15 Best Books to Learn Latin for Beginners and Beyond

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Is learning Latin one of the items on your bucket list? Or is it merely one of the many languages you, an aspiring polyglot, want to learn? Either way, this list of best books to learn Latin will help you in your learning journey.

latin writing

Latin, despite being a dead language (more on this later), is still a very important language. A classical Indo-European language, Latin was originally spoken by a small tribe in the area around Rome. As the Roman Empire conquered the rest of Italy and eventually Western Europe and even Asia Minor, Latin became the dominant language.

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Why learn Latin?

Yes, Latin is technically a dead language. This is because it is no longer the native language of any community.

But this is different from extinct languages, which no longer have any speakers at all. Latin is still used, both orally and written, and has transformed into various Romance languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.

There are thousands of dead languages, including Sanskrit, Old Norse, and Ancient Greek but Latin is the most studied. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Latin prepares you for Romance languages.

As previously mentioned, the five major Romance languages are French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. They are precisely called “Romance” because they all evolved from Vulgar Latin, the language spoken by the Romans.

About 90% of the vocabulary of these languages has Latin roots. Some examples:

  • Saludo in Spanish comes from the Latin salv and salu, which both mean ‘salutation.’
  • Gelato in Italian comes from gelare, the Latin word for ‘to freeze’.
  • Acide in French comes from acidus, which is the Latin word for ‘sourness’ or ‘acidity’.
  • Advogado in Portuguese comes from advocatus, the Latin word for legal ‘advocate’ or ‘attendant’.
  • Dulce in Romanian comes from the Latin word dulcis, which means ‘sweet’.

Therefore, one of the easiest ways to be multilingual is to learn Latin. Fun fact: Even the roots of the word multilingual comes from Latin!

2. Half of our English vocabulary is made up of Latin words and roots.

English is a West Germanic language and was not directly derived from Latin. However, it was heavily influenced by Latin. Even the English alphabet is sourced from the Latin alphabet.

Latin roots like audi (hear), dict (say), gen (to birth), jur (law), manu (hand), and port (carry) are commonly used in English vocabulary.

But that’s not all. There are many unchanged Latin words and phrases that English speakers frequently use. Memorandum, synopsis, alibi, bona fide, et cetera, per capita, de facto, vice versa, AM (ante meridiem), PM (post meridiem) – these are all Latin expressions that are very much alive today.

Thus, learning Latin can also help you better understand the English language.

3. Many professions are teeming with Latin terms.

Latin terminology is present in various disciplines and professions including science, philosophy, law, theology, and music.

Scientific vocabulary, whether in the field of medicine, binomial nomenclature (scientific name), and even computer science, usually includes Latin words and roots. Philosophical terms like ad hoc, ad hominem, tabula rasa, priori, and a posteriori are all Latin terms.

Mens rea, caveat emptor, habeas corpus, mala fide, ex post facto – these are all Latin expressions common in law practice. In music, the words ballad, octave, opus, and even musica have Latin roots.

And of course, Latin is one of the official languages of the Vatican. Papa (pope), sanctus (holy), and Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) are just a few Latin theological terms.

4. Latin enables you to enjoy classical literature.

Sure, you can find translations of Horace’s Odes and Virgil’s Aeneid. But reading and understanding it in Latin is a deeper, fuller experience.

Additionally, knowing Latin will help you understand older English literature, with works replete with Latin references and citations. If you’re studying history, reading manuscripts from the Classical Age and Early Medieval times may require understanding Latin.

5. Latin helps you understand the history and influence of the Roman Empire.

Studying Latin will help understand and appreciate the Roman Empire, its history, influences, and the continuing effects it has on Western civilization.

Latin was, at one time, the lingua franca of Western civilization. It played a major role in European history and it is still influential today.

Now you know why learning Latin is beneficial. You’ve decided that you will study it or that you will resume studying it (if you’ve stalled before). But how and where do you start? I recommend getting your hands on these best books to learn Latin.

Best books to learn Latin for beginners

1. Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler

Understanding the history of a language is essential to learning it. No one provides a more in-depth biography of Latin than widely acclaimed Empires of the Word author Nicholas Ostler.

Before you even dive into Latin declensions, get acquainted first with how Latin came to be. Learn how it became the European language, how it shaped the foundation of education and so many disciplines, how its use outlasted the Roman Empire, and how it evolved.

This is one of the best Latin books for beginners but it’s also just as great a book even if you haven’t decided to learn Latin yet (but you will want to after reading this book).

