Lesson 13 – Imperfect tense

In Stage 1 we looked at verbs in the present tense.

For example:

Present tense
Ego Lucie nuntium do – I give a message to Lucy

We also looked at verbs in the past tense

For example:

Past tense (perfect)
Ego Lucie nuntium dedi – I gave a message to Lucy

This kind of past tense is called a perfect tense. It is used to describe an action in the past which is completed.

To describe a past action or state which is incomplete, we use an imperfect tense. This tense indicates an action which has gone on over a period time or has happened frequently. It is translated into English by ‘was/were’ + ‘-ing’ or ‘used to’.

For example:

Past tense (imperfect)
Ego Lucie nuntium dabam – I was giving a message to Lucy

Just as with the present and perfect tenses, we need to know the conjugation a verb belongs to in order to make an imperfect tense.

Remember

Latin verbs are divided into four groups, or conjugations.

In each conjugation, the verbs share the same endings:
An example of a first conjugation verb is: confirmo, confirmare, confirmavi, confirmatum (1) – to confirm.
An example of a second conjugation verb is: habeo, habere, habui, habitum (2) – to have
An example of a third conjugation verb is: duco, ducere, duxi, ductum (3) – to lead
An example of a fourth conjugation verb is: audio, audire, audivi, auditum (4) – to hear

The endings for the imperfect tense are similar to those of the present tense.

Present tense endings
Latin English
-o I (first person singular)
-s you (second person singular)
-t he/she/it (third person singular)
-mus we (first person plural)
-tis you (second person plural)
-nt they (third person plural)

The difference is that they are preceded by ‘ba-’ and, in the first person singular, the characteristic ‘-o’ of the present changes to ‘-m’ in the imperfect.

For example:

Imperfect tense endings
Latin English
-bam I
-bas you (singular)
-bat he/she/it
-bamus we
-batis you (plural)
-bant they

To form the imperfect tense, remove ‘-re’ from the infinitive form of the verb and add the relevant ending above. However, if the verb is in the fourth conjugation, you will need to add an ‘-e’ before adding the relevant ending.

For example:

Imperfect tense of do, dare, dedi, datum (1) to give

Latin English
dabam I was giving, I used to give
dabas you were giving, you used to give
dabat he/she/it was giving, he/she/it used to give
dabamus we were giving, we used to give
dabatis you were giving, you used to give
dabant they were giving, they used to give

Imperfect tense of audio, audire, audivi, auditum (4) to hear

Latin English
audiebam I was hearing, I used to hear
audiebas you were hearing, you used to hear
audiebat he/she/it was hearing, he/she/it used to hear
audiebamus we were hearing, we used to hear
audiebatis you were hearing, you used to hear
audibant they were hearing, they used to hear

Handy hint

Two irregular verbs you will frequently come across are ‘esse’, ‘to be’, and ‘ire’, ‘to go’. It is well worth learning their imperfect forms.

The imperfect tense of sum, esse, fui, -, ‘to be’ is formed as follows:

Latin English
eram I was
eras you were
erat he/she/it was
eramus we were
eratis you were
erant they were

The imperfect tense of eo, ire, ivi, itum ‘to go’ is formed as follows:

Latin English
ibam I was going, I used to go
ibas you were going, you used to go
ibat he/she/it was going, he/she/it used to go
ibamus we were going, we used to go
ibatis you were going, you used to go
ibant they were going, they used to go

Checklist

Are you confident with

  • the meaning of an imperfect tense?
  • the form of an imperfect tense?
  • the meaning of the irregular verbs ‘esse’ and ‘ire’ in the imperfect tense?
  • the form of the irregular verbs ‘esse’ and ‘ire’ in the imperfect tense?

What next?