The Principal Parts of Latin Verbs

Updated on March 23, 2018
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Olivia has been studying Latin in-depth for four years and loves the language. Her goal is to share this same excitement with others.

Introduction

If you've ever looked up a verb in your Latin dictionary, you've probably found it listed in a style like this:

Amo, -are, -avi, -atus

At this point, you might be tempted to chuck your dictionary out the window. 'Why the heck are there multiple endings?' you might be asking. 'I just wanted to know how to say 'I love bread' in Latin, darn it!'

But don't smash your book through the windowpane just yet. With the help of this article you'll be solving the riddle of the over-complicated Latin verb in no time.


Four Principal Parts

The Present Indicative Active

The Present Infinitive Active

The Perfect Indicative Active

The Perfect Participle Passive

The Present Indicative Active

Let's take another look at our model verb.

Amo, -are, -avi, -atus

In Latin, that first form (with the -o ending) is called the Present Indicative Active. In Latin, the indicative mood is used to express facts. For example:

Panem amo. I love bread. (A fact!)

The Present Indicative Active stem of a verb- in this case, am- is used to form three tenses. Tenses tell you when the action of the verb takes place. The present, imperfect, and future tenses are formed on this stem.

Panem amo. I love bread (present).

Panem amabam. I was loving bread (imperfect).

Panem amabo. I shall love bread (future).

The Present Infinitive Active

The second form of our model verb is amare.

Amo, -are, -avi, -atus

This principal part is called the Present Infinitive Active. What's an infinitive? Well in the English language, the infinitive is 'to plus a verb used as a noun, adjective, or adverb'. The infinitive functions much the same in Latin.

Amare panem. To love bread.

Another thing that the Present Infinitive Active is used for is to find the stem and conjugation of the verb.

Conjugations
Infinitives
1st
-are
2nd
-ére
3rd
-ere
4th
-ire

Perfect Indicative Active

The third form of our model verb is amavi.

Amo, -are, -avi, -atus

This part is called the Perfect Indicative Active. In Latin, the perfect tense shows completed action. Verbs in their perfect form use a different stem than when they're in their present form. This is called the perfect stem.

The perfect stem can be found by dropping the -i from the ending of the verb (thus, amav-). Like the present tense, three tenses are formed off this stem: the perfect, the pluperfect, and the future perfect.

Panem amavi. I loved bread (perfect).

Panem amaveram. I had loved bread (pluperfect).

Panem amavero. I shall have loved bread (future perfect).

Perfect Participle Passive

We're almost at the end! The final form of our model verb is amatus.

Amo, -are, -avi, -atus

This fourth part is called the Perfect Participle Passive. A participle is a 'form of a verb that is used to indicate a past or ongoing action and that can be used like an adjective'.

In Latin, the Perfect Participle Passive may be used in several ways. Like an adjective, it has declension and gender (it follows the rules of the first and second declensions). When it's used without a form of sum, eram, or ero it means 'having been _-ed' or '_-ed'.

Panem amatum. The bread having been loved (The bread loved).

When it's used with a form of sum, eram, or ero it has a perfect, pluperfect, of future perfect meaning, respectively.

Panem amatum est. The bread was loved (perfect).

Panem amatum erat. The bread had been loved (pluperfect).

Panem amatum erit. The bread shall have been loved (future perfect).

Conclusion

And with that, you've successfully finished this crash-course in Principal parts. Congratulations! Gratulationes!

Of course, not every detail of all the forms these verbs can take could be covered in one article. But hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how each part of the Latin verb functions.

And a lessened desire to throw your dictionary through a window.

References

The definition of an infinitive came from The Purdue Owl.

The definition of a participle came from Merriam-Webster.

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