Verbs are the most important words of all, as is suggested by the fact that the verb in both English and Latin is named after the Latin word verbum, word! Without a verb, a sentence cannot be a proper sentence, or a clause a proper clause. A one-word sentence consists of a verb only, for example, ‘Run!’
The ending of a Latin verb shows who is carrying out the action of the verb (which is why there is usually no need for a pronoun to show this). Table 5 below shows the present tense person endings of almost every Latin verb.
Table 5 Person endings of Latin verbs (present tense)
|1st||o (= I)||mus (= we)|
|2nd||s (= you)||tis (= you)|
|3rd||t (= he/she/it)||nt (= they)|
The part of the verb to which the person ending is added is called the stem. Thus, the stem ama plus the person ending – t produces amat, ‘he/she/it loves’. Alternatively, ama plus nt produces amant, meaning ‘they love.’
Identify the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular or plural) of the following English verbs. Type your answers in the box below.
|Example||person and number|
|He loves||3rd singular|
|They capture||3rd plural|
|She carries||3rd singular|
|You desire||2nd singular or plural (depending on whether ‘you’ refers to one person or more than one people)|
|I fear||1st singular|
|We see||1st plural|
|They are||3rd plural|
|I carry||1st singular|
The tense of verbs
As well as indicating an action, and who is carrying it out, a verb usually tells us when the action happens: I’m eating, for example, tells us of something happening at the present moment, whereas I ate indicates something that happened in the past. This kind of difference is known as the ‘tense’ of the verb. In English, this is often indicated by using another verb to help out the meaning, for example I will eat . This extra verb is sometimes referred to as an ‘auxiliary verb’, from the Latin word auxilium, meaning ‘help’. In Latin, on the other hand, a change of person ending, and sometimes a change of stem, indicates a change in the tense.
The main tenses in Latin are given in Table 6 below.
Table 6 The main tenses in Latin
|Present||porto||I carry (simple present) I am carrying (present continuous) I do carry (emphatic)|
|Future||portabo||I shall/will carry I am going to carry|
|Imperfect||portabam||I was carrying (continuous action in the past) I used to carry (repeated action) I carried (repeated action)|
|Perfect||portavi||I have carried (present perfect) I carried (past simple: a completed action)|
|Pluperfect||portaveram||I had carried (further back in the past than the perfect)|
|Future perfect||portavero||I will/shall have carried|
You will note that ‘I carried’ is a possible English translation of both the imperfect and the perfect.
Latin would use the imperfect (portabam), from Latin imperfectum, ‘incomplete’, when the action was continuing or repeated: e.g. ‘I carried my books to school every day’.
Latin would use the perfect (portavi), from Latin perfectum, ‘complete’, for a one-off action: e.g. ‘I carried my books to school on Tuesday’.
Latin has only the above six tenses. As you can see from the translations provided, there are not as many different ways of describing actions in Latin as there are in English!
Identify the Latin tense – present, imperfect, perfect or pluperfect – that would be used to translate the following English verbs. Then identify the person and number of each (e.g. first person singular; third person plural). Type your answers in the box provided.
|Example||Person and tense|
|You speak||present tense, 2nd person|
|They have arrived||perfect tense, 3rd person plural|
|We used to know||imperfect tense, 1st person plural|
|We went||perfect tense or imperfect tense (depending whether it is a completed or repeated action), 1st person plural|
|You are flying||present tense, 2nd person|
|I was trying||imperfect tense, 1st person singular|
|He had jumped||pluperfect tense, 3rd person singular|
|She fell||perfect tense (depending whether it is a completed or repeated action), 3rd person singular|
The following extract from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament contains several verbs. Identify each of the verbs and say which tense would be used to translate them into Latin (present, future, imperfect, perfect or pluperfect). Type your answers in the box provided.
‘And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country... no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you …’(Luke 15: 14–18)
|had spent||pluperfect tense|
|[‘to be’ is also a form of verb: an ‘infinitive’]|
|gave||imperfect tense (since the action was habitual: he kept not being given anything)|
|[‘to spare’ is also a form of verb: an ‘infinitive’]|
|will arise||future tense|
|(will) go||future tense|
|will say||future tense|
|have sinned||perfect tense|