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Beginners' Latin
Working, pictogram of grape pressers. c.1292-1305. Cat ref: E 36/275 f 252. Crown copyright

Lesson 1: Introduction to verbs

What is a verb?

A verb is a word that describes an action. Verbs are often called ‘doing’ words. Examples of verbs: to work, to call, to pray, to be, to think.

First conjugation verbs

Verbs are divided into groups called conjugations. You can recognise first conjugation verbs as they end ‘are’.

These are examples of first conjugation verbs

confirmare to confirm
dare to give
edificare to build
laborare to work
legare to leave, bequeathGlossary - opens in a new window
orare to pray
vocare to call

To conjugate, or list the parts, of first conjugation verbs

  1. Remove the ‘are’
  2. Add these endings

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-o I
-as you
-at he/she/it
-amus we
-atis you
-ant they

Look at our example of dare

Latin Means in English
do I give
das you give
dat he/she/it gives
damus we give
datis you give
dant they give

Did you notice that most of the endings include ‘a’? This is called the key letterGlossary - opens in a new window.
The exception is the form for ‘I’ which ends in ‘o’.

Can you see how these examples were made?

Latin Means in English
laboro I work
legas you bequeath
edificat he/she/it builds
oramus we pray
vocatis you call
legant they bequeath

Differences between English and Latin verbs

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  1. Look at the verb to give. In English, the ending of the verb changes once: it acquires an s in he gives. In Latin, the ending of the verb changes every time. The ending of the verb is crucial as it tells you the
  • Tense (when the action happens - the presentGlossary - opens in a new window tenseGlossary - opens in a new window)
  • personGlossary - opens in a new window (who is doing the action - I, you, he, she, it, we or they)
  • numberGlossary - opens in a new window (how many people are doing the verb – if one, then it’s singular; if two or more, it’s plural)

Read through dare again and notice how the endings change.

  1. In English, the words ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘it’, ‘we’ or ‘they’ show who is doing the verb. In Latin, these words are usually unnecessary. damus means we give. A separate word for ‘we’ is not needed.
  1. In Latin, there are two ways of saying ‘you’. For example, both das and datis mean ‘you give’. The form used depends on the number of people:
  • You (singular) when there is one person, for example das
  • You (plural) when there are two or more people, for example datis

There were two forms of ‘you’ in English: thou givest and you give. ‘Thou’ is not used widely in modern English.

Latin document points Latin document points
This tutorial concentrates on I, he/she/it, we and they.
These are more likely to appear in records than the two forms of ‘you’.
  1. In our example of dare, the action is happening now – the present tense.

In English, there are three ways of describing actions in the present:

I give, I am giving, I do give } Do

In Latin, just one word can be used to convey all three meanings. Latin is more concise than English. It uses fewer words to express the same meaning.

Don’t worry if this seems like a lot to take in. You will get used to Latin and it will become easier. You can get encouragement and advice on the ‘help the learning process’ page.

Checklist Checklist:
Are you confident with all the stages? If not, read through the lesson again, if you are, tick and move to the next section of the tutorial.
Why the ending of a verb is important?
How to conjugate dare?
Why there are two ways of saying ‘you’ in Latin?

Activity

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