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Thesaurus linguae Latinae (TLL)


Article structure

In this part we explain the structure of a Thesaurus article, which is visualised under specimen article with explanations. The essential parts of an article are: headword (lemma) entry, generally followed by a  preliminary section; then the main section consisting of a definition and a history of the word; finally, where appropriate, various kinds of supplement.

Headword entry

Here spelling and prosody are mostly normalised; that is, with few exceptions, each word appears in a lexicographically standard form. Other basic forms which determine the inflection are then added; but attention is paid to the actual occurrence of forms, and those which do not occur are not usually reconstructed.

Any word which is plainly to be regarded as an inflected form of another word – for example a substantive or adjective identical with a participle – is treated immediately after that other as a sublemma. This is done irrespective of alphabetical order, but a cross-reference is generally inserted at the appropriate point in the alphabetical sequence of headwords: for example the substantiva nata, -ae and natus, -i can be found under the entry nascor. On the same principle adverbs normally come after their adjectives (e. g. naturaliter at the end of the entry naturalis) and certain fixed expressions, such as pignoris capio, follow their principal component word, in this case pignus.

Words with homonymous basic forms are distinguished by Arabic numerals.

Words which are not recognised and others of doubtful authenticity are marked accordingly with a question mark before the headword, a crux, or, if the word is to be deleted from the vocabulary of the ancient language, square brackets round the whole article (see Signs in the headword entry).

The asterisk before the headword means that not all instances of the word in the Thesaurus archives are cited. In the headword entry long vowels are regularly indicated by a long sign. However, final -o in the first person singular of the verb and in the nominative singular of substantives in -o is left unmarked, since the vowel began to be shortened at an early period. For the sake of uniformity, long vowels are shown even in words which first occur late and in which we cannot assume that speakers made any distinction of quantity. Here long signs are placed in accordance with etymology.

Preliminary section

The section immediately after the headword entry gathers together items of general information, both ancient and modem, which cannot be accommodated in the main section illustrating the word's development. Since the early volumes these items have been presented in approximately the following order:

  • Etymology: Apart from words such as composita which have a very obvious derivation, the etymological explanations are written by a specialist in Indo-European languages, whose contribution is placed inside square brackets. Initials at the end of the brackets stand for the contributor's name (see List of Contributors). The abbreviations which are used for the indoeuropean languages are explained in a PDF.

  • Ancient accounts of the etymology (de origine): These are reproduced without regard to modern opinion.

  • Spelling (scribitur or de scriptura): Those spellings are listed which deviate from the norm as shown in the lemma. Inscriptions, papyri and manuscripts earlier than A.D. 600 receive particular attention, as do relevant comments of the ancient grammarians.

  • Abbreviations of the stem (notatur or abbreviatur): These are recorded mainly from inscriptions, coins and papyri. The dropping of inflectional endings is generally disregarded, however.

  • Notae Tironianae (NOT. Tir.): In most cases this section gives only a reference to the page and number in the standard edition (W. Schmitz, Leipzig 1893). More information about the shorthand system invented by Tiro can be found in this Wikipedia article.

  • Gender (de genere): Information on gender and variation of gender (including the genus verborum). Relevant comments are added from the ancient grammarians.

  • Forms (de formis): Remarks particularly on non-standard forms, and pertinent comments of the grammarians. In the case of adjectives and adverbs, the occurrence or absence of comparative and superlative forms is mentioned here.

  • Prosody (de prosodia or de mensura): Ancient testimonies together with observations by the compiler of the article on prosodic irregularities.

  • Ancient explanations of the meaning (de notione et differentia): These are given here, unless they can be attached to particular passages or groups of passages in the main part of the article. Glosses come at the end; here, exceptionally, the Thesaurus extends its coverage to include the early Middle Ages.

  • 'legitur inde a ... ': A brief chronological survey of the word's distribution. There may be differentiation between poetry and prose, the use of singular and plural and so on, depending on the characteristics of the particular word. Comparisons are sometimes made with synonyms, either descriptively or by means of a frequency table. This section is generally dispensed with if all occurrences of the lemma-word are cited in the article.

  • Survival of the word in Romance languages: This part is contributed by a specialist and placed inside square brackets with initials to indicate the contributor's name (see List of contributors). The abbreviations of the names of Romance languages are listed in a PDF.

