Do the Work When Assigned
Usually students learn one Latin declension at a time, so there is only one complete set of endings to learn. If you don't learn them when they are assigned, it will be harder when you have two or more sets to memorize together.
The First Three Declensions Are Basic
This won't help you pass your tests, but... if for some reason you are stuck learning all five Latin declensions at once, it should be somewhat comforting to know that the fourth and fifth aren't that common, so if you know the first three, you will know far more than 60%. [Note: some very common words are in the 4th and 5th declension.] The following suggestions are based on the idea that once you have the first three down, the others will be easy enough.
Use Your Own Learning Style
Especially for people who learn like me -- a style I gather is called tactile or kinesthetic learning: write the declensions over and over and over again. Look for your own patterns. Then write them over and over and over again. I used to do this on a chalkboard which I could keep erasing and writing over, although the ideal would probably be the ancient Roman school boy's wax covered blocks of wood with a stylus. Some might find looking at flashcards or saying the word over and over again works better.
Recognize the Most Important and Least Used Forms
The vocative and locative are rare, so learning just the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and ablative, should get you through most Latin. Of course these cases have a singular and a plural form.
Know the Equivalent in Your Native Language
Based on my very first tearful day of Latin, it helps to know that these cases have equivalents in English. The nominative is the subject and the accusative is the object. The accusative can also be the object of a preposition. The ablative is also the object of a preposition, and the dative is called indirect object in English, which means it will be translated as "to" or "for" plus the noun.
In Greek and Latin the nominative and accusative plural end in "a" for neuters.
Since the first declension singular nominative and ablative also end in "a," it is very useful to learn that the first declension singular ablative has a long mark or macron over it.
The dative and ablative plural usually end in "is" in the first and second declension and in the third declension (and occasionally, the first), the "s" is separated from its vowel by a "bu" as in the third declension noun hostibuus and the first declension filiabus.
The genitive plural ending can be thought of as "um" with prefixes of "ar" in the first declension and "ur" in the second declension.
"A" is the vowel of the first declension and "u" or "o" for the second.
The accusative singular has the vowel of the declension a/u/e plus "m". The plural has the vowel a/o/e plus "s".
The nominative and genitive singular are shown in the dictionary form, so once the lexical item is known, the genitive should be obvious.
The dative singular for the 1st declension is the same as the genitive singular.
In the second and third declensions, the dative and ablative are the same.
Write the declensions over and over and over again.
Latin FAQ Index
- Is Latin easy?
- What do the Latin tenses mean?
- Do you have any tips on memorizing endings?
- Where can I find a Latin translation of...?
- In Latin, how do you say "I used to go"? "Fearless and determined"? "Thank you"?
- What is the correct Latin for "deus lo vult"?
- What is the plural of virus?
- Why does the neuter nominative and accusative plural match the nominative feminine singular?
- Are our borrowed words from French or Latin?