If you’ve spent any time studying languages, you most likely agree that verbs have the power to humble an eager linguist. As English speakers, we often don’t realize the complexity of meaning that each verb holds, and therefore, rarely understand the fullness a tiny little word can contain.
In Cycle 2 in the Foundations program of Classical Conversations, we memorize Latin conjugations – or how verb endings change to express person, number, voice, mood, and tense. When the Challenge students encounter verbs, the complexity is compounded if they do not know these details about English verbs. Often, they find themselves guessing, when the beauty of the Latin language lies in the precision by which a verb is constructed, presenting all of the information clearly if one knows where to look.While Latin nouns have three areas of focus: gender, number and case, Latin verbs have five elements to attend to: person, number, voice, mood, and tense.
- There are three options for person: 1st (speaker), 2nd (spoken to), and 3rd (spoken about). If you’ll remember from your grammar studies, these refer to the personal pronouns: I, you, he/she/it, we, y’all, they.
- Closely related to person, verbs also have two options for number: singular and plural. A verb will match the subject in number and person. The dog runs. (singular) The dogs run. (plural)
- Next comes the two options for voice: active or passive. The boy hit the ball. (active – the subject is doing the action) The boy was hit by the ball. (passive – the action is being done to the subject).
- Then there are three possibilities for mood: indicative (stating a fact), subjunctive (a wish, hope, or possibility), and imperative (a command). Beginner usage of verbs remains in the indicative mood, so that’s what I’ll start with here.
- Finally, there are six tenses: present (I play), imperfect (I was playing), future (I shall play), present perfect (I have played), pluperfect (I had played), future perfect (I shall have played).
If this information is overwhelming, this is a good time to pull out a handy-dandy chart and start copying. If you’re in the Essentials program, I hope you recognize that copying the verb charts will be an invaluable tool for deeper grammar studies in Latin.
When the aspects of verbs become more familiar, conjugating verbs in Latin will not be nearly as overwhelming.
You can identify which conjugation a verb belongs to by looking at the ending of the 2nd principal part.
Check out the charts that I developed with my son. If you start copying these charts, you will soon see that as overwhelming as it seems, there are so many things that repeat, or are very similar, and the truth will come to life before your eyes. You will also see that to truly utilize a verb in Latin you must memorize the four principal parts of every verb you encounter. The chart tells you which part to use for each tense/mood/voice. Verbs are so complex that often students are afraid to play with them. If you’re looking for a gentle way to introduce your grammar stage kids to verbs in Latin, stick to the most basic forms until they become effortless, then add another aspect.
- Memorize the conjugation endings from the present, imperfect, and future tenses.
- Memorize the four principal parts of a couple of 1st conjugation verbs (here’s a list of the vocabulary from the Henle book)
- Conjugate your memorized verbs in the present tense until it becomes easy.
- Conjugate your memorized verbs in the imperfect tense until it becomes easy.
- Conjugate your memorized verbs in the future tense until it becomes easy.
- Memorize the conjugation endings from the present perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses.
- Conjugate your memorized verbs in the present perfect tense until it becomes easy…
You get the picture. It is the same thing as practicing dribbling a basketball, or swinging a baseball bat. You can make these activities tedious or enjoyable. That part is up to you!
If you feel like you need more help with your English grammar to be able to tackle Latin grammar, join an Essentials program in your area, or utilize one of these great starter programs for teaching Latin to your family. There is a lot I still have to learn, but I take it one step at a time!