This book is best for:

  • Learning the history and evolution of Latin
  • Building a deeper understanding of the language and its importance
  • Linguists and language learners who are curious about the role of language in culture

2. Getting Started with Latin by William E. Linney

For all its importance and prevalence in our vocabulary, Latin can be an intimidating language to learn. Whether you are intimidated, or simply have limited time to learn, Linney’s Getting Started with Latin can be a lifesaver.

One of the best Latin textbooks for beginners, this book is divided into lessons that are simple, clear, and easy to follow.

Each lesson introduces a new vocabulary or grammar concept in a way that anyone can grasp, followed by lots of sample sentences that drive the point home. Furthermore, the sentences only use vocabulary that is covered in the book.

Designed for homeschooling and self-contained learning, this book helps you get started without overwhelming or intimidating you. That said, it’s not a comprehensive resource but helps you get your foot in the door.

This book is best for:

  • Quickly and naturally learning the fundamentals of Latin
  • Self-learners who are looking for easy Latin texts
  • Absolute beginners
  • Learning pronunciation, as the book also comes with free recordings online

3. So You Really Want to Learn Latin Book 1 by N.R.R. Oulton

Serious learners looking for a solid introduction to Latin language learning will find a gem in Oulton’s series of textbooks.

A former Latin teacher, N.R.R. Oulton teaches essential grammar and vocabulary required for confident and competent use of Latin.

The first book in a three-volume series, So You Really Want to Learn Latin introduces learners to regular verbs in all six active tenses, nouns of the first three declensions, as well as adjectives, prepositions, and numerals.

History junkies will also find this a fun read as it includes bits of Roman history with nice photos. One of the best books to learn Latin whether you’re a kid or an adult who’s just getting started.

This book is best for:

  • Clear and easy-to-understand explanations of grammar with light and fun examples
  • Rigorous and not dumbed-down way of teaching Latin
  • Organized structure and order of lessons
  • Learning with a Latin teacher or self-studying (but only if you buy the separate answer book)

4. The Everything Essential Latin Book by Richard E. Prior

If you have no prior knowledge of Latin, this is the Latin book to get you started.

The Everything Essential Latin Book is a no-nonsense resource that cuts away the clutter and sticks with, well, the essentials. But it provides a good introduction to beginners, starting with the Roman alphabet and translation and Latin syntax.

With clear, organized, and easy-to-follow explanations, you’ll be able to learn how to get someone’s attention in Latin, give commands, answer common questions, and describe people and places. Verb tenses and grammatical voices are also taught in a fun and coherent way.

It lacks pronunciation guides but you can easily find support materials from the Internet.

This book is best for:

  • Easy-to-read classical Latin instruction
  • Basic Latin for absolute beginners or those looking for a refresher course
  • Improving grammar knowledge and vocabulary

5. Teach Yourself: Get Started in Latin by GDA Sharpley

Teach Yourself has produced high-quality language textbooks for learners of all levels over the years. Its Latin textbooks are no different, providing an informative but fun way of learning.

Get Started in Latin presents Latin grammar and vocabulary through a Latin story set in an engaging medieval monastery. It’s filled with straightforward grammar explanations and vocabulary practice. And if you’d like to dive into classical literature, this is a good place to start as it introduces Latin authors like Cicero, Tacitus, and Virgil.

The book comes with an audio CD with readings of the story, but the grammar and vocabulary are explained in the book, not on the CD.

This book is best for:

  • Compelling teaching structure and short historical notes
  • Grammar and vocabulary exercises
  • Upper beginners who have basic knowledge of Latin or absolute beginners who have tutors

Best Latin grammar and vocabulary books

6. Kennedy’s New Latin Primer (2nd Edition) by Benjamin Kennedy

Often referred to as the Latin grammar Bible, Kennedy’s Latin Primer provides clear and simple explanations of written and spoken Latin. Filled with comprehensive coverage of all the key points of Latin grammar, it is perfect for both self-learners and classroom use.

One of the best books to learn Latin, this second edition of the well-loved reference includes declensions of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, verb conjugations, syntax – all laid out in an easy-to-read manner.

Make no mistake, this is not an introductory book so it’s not ideal for beginners. But it is a primer that effectively collates and teaches all essential Latin rules with no verbiage.

