Latin Vocabulary: Liber

by Anonymous

Dear Latin Teacher,

I am slightly confused between "liber" meaning free and "liber" meaning child. Is there a difference? What declension does it follow?

Thank You


Dear Anonymous,

The difference is simply the adjective meaning "free" and the substantive use of that same adjective meaning "child".

The dictionary entry of that adjective is liber, libera, liberum, following the first and second declensions according to gender. It means free. When the word is used as a noun, however, it means the free person, i.e. the child of free parents.

In classical Latin it is commonly used only in the plural to refer to children.

If that clears up the difference between the noun and the adjective, here are two items to confuse the beginning Latin student again.

First, the capitalized form Liber refers to an old Italian fertility god who came to be associated with Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

The feminine form of that divine name, Libera, refers to Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres and the sister of Liber. Then another Libera is Ariadne, the wife of Bacchus.

At least those are capitalized proper names, and so don't cause too much confusion.

The Roman word for book (liber, libri) does sometimes cause confusion for beginning students. As you can see, however, the -e- drops out of the genitive form, and therefore it drops out of all remaining forms of the word. But the nominative singular is identical in form to the adjective meaning "free". (Although the -i- of the word meaning book is short, while the -i- of the word meaning free is long.)

Examples:

Liberi senatoris milites fortissimi fiunt. The children of the senator become very brave soldiers.

Libri Romani optimi sunt. Roman books are excellent.

From these two Latin roots we have the English derivatives liberate and library. Again, notice the -e- drop out of the word having to do with books.

Hope this helps and thanks for asking a Latin teacher.

Sincerely,

John

See more Latin Roots

Return to Vocabulary Lesson Plans






Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask a Latin Teacher.

Ask an Expert - Visit my Virtual Office at LivePerson

Books of Interest

Enter Your E-mail Address
Enter Your First Name (optional)
Then

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Latin Word of the Week.