  • Matters relating to textual criticism:These are discussed inside square brackets at the end of the preliminary section. They include recurrent confusions with words of similar sound, spelling and meaning; passages which cannot be placed in the main section on account of textual corruption in the transmission of the word itself or its context; and a selection of noteworthy conjectures.

Main section


In recent volumes the main section begins with a general definition (where necessary, the separate sections with particular definitions). This is an attempt to give a semantic equivalent to the headword, and usually takes the form i(dem) q(uod). The Thesaurus does not normally give translations; on occasion, however, it provides a Greek equivalent (see e. g. the article piscis, where the Greek word ἰχϑύς is used as a definition). In general Latin synonyms or, more frequently, paraphrases or definitions are employed in an attempt to describe the original, essential content of the word. This is done as far as possible in a manner which reflects the etymology. The intention is to give a first general idea of the meaning. Only the material which follows, arranged in its groups, can display the full range of usage; and this overall view is necessary in its turn if one wishes to see the particulars in a true light.


The definition is often followed by further illustrative material, which is either bracketed or prefixed to the first chapter of the main section (synonyma, iuxta posita and opposita) or, as is the case in the article recedo, syntactic structures (which are, however, sometimes attached in an appendix). 

Arrangement of examples

In the main section of the article the quotations are generally divided up into groups. From the headings which introduce these groups, their order and hierarchical numbering or lettering, the reader can form an impression of the essential facts of development and usage. It is assumed that he will submit the findings presented in each article to his own critical judgement. The article recedo (vol. XI 2, 268, 21 ff.) may serve as an example:

Contrast between subsections

From the original practice of arranging groups in a simple series there has developed a general tendency to make use of opposition between subsections. In other words, each level of classification consists of two or more groups distinguished by mutually exclusive characteristics. Thus in looking for the metaphorical meaning of recedo 'to give up, withdraw from' the reader will naturally turn not to I proprie, but to II translate. A distinction frequently made, as seen in the example above, is that between animantes (such as humans) and res (which can be concrete or abstract things).

When searching for particular passages, meanings or usages it is important, therefore, to understand the different levels of classification and how they are related to each other. Chapter headings which, taken in isolation, are not immediately comprehensible become clear when one reads the headings opposed to them. For example the heading generatim in subsection IIA1 encompasses instances used in all fields with the exception of the of the specialised use of the word in legal language and in Jewish and Christian writings, which are listed under 2 speciatim.

Such cases are frequent and show that strict adherence to the method of contrast in the organisation of the article can be no more than a useful principle of arrangement. The classification is meant to display the features of the available material, not to subject it to some abstract system of division.

Content as a criterion for grouping examples

The criteria of content, by which the examples of a word are grouped on the separate levels of classification, depend on the nature of the material. This differs from word to word.

The primary classification often reflects semantic distinctions, for example in recipio (vol. XI 2, 326, 73 ff.), where the meaning of the prefix re- under caput prius is very clear ('to take back'), but has more or less disappeared under caput alterum ('to receive'). Factual distinctions have a subordinate position in this article, e. g. the title animantes under caput alterum IA is opposed by B res.

Syntax, which is subordinated in recipio, elsewhere often has priority, as in many verbs which undergo a change in construction (for instance necto, punio(r), regno).

Where syntactical matters cannot be fully integrated into the arrangement of the main section, there is often an appendix of structures at the end of the article (e.g. pono), which may be numbered within the overall arrangement (e.g. polliceor caput alterum) or else follow one of the major subsections (e.g. placeo vol. X 1, 2265, 9 ff.). Alternatively the structures may be summarised immediately before the main section, as we see in the exemple recedo mentioned above. 

While recognising the multiplicity of these and other types of linguistic criteria, we must not lose sight of their relationships with one another. The interweaving of syntactic and semantic aspects is often especially clear in verbs, for instance those which may take fixed or mobile objects (infundo alicui aliquid and infundo aliquid aliqua re), affected and effected objects (e. g. premo), and those with both transitive and intransitive uses (as is the case with navigo, obsequor, plaudo, rebello).

Criteria based on different fields of application often play an important part in the division of an article, for example if a word is used in a specific meaning by Christian authors or in a religious context. This applies also, for example, to words used in particular areas of life or in technical subjects such as law, medicine and architecture, or which occur predominantly in certain literary genres such as epic and elegy, oratory and epistolography.

