Latin has a curious syntactic possibility, which is mixing elements from different constituents, like in the sentence

Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando

which is translated by Wiktionary as

Death and life have contended in a marvelous combat

So, in this sentence, the constituent duello mirando is split by the verb conflixere. Something like that in a literal English translation would be

Death and life in a combat have contended [in a] marvelous.

If I recall correctly, Ancient Greek doesn't do this, for a comparison. So, about this syntactic feature:

  • Is it typologically rare?
  • What other languages have it?
  • Is it an artificial stylistic option created by baroque-ish authors?
  • How probably would it occur in an environment without writing, outside of the literary field (be it prose, written rhetoric and poetry, etc.), or with no conscious intent for style?
  • Is the case marking system the main factor that allows this construction to exist?
  • 8
    This is possible in pretty much any language with the so-called "free word order". Especially in poetry (where this phrase is actually from: Victimae paschali laudes. Russian: "Жизнь и смерть в этой битве сошлись небывалой". (my ad-hoc translation).
    – tum_
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 0:26
  • 4
    Ancient Greek does do this as well, though not to the almost fetishising extent that Latin does. Greek tends to prefer keeping at least some level of coherence within constituents. The case you’ve quoted here could easily be found in Greek as well (sandwiching a verb, adverb or participle between an modifier + noun element is one of the more common cases – just think of ὁ μὲν N or ὁ δὲ N), but Latin can sometimes mix and match even parallel constituents (<N1 A1> <N2 A2> can become, say, <N1 N2 A1 A2>), which Greek doesn’t normally do. Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 1:42
  • Old English poetry does this too
    – Tristan
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 10:21
  • As a counterexample, Korean has mostly free word order but I don't think it allows these constructions...
    – jick
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


In Latin, when part of a constituent "jumps over" an intervening word or phrase, as in your example, this is called hyperbaton. It is common in poetry, nor rare in rhetorical prose. It is considered to be a figure of speech, so it is supposed to have stylistic qualities; it is not the normal word order.

In poetry, hyperbaton is also often used metri causa. In your example, it is even because of the rhyme:

Mors et vita duello
conflixere mirando:

dux vitae mortuus,
regnat vivus.

Case markings do make it a lot easier to apply.

Considering how frequent it is not only in Latin, still to a large degree a culture centred on spoken language, but also in prehistoric Greek poetry, like Homer, I'd say writing is not at all a requirement.

Depending on your definition, somewhat similar (I suppose) phaenomena can be found in this, dear Reader, very language, in good, old fucking English.

  • 3
    I don’t really think English counts – sure, you can insert parentheticals and expletives inside many types of constituents, but the fairly doesn’t fixed simply word allow order proper hyberbaton. Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 23:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Hmm. Hyperbaton aside, English does allow for OP's type of example. Consider, for example, subject-auxiliary inversion, where the subject appears between the first auxiliary and the rest of the matrix VP. Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 0:05
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet: Oh, I agree. I just wanted an excuse to add those English Bits.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 2:52

Human languages use either morphology or syntax to convey meaning. Morphologically rich languages like Latin can (theoretically) have any word order due to its verb and noun-adjective endings:

The boy loves the little dog
1.Puer amat canem parvum
2.Canem amat parvum puer
3.Parvum puer amat canem
4.Amat puer parvum canem
etc. for a total of 24 possible combinations (The math is: 4 x 3 x 2 x 1)

Latin literature has been "heavily" edited, so what we read today and what/how actual Romans talked is likely "very" different.

Compare the Latin results to English, which becomes gibberish, especially if we treat each word as an independent constituent:

  1. *the boy the little loves dog
  2. *the dog loves the little boy (wrong b/c the meaning is different from above)
  3. *little the boy the loves dog etc.

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