Problems with Latin and the documents

This is an introduction to the problems that you may encounter with Latin vocabulary and grammar in documents from the period 1086 to 1733.

It is important to remember that the Latin used in the period covered by this tutorial was not consistent. As a living language, its vocabulary, meanings and grammar changed over time.

Read through these problems and be aware that you may face any or all of them. However, do not worry about them. In time and with practice, you will find that you can deal with them easily.


There was no consistent way of spelling even common words in the medievalTudor or Stuart periods. Look at the different spellings of these words, meaning grace:

  • gratia, -e (f.) first declension
  • gracia, -e (f.) first declension

Spelling changed over time and varied between individuals. You will often see a word spelled more than one way within a single document. If you cannot find a word in the dictionary, think about other ways to spell it and try looking these up. Consider letters that sound similar, like ‘a’ and ‘e’, ‘m’ and ‘n’, ‘c’ and ‘t’.

Interchangeable letters

In medieval documents, many letters are almost indistinguishable, for example

  • ‘c’ and ‘t’
  • ‘u’ and ‘v’
  • ‘i’ and ‘j’

Sometimes it is not possible to differentiate between ‘i’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘u’ or ‘v’!

Are you looking at an an unfamiliar word in your document? Consider whether these interchangeable letters might help you identify it. For example, could that letter that appears to be a ‘c’ really be a ‘t’?

Words with more than one form

Some words have a form from more than one gender, for example, both a masculine form and a feminine form. Look at these words, which both mean ‘park’:

  • parca, -e (f.) first declension
  • parcus, -i (m.) second declension

The dative plural and ablative plural of both of these forms is parcis.

Other examples you may find include


soca, -e (f.) first declension
socum, -i (n.) second declension


tofta, -e (f.) first declension
toftum, -i (n.) second declension


bosca, -e (f.) first declension
boscum, -i (n.) second declension
boscus, -i (m.) second declension

There are many more words with more than one form. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list.

You can try looking up these forms in R E Latham, ‘Revised Medieval Latin Word-list’, (London, published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press, 1973). This is the standard and most accessible work, which you should be able to find in most reference libraries.

However, ‘Revised Medieval Latin Word-list‘ is not definitive and your document may contain a different form of a word. There is also the ‘Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources‘ (Oxford University Press).

Use of ‘ae’ instead of ‘e’

In Tudor and Stuart documents, you may notice that some words were spelled with an ‘ae’ instead of an ‘e’. For example, instead of hec you might see haec. The ‘ae’ spelling was used in the
Classical period, but later lapsed. It was taken up again in the Tudor and Stuart period.

Be aware that in documents from the 16th and 17th centuries, you will find words that are spelt with an ‘ae’ instead of an ‘e’.

Remember this when you are using the Latin word list, where ‘ae’ forms are not given.

Differences between Medieval and Classical Latin

No previous knowledge of Latin is required for this tutorial. However, if you studied Classical Latin at school, you will find that the Latin in this tutorial is different.

1. Word order in medieval Latin was less strict than in Classical Latin. For example, medieval Latin verbs are not necessarily at the end of the sentence. You may find documents in which the word order is very similar to English.

2. There was no consistency of spelling in medieval Latin.

3. The Classical ‘ae’ form was replaced by ‘e’ in the medieval period.

4. There are other changes in spelling, including Medieval Latin sometimes changes Classical ‘h’ to ‘ch’. For example, mihi ‘to me’ becomes michi.
Medieval Latin sometimes adds a ‘p’ to Classical words. For example, damnum ‘damages’ becomes dampnum.

5. The meaning of some important words in changed between the Classical and the medieval periods:

baro, baronis (m.) baron, tenant-in-chief
miles, militis (m.) knight
villa, -e (f.) vill, town

If you look these up in a Classical Latin dictionary, a different meaning will be given. The meaning will be inappropriate for the medieval, Tudor or Stuart periods.

For example, in Roman times, a villa was an agricultural estate or farm with a large house at the centre. In the
medieval period, a vill was a small to medium sized settlement or town.

Use reference works designed for medieval Latin to avoid any confusion.

You will find R E Latham, ‘Revised Medieval Latin Word-list’, (London, published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press, 1973) very helpful.

6. Medieval Latin was influenced by contemporary society and therefore English spellings and words started to appear. For example, you will often find these words in medieval Latin documents:

croftum, -i (n.) croft
shopa, -e (f.) shop
virgata, -e (f.) virgate

They are English words which have been turned into Latin.

7. There is a much greater use of quod (meaning ‘that’) in medieval Latin. You will often find it after verbs of saying, thinking, replying, claiming etc:

dicit quod –  he says that

8. The increased use of prepositions in medieval Latin, particularly ad, de and per. In Classical Latin, the same phrase would be given using the noun with the appropriate case ending.

In medieval Latin, de is frequently used to mean ‘of’.