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Beginners' Guide to Latin Verb Tenses

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About Latin Tenses:

Latin is an inflected language where the verbs include a lot of information about the sentence. (Sometimes the verb is the only word in the sentence.) Even without a noun or pronoun, a Latin verb can tell you who/what the subject is. It can also tell you the time frame, interval, or "tense". When you parse a Latin verb, you deconstruct these and other facets of the Latin.

When you parse a Latin verb, you list the following:

A. meaning/translation

B. person

C. number

D. mood

E. voice (active/passive)

F. tense/aspect

Tense, as mentioned, refers to time. In Latin, there are 3 simple and 3 perfect tenses, a total of 6, and they come in both active and passive forms.

Moods In Different Tenses:

The Indicative Mood is the most common and that's what this page is about. You need to make note of the mood when parsing a verb. Most statement sentences use the indicative. In English, we generally contrast indicative with conditional sentences, although English has the Latin moods (Indicative, Subjunctive*, and Imperative**).

1. Present Tense:

The first of the simple tenses in the Indicative Mood is the present tense. The present tense in the Indicative Mood has both Active and Passive voices. The present tense shows action that is happening now.

  • I walk - ambulo

2. Latin Imperfect Tense:

The next tense is the imperfect, which conveys incompleted action in the past. Imperfect means incomplete or unfinished. When translating an imperfect verb, the simple past tense sometimes works. Other times, "was" plus an "-ing" ending on the verb or "used to" plus the verb will convey the incompleted past action.
  • I was walking - ambulabam

The imperfect tense in Latin is used for both continuous and habitual actions in the past.

3. Latin Future Tense:

The third tense is the future tense. A verb in the future tense conveys action that will happen in the future. The customary auxiliary verb denoting the future tense is "will."
  • He will walk - ambulabit

The 1st person singular future ambulabo is translated "I shall walk" -- technically. Most people in the U.S., if not in the rest of the anglophone world, would say "I will walk". The same is true of the 1st person plural ambulabimus: technically, it's "we shall walk," but in custom, it's "we will walk." In the second and third person, it's just "will" without qualification.

Latin Verb Endings:


Active Singular

-o, -m

-s

-t

Active Plural

-mus

-tis

-nt

Passive Singular

-or, -r

-ris

-tur

Passive Plural

-mur

-mini

-ntur



Perfect Active Endings
Singular

-i

-isti

-it

Plural

-imus

-istis

-erunt (sometimes -ere)

Past Tenses:

Past or perfected tenses are used for completed actions. There are 3 such tenses:
4. Perfect,

5. Pluperfect, and

6. Future perfect.

4. Latin (Past) Perfect Tense:

Generally simply called the perfect tense, this tense refers to an action that has been completed. Either a simple past tense ending (e.g., "-ed") or the auxiliary verb "have" conveys the perfect tense.
  • I walked - ambulavi
You may also translate it: "I have walked."

5. Latin Pluperfect Tense:

A verb is in the pluperfect tense if it was completed prior to another. Usually the auxiliary verb "had" signifies a pluperfect verb.
  • I had walked - ambulaveram

6. Latin Future Perfect Tense:

Future perfect is used to convey an action that will have been completed prior to something else. "Will have" are the customary auxiliary verbs.
  • I will have walked - ambulavero
* More advanced: In the Subjunctive Mood, there are 4 tenses, both active and passive:
  1. present,
  2. imperfect,
  3. perfect, and
  4. pluperfect.
**There is ordinarily one Latin tense in the Imperative Mood, with both active and passive forms.

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