Latin verbs have five characteristics: person, number, tense, voice, and mood.
Person tells us the relationship between the speaker of the sentence and the subject of the sentence. Latin, like English, has three different persons - first person, second person, and third person. First person (I/we) means that the speaker of the sentence is also the subject/one of the subjects of the sentence. Second person (you/you all) means that the speaker of the sentence is in direct conversation with the subject(s) of the sentence. Third person (he/she/it/stated subject) means that the speaker of the sentence is referring to a subject outside of the current conversation.
Number tells us how many subjects we have. Just like Latin nouns, Latin verbs can be singular (the subject refers only to one person or thing) or plural (the subject refers to multiple persons or things). Number plays a key role in Latin sentence construction - subjects and verbs must match in number, just as in English. A singular subject requires a singular verb; a plural subject requires a plural verb (see more below).
Tense tells us the temporal relationship between the action that occurs in the sentence and the speaker’s statement. For example, in the English sentence, “Lisa did her homework”, the past tense verb “did” tells us that Lisa has completed her homework at the time when the sentence was uttered. On the other hand, “Lisa is doing her homework”, the present tense verb “is doing” tells us that Lisa is in the process of completing her homework while the speaker is talking. There are six different tenses in Latin: present, imperfect, future, perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect.
Voice tells us whether the subject of the sentence is doing the action of the sentence or being acted upon. There are two voices in Latin: active and passive. An active verb indicates that the subject performs the central action of the sentence. For example, in the sentence, “the dog catches the ball”, the dog (our subject) is performing the act of catching. A passive verb indicates that the subject is being acted upon. To follow up on the example above, in the sentence “the ball is caught by the dog”, the ball (our subject) is not performing an action, rather it is simply being caught by the dog.
Mood tells us how the speaker of the sentence feels about the content of the sentence. Mood can indicate if a sentence’s content is simply a statement of fact, an expression of a wish or possibility, an order, etc. There are three Latin moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. While we will go into more detail on this later, for now, we can think of the indicative mood as indicating that the speaker is stating the content of the sentence as a fact; the imperative mood as indicating that the speaker is making an order; the subjunctive mood as indicating some level of uncertainty.
To summarize, verbs have:
Like we did with nouns, we will first need to consult the dictionary entry to determine the verb form. Below we have the dictionary entry for videō:
videō, vidēre, vīdī, vīsus - to see
The first four words in the entry are referred to as principal parts. Principal parts give you the information necessary to recognize and produce any form of the verb. If we move from left to right:
Our first principal part, videō, indicates what the 1st person singular present active indicative form of the word is. In this case, it translates to “I see.”
Vidēre, the second principal part, indicates the present active infinitive form of the word and translates to “to see.” This form provides two important pieces of information. First, it provides the stem (vidē-) that is used to create all of the present, imperfect, future forms of the verb (known as the present system). Second, in combination with the first principal part, it tells us the pattern (often referred to as a conjugation) that the verb will follow in creating different forms (more below).
Our third principal part, vīdī, indicates the 1st person singular perfect active indicative form, which translates in our example to “I saw”. The third principal part provides the stem (vīd-) that is used to create all of the active forms of perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect verbs (known as the perfect active system).
Vīsus, the perfect passive participle, is the fourth principal part and means “having been seen.” The fourth principal part is used to produce all the passive forms of perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect verbs (known as the perfect passive system).
The five different characteristics discussed above are reflected in the endings of a verb form. Like nouns, there are patterns in the way that verbs change their endings which we call conjugations.
There are four major conjugations (as well as one minor one) that we will become familiar with.
The conjugation to which a verb belongs can be easily determined by consulting the first and second principal parts in a dictionary entry:
If the second principal part ends with -āre, then the verb belongs to the first conjugation (e.g. amō, amāre, amāvī, amātus - to love).
If the second principal part ends with -ēre (note the long mark over the second-to-last e) and the first principal part ends with -eō, then the verb belongs to the second conjugation (e.g. videō, vidēre, vīdī, vīsus - to see).
What conjugation does each of the following verbs belong to?
faciō, facere, fēcī, factus - to make, do
moneō, monēre, monuī, monitus - to warn, advise
bibō, bibere, bibī, bibitus - to drink
iuvō, iuvāre, iūvī, iūtus - to help
veniō, venīre, vēnī, ventus - to come
When translating Latin verbs into English, you must convey all five characteristics in your translation. For example, consider the form monēbātur, which is the third singular imperfect passive indicative of moneō (“to warn”). We would translate this form as: he/she/it (3rd person singular) was (imperfect) being (passive) warned (the indicative requires no additional translation here).
Translate the following verb forms, given their person, number, tense, voice, and mood.
factum est - 3rd person singular, perfect, passive, indicative
it has been done/made
monēt - 3rd person singular, present, active, indicative
bibēbant - 3rd person plural, imperfect, active, indicative
they were drinking
iuvātur - 3rd person singular, present, passive, indicative
he/she/it is helped
vēnērunt - 3rd person plural, perfect, active, indicative
they have come/they came