Grammar 01.7


Every verb in Latin has, by convention, several principal parts. You should aim to learn all of these parts (normally four) every time you learn a new verb, and they are given in most dictionaries and word lists. The verb to love, for instance, looks like this: amo, amare, amavi, amatum. Parts three and four we’ll leave till later: for the moment, note that the first part given is always the present active I form, so I love or I take etc. The second principal part is always the infinitive form: to love, to take, etc.

Not surprisingly Latin verbs go into the past, present, and future. But it’s worthwhile looking at this a little more closely. In English we can say I go and I am going, both forms of the present tense. Latin has one present tense, and this does for both of our English phrases above. Latin has three past tenses. There is the imperfect, which denotes past actions that were somehow continuous, habitual, or unfinished: “I used to go the shops every Thursday”, “I was running for ages”, “I kept on going”. There is the perfect, for actions that are done and dusted: I left, I sang, I have finished. And there is also the pluperfect, which is brings us further back into the past, and is the equivalent to had in English: I had run, I had sung.

Finally, for the moment, Latin has two futures. There is the simple future corresponding to will in English (I will go), but also the future perfect, which imagines a completed action sometime in the future: “I shall have left”. The tricky thing here is that English often has multiple translations for one Latin verb: a present can be go or going, an imperfect can be was or used to, and a perfect can be have run or ran. This takes a little getting used to, but will become clearer with practice.