Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi

Sup y’all?

The weather is bad, a new variant of Covid is rife and we all need a bit of cheering up. So it’s time to parse some Latin.

And if that doesn’t cheer you up, or at least focus your mind, then I don’t know what will;)

As I have mentioned before, I have a copy of the Vulgate (a real paper copy) and have even made a frequency list containing the 100 most frequent words used.

And as maybe you already know, terra autem erat inanis and so on above crops up at the beginning of Genesis, so I haven’t had to look far for suitable parsing material.

The Vulgate has punctuation, so let’s make use of it and parse :

Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi


Terra autem erat inanis et vacua


et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi.

Terra ‘earth’ is a first declension feminine noun.

It looks like a nominative, so without even worrying about declining it, let’s assume that is it is in the nominative and the subject of the sentence. I’m guessing nominative because it makes sense and the Vulgate *wasn’t supposed* to be complicated. Terra could be an accusative but would that work with erat? No it wouldn’t, so let’s ignore that possibility.

Erat ‘he/she was’ is the third person singular imperfect of the verb ‘to be’.

Autem ‘but, moreover, also’ is a conjugation.

Inanis, inanis, inane is an adjective with various meanings. It will come as no great surprise to you to learn that one of these meanings is ‘inane’. There is another which is ’empty, void’.

I’m going to leave the declension of Inanis, inanis, inane for the interested reader;) It might help you to know that back in the day, the model adjective that we used was tristis, tristis, triste, and that these are in the nominative case. In other words, they agree with and describe terra.

Vacuus, vacua, vacuum ’empty, vacant, unoccupied ‘ is a (I think) a first declension adjective. I don’t want to mislead anyone with this, so if you think it is something else, you are likely correct.

However, vacua is a feminine nominative singular, and I am certain of that, meaning that it agrees with terra.

And finally, I’m reasonably certain that the correct grammatical term for the use of vacua and inanis in this context is a predicative adjective. They describe the noun terra and have the verb ‘to be’ in between the two. You don’t need to know that, but it might come in useful when you have to impress the cool kids.

And so we have something like , ‘But the earth was empty and unoccupied …’

Ok. That’s part one complete, and now onto:

tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi

Tenebra, tenebrae ‘darkness, gloom, night and so on’ is a first declension feminine noun.

Tenebrae is the plural form of tenebra which explains why the version of esse ‘to be’ used is the third person imperfect plural. It has to ‘agree’ with the noun in number and gender.

‘Darkness was … ‘

Super ‘over, above’.

‘Darkness was over …’

Facies, ei ‘shape, appearance, aspect’ is a fifth declension feminine noun. Crucially for us followed by the accusative case, and faciem is a very standard accusative singular ending, but let’s decline facies to be sure;)

Facies, facies, faciem, facei, facei, face


‘Darkness was over the face …’

Abysssus, abyssi ‘abyss, sea, chaos’ is a second declension feminine noun. This gives us various possibilities as Abyssi is either a genitive singular or a nominative plural. Abyssi ‘of the abyss’ as a genitive singular seems the more plausible option to me.

And so we can translate:

Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi


But the world was empty and unoccupied and darkness was over the face of the abyss.

Besos, baci and pax.


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