated as before using the Previous and Next buttons.
The best feature of the A&G online version is the full text search. The third tab opens a search box that is powered by Google.
Searching for “prepositions ablative” pops up a box of search results:
The first result is for Section 220 where prepositions taking the ablative and the accusative are explained in detail. The search feature is especially useful if you are not exactly sure what you are looking for. If you did not find what you were looking for in the section on ablatives and prepositions you might return to your search to see if there is more information on the topic under another heading. You could also search for Latin words not present in the index to see if there are any entries that contain them (for example, details on a specific preposition).
The online Bennett is less pretty, but still very serviceable. The team at Project Guternberg has fully hyperlinked the table of contents and index, so it is easy to jump to whatever you’re searching for.
As you can see, there are no page numbers listed: that’s because the entire book loads as a single webpage. I haven’t tried this on a phone, but I’d be wary of using Bennett on a mobile device for that reason. On the other hand, it’s very useful for a laptop, because you can just search on the page for whatever you’re looking for. Let’s say you want to learn about periphrastics. You could go straight to the index…
Where you’d see that they’re discussed in several places, and can then click on the section numbers to be taken to the relevant section. Or you could search on the page for “periphrastic”. Either way, you’d get something like this:
(But fully conjugated and translated, across all moods and tenses).
G&L is available on Wikibooks as well as Archive.org as a DJVU file. It’s mostly proofread and not hard to use. But unlike most reference grammars, these DJVU files go by page number. The Wikibooks version has no section number search ability. As you’ve learned by now, that’s much less useful in a grammar. So we’d recommend the PDFs, either at Archive.org or at Google Books (both linked above). If for some reason neither of those sites is an option, their scans are available at many other sites.
Woodcock, the newcomer to the bunch, is still in copyright. Because it’s a more modern text (first published in 1959), in some ways it’s easier to use: the explanations are in more modern English, and if you used Strunk and White for English class, the style is somewhat similar. It’s also much less beginner-friendly: Woodcock is much more interested in historical syntax than forms, and the sections are long. So if you’re new to Latin, this probably isn’t the best book for you. If, on the other hand, you’re a relatively advanced Latin student with some cash to spare, you may want to consider it. A brief look at Woodcock’s table of contents will show you that his book is unusual compared to the other grammars, and may give you a sense of whether or not you want to buy it. TIP: If you have access to the books at HathiTrust, you can read (and maybe even download) Woodcock online.
To sum up: while nothing is stopping your from buying a paper edition of one of these grammars, we recommend the searchable grammars (Bennett and A&G) in particular, although we urge you to follow your professor’s guidelines if s/he has them. Of the two, Bennett is probably more beginner-friendly, but A&G is more complete; if you need to find a specific exception or strange grammar point, A&G is more likely to have it (as are G&L and Woodcock, for that matter). A searchable online version has some real advantages:
- It is very quick to jump between the entries (faster than thumbing through a book).
- You can have multiple sections open at once in different tabs — useful if you need the forms and syntax section at the same time!
- More importantly, the full text search: this is not possible in a paper volume, and it’s hit-and-miss with a scanned PDF.
Indexers are looking for things that occur commonly, but the answer to that one sentence that you just cannot get past might be hiding in an entry if what you look for is not in the index for one reason or another. While I would never discourage anyone from sitting down with their favorite grammar for a good read on a Saturday afternoon (and I am told by proponents of this kind of Saturday afternoon reading that such exercises are very good for your languages), if you are in more of a time crunch or looking up something very specific the online version might help you out.
~M. (and J.)