The Present Active Indicative,
Imperative, and Inﬁnitive of Verbs
The material presented in the
Fetutinae accompanying each chapter consists mainly of unconnected
points arising from the chapter. There is nothing here that you must
know to be able to work successfully through the chapter. Indeed, especially
since vocabulary and syntax often appear in the Fetutinae before you
meet them in the course, you may find it best to return to browse through
these files after you have advanced farther.
Grammatical terms such as “present”,
“indicative” and “active” define the precise form of the verb.
They will either be explained briefly when they first occur, or presumed
to be comprehensible from the context, or even ignored till later chapters.
For example, the significance of “present” will become clear through
contrast with other tenses (see Chapter 3); of “indicative”, through
contrast with “subjunctive” (see Chapter 22); of “active”, through
contrast with “passive” (see Chapter 14).
The importance of verbs is
reflected in the word “verb” itself, for it is derived from the
Latin noun verbum, which means not only “verb” but also “word”
(of any kind). Some ancient etymologising was wonderfully improbable:
a verbum was thought by some to be so called because the air
reverberates when we speak. (There will be a section on ancient
etymologising in every chapter from Chapter 11 onward.)
Many languages use different
forms to address individuals or groups, according to their status or
relationship with the speaker. For example, French uses the second person
plural, German the third person plural, in formal address both to individuals
and to groups; Italian, the third person singular in formal address
to an individual, the third person plural to a group; Spanish usage
varies considerably from country to country. Moreover, in spoken French,
the first person plural (e.g. nous sommes “we are”) has largely
been supplanted by an impersonal third person singular (e.g. on est
[literally “one is”], on being derived from the Latin
homo “person”). Classical Latin, however, is as straightforward
as English in this respect, having only one such idiom, the first person
“plural of modesty”, used occasionally instead of the first person
singular to draw emphasis away from the speaker’s own feelings and
actions, i.e. rather the opposite of the “Royal”We”, as in “We
are not amused”, attributed in this sense to Queen Victoria.
The first person plural, but
not the second or the third, is used very commonly in Latin poetry instead
of the singular, with no significant difference in nuance, but this
is a poetic convention rather than a general idiom.
Had the last two paragraphs
been written in the Victorian Age, it might have been worth observing
that the plural “you” had now mostly supplanted the singular “thou”;
i.e. forms such as “thou art”, “thou amusest” were dropping
out of use. Since the plural “you” is now used for both singular
and plural, the form “y’all” is used in some U.S. dialects to
refer to the plural (though, rather confusingly, even this expression
is sometimes directed to a single addressee). In Middle English, “ye/you”
were used as a polite alternative to the singular “thou/thee”, and
gradually supplanted the singular forms.
In the third person singular
(amat, monet etc.), Latin is not as clear as the English
equivalent: amat can mean either “he loves”, “she loves”
or “it loves”. The context will usually make clear which sense is
intended; if not, a pronoun “he”, “she” or “it” is added
(see Chapter 17). The use of pronouns with verbs only for clarity, emphasis
or contrast is not peculiar to Latin; Greek (both classical and modern),
Italian and Spanish, for example, are very comparable in this respect.
English, French and German, however, are not Pro(noun)-Drop(ping) languages.
The advertising slogan yo quiero Taco Bell is philologically
dubious: the Spanish for “I want Taco Bell” is quiero Taco Bell,
and the addition of the pronoun yo (presumably to give a word-for-word
correspondence with the English version) implies that, even though everyone
else may detest Mexican fast food, I personally rather like it.
The term “conjugation”
is derived from the Latin verb coniugo, coniugare,
coniugavi, coniugatum (1) “to join together”, denoting
the way in which the various forms of a verb are organized.
Verbs in –eo, other
than in compounds of eo “I go” (see Chapter 4), are almost
all 2nd conjugation. The only such verb in the 1st
conj. is the rare confarreo, referring to marriage by an ancient
ceremony involving the exchange of wheat cakes (farreum).
The distinction between
in and sub with the accusative or ablative depends on whether
or not motion towards is involved. Motion alone is not enough:
ambulo in casam I walk into the house
ambulo in casa I walk (about) in the house
ambulo sub arborem I walk (to) under the tree
sub arbore I walk (about) under the tree
It has been speculated that
the imperative was the earliest form of the verb to evolve. This is
incapable of proof, but it seems reasonable to suppose that “Watch
out for saber-toothed tigers!” had a particularly strong utilitarian
Imperatives are found in Latin
almost exclusively in the second person singular and plural of the present
active tense, except for the special case of deponent verbs, which use
passive forms of the present tense with an active sense; see Chapter
15. Third person imperatives and future active imperatives do exist,
but they had largely dropped out of use by the classical period. When
future imperative forms continued to be used, they had often become
equivalent in sense to the present forms.
The third i-stem, or
mixed, conjugation is essentially a subdivision of the third, with elements
taken also from the fourth. The dominance of i in i-stem
verbs will become apparent when we meet the future and imperfect tenses
in Chapter 3. It is conventional to present this conjugation either
after the third or, more commonly, as in this course, after the fourth.
In antiquity, grammarians regularly conflated the third, fourth and
third i-stem conjugations, in a very unhelpful manner. Since
Latin grammars were styled closely on Greek models, it may be that this
particular lack of coherence arose because Greek does not have an equivalent
system of conjugations.
