A number of historical phases of the language have been recognised, each distinguished by subtle differences in vocabulary, usage, spelling, morphology, and syntax.
Today, many students, scholars and members of the Catholic clergy speak Latin fluently as a liturgical language.
Latin is a highly inflected language, with three distinct genders, seven noun cases, four verb conjugations, four verb principal parts, six tenses, three persons, three moods, two voices, two aspects and two numbers.
If it was not preferred in Classical Latin, then it most likely came from the undocumented contemporaneous Vulgar Latin.
For example, the Romance for "horse" (Italian cavallo, French cheval, Spanish caballo, Portuguese cavalo and Romanian cal) came from Latin caballus. Therefore caballus was most likely the spoken form.
By the late Roman Republic (75 BC), Old Latin had been standardised into Classical Latin.
Vulgar Latin was the colloquial form spoken during the same time and attested in inscriptions and the works of comic playwrights like Plautus and Terence.
Philological analysis of Archaic Latin works, such as those of Plautus, which contain snippets of everyday speech, indicates that a spoken language, Vulgar Latin (termed sermo vulgi, "the speech of the masses", by Cicero), existed concurrently with literate Classical Latin.
The informal language was rarely written, so philologists have been left with only individual words and phrases cited by classical authors and those found as graffiti.
Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant language, initially in Italy and subsequently throughout the Roman Empire.
Vulgar Latin developed into the Romance languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Romanian.
After the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, and Germanic kingdoms took its place, the Germanic people adopted Latin as a language more suitable for legal and other formal uses.