This book is best for:

  • Comprehensive grammar reference
  • Succinct explanations of word history, phonology, morphology, syntax, and prosody
  • Upper beginner to intermediate Latin learners

7. Reading Latin: Grammar and Exercises by Peter Jones and Keith Sidwell

The first part in a series of three Latin books by Jones and Sidwell (the other two being Text and Vocabulary and An Independent Study Guide), Reading Latin: Grammar and Exercises is designed to help mature beginners read classical Latin fluently and intelligently.

The book does this by providing detailed explanations and full translations of the reading texts. Then right away, it tests your mastery with exercises. It’s an effective structure that helps readers absorb and retain knowledge.

This book is best for:

  • A well-structured and thorough approach to Latin grammar
  • Strengthening Latin reading skills
  • Learning classical Latin with cultural context

8. Latin Key Words by Jerry Toner

If you’ve already got a good Latin grammar reference, your next step should be building Latin vocabulary. And for this purpose, Latin Key Words work best.

A robust resource, this book contains 100 easy-to-master units of 20 Latin words each. The units are laid out in order of frequency of use so the first 100 words you will encounter are the ones that are commonly used.

This book also provides all-in-one basic Latin-English and English-Latin dictionaries which can aid you when using other grammar books and bilingual readers. You simply can’t use this as your sole reference for studying Latin but it’s a great supplement.

Click to: Buy on Amazon

This book is best for:

  • Expanding your Latin vocabulary
  • Combined use with another Latin textbook or grammar book
  • Fast and easy way to learn Latin

9. Essential Latin Vocabulary by Mark A. E. Williams

A strong vocabulary is just as vital in fluency and Latin comprehension. Containing 1,425 Latin words, Essential Latin Vocabulary allows students to learn about 95% of all the Latin vocabulary that they will encounter in actual Latin text.

What’s great about this vocabulary book is its structure. One of the best books to learn Latin, it is classified in grammatical groups (based on declensions), topical (nature, emotions, body, etc.), frequency of use, and in alphabetical order.

Meaty, organized, and very easy to follow.

This book is best for:

  • A vast collection of practical Latin vocabulary to aid comprehension
  • Well-indexed and replete with definitions and grammatical applications
  • Self-learners and as a teaching aid for Latin tutors

Best Latin audiobooks and storybooks

10. Asterix Gallus by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

Originally written in French, Asterix le Gaulois (or The Adventures of Asterix) is one of the most popular Franco-Belgian comics in the world, with the series being translated into over 100 languages, including Latin.

The series follows the exploits of Asterix, a Gaul from one ancient village that resists Roman occupation. The village does so by drinking a magic potion that gave them superhuman strength. Asterix, along with his friend Obelix, goes on various adventures in Gaul and abroad.

If you think Latin literature is serious and no fun, read Asterix Gallus. It’s funny, highly entertaining, and gives a good introduction to Rome, the Roman Empire, the Roman Gaul, and Roman Britain.

The English version is also good but it also has Latin jokes here and there so might as well go full-on Latin, yes?

Click to: Buy on Amazon

This book is best for:

  • Building Latin vocabulary
  • A fun, compelling way to improve your Latin reading skills
  • Intermediate to advanced Latin learners

11. Latin Via Ovid: A First Course (2nd Edition) by Norma W. Goldman and Jacob E. Nyenhuis

Part Latin textbook, part reader, Latin Via Ovid teaches important grammar concepts and builds vocabulary through myths and poems of master storyteller Ovid.

One of the best books to learn Latin for both beginners and intermediate learners, this book presents readings, followed by vocabulary, grammar (declensions, conjugations, inflection, parts of speech, etc.), exercises, and word etymology.

Latin Via Ovid is also a strong introduction to “real” Latin, with each chapter progressing in technical difficulty.

This book is best for:

  • Learning Latin grammar and vocabulary through prose
  • Imaginative, connected reading
  • Learning the cultural and mythological significance of Ovid’s works

12. Latin Crash Course by Language/30

Books on Latin are great for improving one’s Latin proficiency. But let’s face it, not everyone has the time to comb through several chapters per week. If you’re a casual learner whose goal is simply to learn only the essentials as fast as you can, Latin Crash Course is for you.

This audiobook contains over an hour of Latin greetings, terms for transportation, business, health, and more. It also briefly cover grammar, pronunciation, and social customs, all delivered in clear, native voices.

Latin Crash Course was developed by the U.S. Government for accelerated learning aimed at gaining Latin speaking skills in just one week. Sounds too good to be true? Well, as a crash course, it is useful but don’t expect in-depth study.