Being able to distinguish the
length of the first vowel of the infinitive ending (e.g. monēre,
but mittere and capere) will help to determine conjugation.
Since the accent falls on the penultimate syllable if the vowel in that
syllable is long, but on the antepenultimate if it is short, the distinction
between monēre and infinitives of the third or third i-stem
conjugations (míttere, cápere) will be all the clearer.
Latin is often commended for
the elegant conciseness of its verb-system, but very many other languages
also have one single form for each tense, and there are distinct advantages
in the simple and effective use of auxiliary verbs (be, do,
have) in English. There is some evidence for the use in everyday
speech of forms such as mittens sum “I am sending”, involving
the auxiliary verb “to be” (Chapter 4) and the present participle
(Chapter 19), but it should not be imitated.
audire implies both
active listening and passive hearing. Latin does not make the distinction
between hearing and listening found in most modern European languages;
cf. Sp. oir/escuchar, Fr. écouter/entendre, Ital.
sentire/ascoltare, Germ. hören/zuhören.
The Spanish verb tener
“to have” is derived from the Latin tenere, but tenet
means “he holds”, not “he has”.
In the vocabulary lists given
in almost all chapters, no attempt is made to reflect the much greater
richness of English lexical choices. Occasionally, when a Latin word
bears more than one distinct meaning, those meanings are given. Hence,
in Chapter 1, it is noted that debere means “owe”, “ought”,
“must” and “should”, and that audire means both “hear”
and “listen to”. No purpose is served, however, in noting that
spectare means not just “watch” but also “view”, “gaze
at”, “look at”, “survey”, “observe” etc. It seems
better to allow students to think of synonyms and near-synonyms for
themselves rather than to enshrine a list of alternatives in a vocabulary
This is especially true of
adjectives, a part of speech with which English is particularly well
endowed. It is quite enough to know that vita sine lingua Latina
tristis est means “life without the Latin language is sad”;
you will work out soon enough that it is also “depressing”, “dismal”,
“doleful”, “dreary”, “gloomy” and “glum”, not to say
“lugubrious”, “melancholy”, “miserable”, “morose”, “unhappy”,
Latin, and even Greek, are
surprising deficient in adjectives denoting color. In an interesting
discussion of the imprecision of Latin color terminology at Aulus Gellius,
Attic Nights 2.26.2, one of the speakers notes that “colors are
many and various, but our names for them are vague and inadequate; our
eyes distinguish more different colors than we have terms with which
to describe them” (multiplex colorum facies, appellationes autem
incertae et exiguae; plura sunt in sensibus oculorum quam in verbis
vocibusque colorum discrimina). Aristotle considered that the rainbow
contained only three colors, red, blue and green, with just a hint of
orange (Meteorological Studies 3.2).
Although they almost all conform
to particular linguistic principles, the numerous variations in the
stem of verbs formed on the perfect stem, both active and passive, are
no different from irregularities for the beginner, and must be learned
as such. For example, the verbs capio, capere, cepi,
captum “take” and rapio, rapere, rapui,
raptum “seize” are both 3 i-stem verbs, differing only,
but in an apparently arbitrary way, in the perfect active system.
The wide range of forms in
Latin verbs gradually becomes interesting, rather than simply daunting:
in George Orwell’s 1984, the State aimed to abolish irregular
verbs. In modern English, there are almost 300 “irregular” verbs,
but it points to a strong level of regularity in their origin that they
are all Anglo-Saxon and monosyllabic, and refer to basic actions and
states. English probably has more “irregular” verbs than any other
language now spoken, while some others, such as Turkish, Finnish, Welsh,
Chinese and Japanese, have almost none.
Mime in antiquity was much
like modern pantomime, with many actors speaking and singing.
Conversely, pantomime was much like modern mime, with a single actor
performing with gestures alone. Modern pantomime is now found particularly
as a traditional form of theatrical performance for children at Christmas
in Great Britain, rich in slapstick humor and often interlarded with
doubles entendres to appeal to adult members of the audience. In
antiquity, it ranked rather higher than mime: literary texts as intellectually
challenging as Platonic dialogues were among the subjects for pantomime.
Aulus Gellius, writing
in the mid-2nd century AD, quotes a group of 14 of Publilius’ sententiae,
describing them as lepidae et ad communem sermonum usum commendatissimae
“elegant and very well suited to everyday use in conversation”.
(sermo, sermonis masc. 3 means “conversation” rather
The wisdom of sprinkling one’s
conversation with Latin expressions is debatable nowadays. Certainly,
we should bear in mind that Publilius’ sayings are taken out of context,
and presumably did not have quite the same slightly patronizing aura
in their original setting, mimes on broadly comic and often obscene
subjects. The popularity of these collections inevitably led to the
addition of material from other sources, and it is rarely possible to
distinguish original lines from later accretions.
Publilius was not the only
author to be treated this way. In the Middle Ages, Ovid’s poetry was
“moralized”, so that even the Remedia Amoris came to be exploited
as a school text. Quotation out of context could have quite the opposite
effect: Ausonius’ Cento Nuptialis draws on some 215 lines of
Vergil to concoct a more or less explicit description of sexual intercourse
in 131 hexameters. (Ausonius himself calls the Cento a silly
little poem of no value [frivolum et nullius pretii opusculum],
but anyone who has ever tried to compose a cento on even a much more
modest scale will appreciate his ingenuity.)