Latin IS English!

May 16, 2009

The States of Being of the Latin “State of Being” Verb: “sum” (6 Tenses)

As with all languages, there are a handful of verbs that, not being “active” (transitive) toward a “direct object” in their meanings and usage, they therefore fall into a category of verbs commonly known as “state of being” verbs, also referred to as “linking” or “intransitive” verbs.  Also, in each of the languages I’ve studied (and surely in many more), the “to be” verb always falls into an “irregular” category of verb structures.  The Latin verb sum = I am . . . is no exception.  Not to worry though, because there are still patterns of “constants” that may be observed among the variables, making this irregular verb more manageable for memorization. So, let’s observe the chart of “The Six (6) tenses of the Latin Verb sum” (PDF also available from sidebar) followed by some comments (below)—

The Six Tenses of the Latin Verb sum

First, it is helpful to notice—via the aid of color—that all but one of the six tenses of sum utilize the same “personal endings” (with the frequent alternation of –o / –m in the 1st person singular).  The Latin “Perfect” tense is the only tense revealing a unique grouping of verb endings (i.e.— ī, isti, it, imus, istis, ērunt). Meanwhile, it stays easy. The “Imperfect,” being a past time tense, conveniently throws us back into that former “era” (verb stem) when things were quite different.  Put the personal endings on, and it’s a done deal! Similarly with the “Future” tense, with a verb stem “eri,” which shows all through the conjugation except in the 1st person singular where, like Jonah inside the whale, the “i” gets swallowed up by the “o” ending.  It’s there (like Jonah); you just can’t see it (him)!

On to the “Perfect system,” which includes all three: the “Perfect,” the “Pluperfect” and the “Future Perfect”—all noticeably formed off the third principal part of this verb . . . Let’s see . . . uh . . . that would be . . . uh . . . Oh, “phooey!” — I can never remember it!  Wait! That’s it! The third principal part isfuī (pronounced “foo-ee”).  So then, the stem used is simply:fu-.  As noted about, the “Perfect” adds to this stem the uniquely used endings: ī, isti, it, imus, istis, ērunt, leaving you with two clues or “flags” to tell you what tense it is.  And finally, utilizing the same fu- stem, the “Pluperfect” and the “Future Perfect” simply add on the “Imperfect” conjugation of sum: eram . . . and the “Future” conjugation of sum: ero . . . , respectively.

So, observe; use discernment; think logically; look for structural patterns and consistencies. If you do, the irregularities of this “irregular” verb will seem less ominous to you.

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4 Comments »

  1. this didn’t help much, not the right imperfect endings… it goes like aba eba eba ieba ieba.

    Comment by Dizzy — September 29, 2011 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

    • The Imperfect endings you list belong to the normal 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th conjugation Latin verbs, but this chart shows the various tenses of the irregular, state-of-being Latin verb “sum,” which does not include a “-ba” as part of its Imperfect structure. Check any Latin grammar for the tenses of “sum” and you’ll see.

      Comment by Robert Wermuth — September 29, 2011 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  2. This was a BIG help! THANKS so much!

    Comment by Denise — February 16, 2013 @ 7:47 am | Reply

  3. Very helpful–I keep teaching my students in color, but they are not yet acquainted with the perfect tenses. This will be a great bridge for them into the perfect system, coming next week. Thanks!

    Comment by Mrs R — February 23, 2013 @ 9:09 pm | Reply


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