Present Tense

Things will now start to get tricky, as we'll now introduce verb tenses, and because this is the first tense, there is a LOT to take in!

What is a tense?

This lesson is on the "present tense". This describes what is happening in the present i.e. now. There are three was of translating the present tense into English. The example is using the verb "to carry".

  1. I am carrying
  2. I carry
  3. I do carry

To decide which one to use, just pick the one that makes the most sense in the sentence. Usually, the first version ("I am carrying") makes the most sense.

What is a conjugation?

In Latin, there are four different groups of verbs, known as conjugations. There are many verbs in each conjugation, but 3 is the biggest.

What does "first person plural" mean?

In both English and Latin, there are different "person"s and each can be singular or plural:

Person Singular Plural
First I We
Second You You
Third He/She/It They

In Latin, depending on who you are addressing, the verb will have a different ending. Often, the words for "I" and "you" aren't used, so sometimes, you can only translate the sentence by recognising the verb endings.

In the second person, there is a difference between the singular and plural forms. The second person singular is used when addressing one person, but the second person plural is used when addressing multiple people.

Infinitives

The "infinitive" is another ending of the verb. The infinitive of a verb in English is "to" do something. Examples include "to play", "to run" and "to jump". In Latin, the inifintive ends in -re, but will vary depending on conjugation.

When you see a Latin word, in the dictionary, the infinitive will be listed. For example, if you look up "carry", it will show:

porto, -are, -avi, -atus

The first means "I carry" and the second ("portare") means "to carry". You will learn the meanings of the other two later on.

The following table shows how the infinitives are formed along with meanings:

Verb Conjugation Verb Infinitive Meaning of infinitive
1st amo amare to love
2nd moneo monere to warn
3rd traho trahere to drag
4th audio audire to hear

Note that 1st conjugation verbs have "-are" infinitives, 2nd are 3rd both have "-ere" and 4th conjugation verbs have "-ire".

The present stem

In Latin, every verb has a "present stem". To form this, you take the infinitive, and remove the -re from the end. The only exception is in the third conjugation, when the "-ere" is removed and an "i" is added. For the examples above, the infinitives are "ama", "mone", "trahi" and "audi". In the present tense, the endings are added to the "present stem".

Endings

The first few Latin tenses that you learn tend to have the following endings:

Person Singular Plural
1st -o or -m -mus
2nd -s -tis
3rd -t -nt

The verb table below shows the endings for each conjugation using an example verb. The table lists the verb and the conjugation it is in:

1st conjugation 2nd conjugation 3rd conjugation 4th conjugation
1st person singular amo moneo traho audio
2nd person singular amas mones trahis audis
3rd person singular amat monet trahit audit
1st person plural amamus monemus trahimus audimus
2nd person plural amatis monetis trahitis auditis
3rd person plural amant monent trahunt audiunt

There are some commonly made mistakes when learning this table. Make sure you remember the following:

  • In the first conjugation, in the first person singular, the "o" ending is added to "am", rather than the present stem ("ama"). This is probably because "amao" would hard to say.
  • In the third conjugation, even though the infinitive ends in "-ere", the present stem ends in an "i" ("trahi").
  • In the first person singular and the third person plural in the third conjugation, the ending is added to "trah" rather than "trahi".
  • The most common error is mixing up the third person plurals of the 3rd and 4th conjugations. The third conjugation ends in "unt", but the fourth conjugation ends in "-iunt".

Check your understanding

Once you think you have learned the table, you should be able to recite the verb table for any of the conjugations.

All 1st conjugation will follow the pattern of "amo" and all 2nd conjugation verbs will follow "moneo", and 3rd and 4th conjugation verbs will follow the patterns of their respective examples.

To check you have learnt the tables, you could attempt to write out the endings for the verb "lego, -ere, -i, lectum", meaning "to read" - it is a third conjugation noun. Then, right out the meanings for each ending.

A slightly harder example would be to write out the present tense for the verb "venio, venire".

If you got both of these examples correct, you are well on your way to mastering the present tense.

A third question would be to translate the following sentences into Latin. Remember that in Latin, you don't have to put in the words for "I", "You", "He", "We", "They" etc. You only need to have the verb with the correct ending.

The following vocabulary should help.

Latin English
laudo, laudare to praise
rego, regere (3)* to rule
video, videre (2)* to see
  • The number in brackets represents the conjugation that the verb falls into.

They rule.
She is praising.
You see.

If you feel confident with using the present tense, then click below to view the next lesson.

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