Click to: Buy on Amazon

This book is best for:

  • Learning to speak Latin on the move
  • Learning essential Latin phrases the fastest way possible
  • Supplement for other Latin learning resources

Best Latin textbooks for intermediate to advanced learners

13. Lingua Latina per se Illustrata, Pars I: Familia Romana by Hans H. Ørberg

A quintessential Latin grammar resource and a favorite of Latin teachers, Lingua Latina per se Illustrata is entirely in Latin. No English text, explanations, or vocabulary, so despite its comprehensive nature, it is not recommended for beginners.

But you’ve gone past the beginner stage, tackling Familia Romana, the first book in Lingua Latina, will help you level up in your studies.

One of the best books to learn Latin, it helps students learn grammar and vocabulary using the Natural Method. This means you will be learning Latin not by translation but by learning to think in the language.

Familia Romana contains 35 chapters describing the life of a Roman family in the 2nd century A.D. Each chapter is divided into two or three grammar and vocabulary lessons and exercises. It also includes a table of declensions, a Roman calendar, and a word index.

Click to: Buy on Amazon

This book is best for:

  • Comprehensive treatment of Latin grammar
  • A vocabulary of almost 1,800 words reinforced by repetition
  • Building a stronger command of Latin by thinking in the language

14. Wheelock’s Latin (7th Edition) by Frederic M. Wheelock and Richard A. LaFleur

If you’ve been looking for Latin language tutorials or resources, you’ve most likely heard of Wheelock’s Latin. Originally published in 1956, it’s a best-selling and comprehensive Latin textbook that has stood the test of time.

The 7th edition of the classic Latin book includes 40 chapters with grammatical explanations and readings drawn from ancient Roman writers. It’s also peppered with exercises with answer keys, an extensive English-Latin/Latin-English vocabulary section, plenty of original Latin readings, and etymological aids, maps, and images.

A treasure trove of information, Wheelock’s Latin is one of the best books to learn Latin if you’re a self-learner. It may not be ideal for absolute beginners unless used in classroom settings. If you’re an upper beginner, you can try but be armed with lots of determination.

This book is best for:

  • Thorough grammar explanations
  • Reading original Latin texts
  • Ample supply of exercises and supplementary materials

15. A Loeb Classical Library Reader by James Loeb

Feeling confident with your Latin reading skills? It only makes sense to read more classical Latin literature. Even better, you can use one that has Greek text, too. Talk about multipurpose resources!

A Loeb Classical Library Reader is a treasure trove of Greco-Roman works spanning 12 centuries from Propertius to Cicero to Livy. It features Greek and Latin excerpts on the left side of the page and the English translations on the right.

With a great mixture of easy and difficult texts, you can gain a clearer grasp of your Latin proficiency. You can read the translations but if you’re feeling pretty good about your skills, you can cover the translations and just read the Latin texts. It should be a thrilling and satisfying experience to read the original texts, too.

This book is best for:

  • Reading lots of Greek and Latin works in just one handy book
  • Improving your Latin reading and comprehension skills
  • Learning about Greco-Roman culture and the writing styles of famous classical authors

Tips for learning Latin

girl studying latin by the lake

Before you go hoarding these books, it’s important to know that just like any language, fluency in Latin requires dedication and consistency. A book is only as good as your determination to learn. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of these Latin books or other Latin resources.

1. Join online courses.

Self-studying is definitely possible with Latin but there are great benefits from coaching and guidance from a Latin tutor.

2. Stick to one or two books at a time.

Find a level-appropriate Latin book and stick to it. Don’t overwhelm yourself with information.

3. Keep a journal.

Reading and listening to Latin audio are vital steps to learning and improving. But learning Latin is a length process best aided by writing. Keeping a journal will help you track your progress while retaining the knowledge you’ve gained.

4. Try apps and podcasts.

Apps like Duolingo and Memrise offer bite-sized Latin lessons that you can take anywhere, anytime. Similarly, finding an engaging Latin podcast can help you familiarize yourself more with the language.

5. Read English literature translated to Latin.

If you’re intimidated by classical Latin literature, why not start with English works that have been translated to Latin? Children’s books like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis), Winnie the Pooh (Winnie Ille Pu), and The Giving Tree (Arbor Alma) are good places to start with.

These best books to learn Latin are all available on Amazon. So if you’re ready to deep dive into this beautiful language, your next read is just a click away. Happy reading!

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