Names of things generally require a division based on factual criteria, for example manufacture, applications, occurrence in nature or in everyday life (e.g. oleum, ovum, panis, piscis; names of manufactures such as pila or rastrum, plants with their uses in cookery and medicine, e. g. narcissus, nardum/ nardus oder radix). The reader should not, of course, expect to find a word treated in encyclopaedic fashion, even though he may sometimes gather factual information from articles of this kind (for example panis vol. X 1, 223,3ff. and 225,44ff.). Linguistic considerations take priority here as elsewhere; moreover there are many cases like the pairs olea and oliva, oleum and olivum, where a thing has more than one name, so that it would in any case be impossible in a dictionary of the language to give a comprehensive treatment under any single headword.

Chronological sequence of examples

The order of groups on the same level within the classification is, with few exceptions, chronological, because the presentation of linguistic phenomena according to date of first recorded appearance often gives an accurate picture of their genetic relationships; and when this is not so, that fact can be significant in itself.

The first subdivision in the lay-out of an article is, therefore, that which contains the earliest attested usage. For example in plagium the earliest example of the word occurs in Grattius, consequently this article begins with singulariter and is followed by usu sollemni, a group starting with a citation of EPIST. Hadr.

The sequence of examples within each subsection is also basically determined by chronology. It may, however, be interrupted by brackets used for grouping: so in the article navigatio after VITR. follow brackets with examples from later authors; after the brackets the series continues chronologically with FEST., see image below). Furthermore, a few passages with some special characteristic may be gathered at the end of a subsection, as is the case with CELS. (see image below). Within the brackets the chronological principle is observed.


Selection of examples

Only in the case of rare words can an article cite all the examples contained in the archives. It has therefore been the aim from the beginning to present the material in an appropriate selection.

Since volume III an asterisk has preceded all headwords for which the material is not cited in full. Slips for the omitted passages are stored with the rest in their original chronological order and remain available for inspection in our archives. We  are also happy, as far as time allows, to answer questions about the contents of the archives: please refer to FAQ.

The question which criteria should determine the selection has to be answered afresh in each article. First and foremost is chronology. In every group corresponding to a particular usage the earliest examples will be cited. Thereafter the commonest usages are illustrated as a rule by only a few further examples, particularly if the article is a long one. Much more significant for the history of a word are the changes it underwent in the 800 years or so with which the Thesaurus is concerned; and these, together with peculiarities of any kind in usage, are the focus of attention. There need be no proportional relationship whatever between the number of examples quoted and the total amount of material for each use of the word.

When the asterisk before the headword was first introduced, it was often thought sufficient to give only this general indication that material had been left out. Later the additional practice arose of showing exactly where passages are omitted by a system of annotations within the article: for instance 'exempla selecta' at the beginning of a subsection and 'al.', 'saepe', 'passim' either within or at the end of the chronological series.

It should be borne in mind that, whether or not an article cites all archive material, the material itself contains only excerpts for the post-Antonine period, extensive as these may be. Even the comprehensive collections from the earlier period are very far from providing a comprehensive view of the language of those days. The texts which have come down to us themselves represent a selection from the contemporary linguistic reality. No matter what degree of accuracy is attained in an article, the picture it gives of a word remains fragmentary, provisional and imperfect. Thus the article cannot and is not intended to be definitive, but seeks rather to prompt further discussion by setting out the material and showing where the problems lie.

Supplementary sections (appendices)

Syntactic and other matters for which no place can be found in the main section of the article may be illustrated in an appendix, as for example the 'appendicula syntactica et stilistica' which concludes the article rapio (vol. XI 2, 115, 5 ff.). In earlier volumes synonyma, iuxta posita and opposita were often merely listed at the end of the article. Nowadays they are given in a more detailed form and accompanied by references to allow easier checking. They are often added to the general definition (in a bracket or as a separate section, e.g. placeo vol. X 1, 2257, 48 ff.) or presented in an appendix (for example princeps, vol. X 2, 1289, 64 ff.). Any sublemmata come next in sequence. The last items in the article are lists of derivatives and compounds of the headword (deriv., compos.). The note cf. Onom. indicates that the word occurs also as a proper name.

Source: Thesaurus linguae Latinae, Praemonenda, 1990, ISBN 978-3-598-70765-0.