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Beginners' Latin
Bishop, pictogram. c.1282-92. Cat ref: E 36/274 f 29. Crown copyright

Lesson 9: Using the word list for verbs; verbs - past tense

Stage 1Stage 2

Verbs - past tense

The past tense is used for actions that have been completed.

All verbs have the same endings in the past tense:

Ending Person
-i I
-isti you (singular)
-it he/she/it
-imus we
-istis you (plural)
-erunt they

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Look at our example of tenere to hold

Latin Means and
tenui I held I have held
tenuisti you held you have held
tenuit he/she/it held he/she/it has held
tenuimus we held we have held
tenuistis you held you have held
tenuerunt they held they have held

The past tense can be translated in two ways in English. You will be able to work out which meaning is appropriate for your document.

The endings are added onto the stemGlossary - opens in a new window of the verb. The stem in the past tense is slightly different from the stem in the present tense. This table shows how the stems of first, second and fourth conjugation verbs are formed in the past tense.

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Conjugation First Second Fourth
Infinitive (‘to ...’) laborare tenere audire
Stem in past tense laborav- tenu- audiv-

idem Edwardus manerium de Johanne tenuit per novem annos The same Edward held the manor from John for nine years. idem the same
Georgius in terra dominica domini laboravit George worked in the lord’s demesne land. Georgius, -ii (m.) George
testamentum probatum coram domino apud Eboracum in predicto anno domini Will provedGlossary - opens in a new window before the lord at York Glossary - opens in a new window in the aforesaid year of the Lord Eboracum, -i (n.) York

probatum, proved

probare to prove a will

Two important verbs have an irregular stem:

dare to give past stem is ‘ded’
obire to die past stem is ‘obii

Henricus rex terram per cartam suam dedit. King Henry gave the land by his charter.
in hoc anno abbas de Eboraco obiit. In this year the abbot of York died.

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Third conjugation verbs

There is no set rule for creating the past stem of third conjugation verbs.

Here are some examples of common verbs:

Past tense Means in English Past tense Means in English
cepi I took feci I did
concessi I conceded* misi I sent
dixi I said* reddidi I gave back
duxi I led    

ego Simo episcopus dedi concessi et confirmavi per hanc cartam meam. I, Bishop Simon, have given, conceded and confirmed by this my charter. episcopus, -i (m.) bishopGlossary - opens in a new window
juratores dixerunt quod vidua manerium concessit coram domino. The jurors said that the widow conceded the manor in the presence of the lord.  

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esse – to be

This is an irregular verb. Note its different form in the past tense.

Latin Means in English and
fui I have been I was
fuisti you have been you were (singular)
fuit he/she/it has been he/she/it was
fuimus we have been we were
fuistis you have been you were (plural)
fuerunt they have been they were

homines episcopi non fuerunt in curia The men of the bishop were not in court.

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Remember that if you don’t know the past or present tense of a verb, you can find it by looking up the verb in a dictionary and conjugating the principal parts.

Handy hints Handy hint - verbs
In the past and the present tense, verbs ending in
  1. –t relate to ‘he/she/it’
  2. -nt relate to ‘they’
Checklist Checklist:
Are you confident with:
The endings of verbs in the past tense?
The Latin word for ‘He has been’ and ‘He was’?

Practice Sentences

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