Verb Essentials

A look at the third conjugation, and the use and recognition of moods and tenses

E pluribus unum is "one from many," of course. Annuit Coeptis means "He (God) has favored the beginnings." This refers to the date in Roman Numerals on the base of the pyramid, MDCCLXXVII or 1776, and "beginnings" are dative ("nodded to the beginnings"). I think it could just as well say, "It refers to the beginnings." Novus Ordo Saeculorum is "a new series of centuries," that is, a new era beginning with the founding of the government.

tollo, tollere, sustuli, sublatum (lift, take up, raise)
number singular plural
1 tollo tollimus
2 tollis tollitis
3 tollit tollunt

The third conjugation contains many useful verbs. Tollo is typical. Its present tense is shown in the table. Our word toll comes from tollere. A toll-gate was a gate with an arm that was raised to allow a vehicle to pass that had paid its toll. Note that the perfect and past participle are formed from another stem. Another example, capio is typical of verbs with an -i- in the stem. I have been writing the fourth principal part with -um instead of -us so that you become used to seeing this. When this is done, it is actually an obscure verb form called the supine, but all you have to do to get the participle is to change the -um to -us.
capio, capere, cepi, captum (take, seize)
number singular plural
1 capio capimus
2 capit
3 capit capiunt

The imperfect is formed with -ba-: tolliebam, etc., and capiebam, etc. The future is just like the imperfect with no -ba-, except that the first person singular is tollam or capiam. Note that -i- is the signal of the present, while -e- is the signal of the future. The passive is formed as you might expect: tollor, tolleris, tollitur, tollimur, tollimini, tolluntur, and similarly for capio. The passive infinitive is tolli, capi, and so forth, the -er- having been dropped. The fourth conjugation, of which audio, audire, audivi, auditus (hear) is an example, is almost like capio of the third. The letter -i- always appears. The passive infinitive is audiri, however. Audio has already been conjugated in the present in an earlier lesson.

The subjunctive is the mood of the verb that is used when its action depends on another verb, or may be subject to chance, will, or uncertain, or even contrary to fact. The subjunctive expresses something as an idea rather than as reality. In English, we might say: "if he should come, he would be welcome," or, "if that be true, then it is a pity." Should come and be are both subjunctive. In English, the distinction is not always plain, or even expressed, but in Latin it always is. Latin uses the subjunctive in subordinate clauses like: "he built a bridge in order that he might cross the river." Here built would be indicative, as usual, but cross would be subjunctive to show that it was an idea, the reason for building the bridge conceived in the mind before construction began. In English, we usually use modal helpers like should or might in these cases.

The usual way to make a verb sound subjunctive is to change the stem vowel. He loves is amat. He might love is amet. We might love is amemus. We warn is monemus. We might warn is moneamus. He lifts is tollit. He might lift is tollat. There is almost always some other word, such as a subordinating conjunction such as "if" or "unless" or "because" to make the subjunctive sound at home. In the imperfect, the -ba- changes to -re- in the subjunctive: amaret, "he might have loved." Spanish still does pretty much the same thing.

The present subjunctive of esse is: sim, sis, sit, simus, sitis, sint. The present subjunctive of ire is quite regular: eam, eas, eat, eamus, eatis, eant.

The imperative is the third mood of the verb (indicative and subjunctive are the others) used to give commands. Love! is ama or amate. Destroy! is dele or delete. Lift! is tolle or tollite. Hear! is audi or audite. Note that the singular imperative is just the infinitive shorn of its -re, and the plural is easy to make (just add -te). There are also third-person imperatives (let him depart!) but these are rare in normal language. Some common verbs have irregular imperatives, like fac (do) from facio, dic (say) from dicere, and duc (lead) from ducere.

If you want to suggest to your companions that you do something, the subjunctive of the first person plural is used. Bibamus! "let us drink". Edamus! "let us eat". Amemus! "let us love". This is just a matter of changing a to e or e (or i) to a. Ne laboremus! "let us not work". This is the optative form of the subjunctive mood, so the negative is ne, not non. Ducamus! "let us lead". You can also use the subjunctive to tell someone not to do something: ne edas rosas -- "don't eat the roses". This is actually close to saying: "one shouldn't eat the roses." The subjunctive can also be used in the third person, instead of the rare regular imperative. For example, vivit rex is "the king lives", but vivat rex is "long live the king". The familiar word fiat is the third person singular of the present subjunctive of fio, fieri, factus sum, (become), used as the passive of facio, facere, feci, factus (do). Hence it means, "let it be done." Fiat lux is "let there be light."

amo, pluperfect
number singular plural
1 amaveram amaveramus
2 amaveras amaveratis
3 amaverat amaverant

We mentioned quite a while ago that the perfect tense was used for completed past actions, or for normal description of the past, and gave the personal endings and hints on finding the perfect stem. To review, the first, second and fourth conjugations form their perfects very simply, by adding -v- or -u- to the stem, as in amavi, monui, and audivi. The perfect endings are -i, -isti, -it, -imus, -istis, -erunt. In classical Latin, v and u were the same letter, remember. You have to remember the perfect in the third conjugation; there are too many ways of forming it to make rules. For practice, play with veni (from venire, come); vidi (from videre, see); vici (from vincere, overcome). To lead is duco, ducere, duxi, ductum. Dux, ducis (masc) is a "leader". This verb also means "draw" with a pen or stylus.

amo, future perfect
number singular plural
1 amavero amaverimus
2 amaveris amaveritis
3 amaverit amaverint
There are also the past perfect or pluperfect tense (I had loved) and the future perfect (I shall have loved), and their conjugation is shown in the tables. Note that the endings are the imperfect and future of sum, which makes them easy to recognize. The subjunctive of the pluperfect uses the stem amavisse- with the usual personal endings. Amavisse is, in fact, the perfect infinitive, "to have loved". You can recognize such infinitives from the ending -isse. The passives are periphrastic, using the past participle, as we indicated in a previous lesson. What we have now seen should have given you an appreciation of the Latin verb, and the ability to recognize most of its forms.

Today's phrase is from one of Horace's Odes: Quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere. Fugio, fugere, fugi, fugitus means to shun or flee. Quaerere is to ask. Cras is tomorrow (yesterday was heri). Futurum is a participle, in fact the future active participle, which is characterized by the -urus ending, of the verb esse.

Return to Learn Latin
Proceed to Next Lesson
Back to Previous Lesson

Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 24 June 1999
Last revised 22 July 2002