Latin – Unit One


A. The Verbal System

B. The Tenses of the Indicative

C. The Infinitive

D. The Four Conjugations

E. The Principal Parts

F. The Present Active Indicative System of the First Two Conjugations

G. The Irregular Verb sum, ‘(to) be’

H. The Noun System

I. The First Declension



The first unit of this book throws a lot of basic ideas at you right away. It is an intensive course, after all, and this information will be vital to all other grammatical constructions you are introduced to throughout your studies.

A. Verbs are identified grammatically using five key characteristics:

  1. Person (first, second, third)
  2. Number (singular, plural)
  3. Mood (indicative, subjunctive, imperative)
  4. Tense (present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, future perfect)
  5. Voice (active, passive)

E. Many people are familiar with the English boarding school classroom scene where young students in uniform are memorizing the conjugations of a verb by rote (think: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant, etc). This is not only tedious by highly ineffectual, since there are exceptions and irregularities littered throughout the Latin verbal system. Instead, it is recommended (and I’m going to attempt this during this year’s study ahead of the CMS exam) that students memorize only the Four Principal Parts of all verbs. Ultimately, you need to understand how to use these four principal parts to conjugate a verb rather than memorizing every single one of the conjugated endings.

NOTE: vowels can be absorbed into the tense sign of a verb (such as ‘-ba-‘ for imperfect and ‘-bi-‘ for future). This can be understood as a kind of ellision.*

D. There are four main conjugations in Latin. They are:

  1. verbs ending in -are (long ‘a’)
  2. verbs ending in -ere (long ‘e’)
  3. verbs ending in -ere (short ‘e’)
  4. verbs ending in -ire (long ‘i’)

C. Infinitives are only defined by tense and voice. They are not limited (as other verb constructions are) by person, number, or mood. Infinitives are, therefore, abstract verbal nouns, something I’m still clutching at for a foothold to understanding.*

G. The irregular verb sum, ‘to be’ – learn it by rote; there’s no better way that I’ve found.

H. As verbs are conjugated, nouns are declined and are identified by the following three characteristics:

  1. Gender (masculine, feminine, neuter)
  2. Number (singular, plural)
  3. Case (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and, occasionally, vocative)

Case endings are created from the stem of the noun, formed by removing the ending from the genitive singular construction. This is why nouns are listed in the dictionary with both the nominative singular and the genitive singular forms.

Case endings “indicate the grammatical and syntactical relationship of the given noun to the other words in the sentence”, so pay attention, especially to a noun’s gender.

Nouns and adjectives agree in gender, number, and case.

NOTE: there are no definite or indefinite articles in Latin, such as ‘the’, ‘a’, or ‘an’. These can be added in to your English translation where appropriate based on context.


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