When beginning to formally study Latin verbs, not simply for vocabulary purposes but also for their grammatical structures (i.e., Tense, Voice, Mode, Person and Number), it’s important to pay attention to, even memorize the various “principal parts” or appearances of the the verb. There are generally four principal parts of a given Latin verb. These four principal parts are the four basic structures of the verb from which all of its various forms are derived.
By way of example, let’s look at the four “principal parts” of a normal 1st conjugation Latin verb like laudo—
1st Prin. Part (Present Act.) 2nd Prin. Part (Infinitive) 3rd Prin. Part (Perfect Act.) 4th Prin. Part (Participle)
laudo laudare laudavī laudatus, –a, –um
Since the first Latin tense studied is normally the Present tense (1st principal part, above), it’s important to know that this tense of the Latin verb actually derives its base or “stem” from the “Infinitive” form (2nd principal part) by removing the Infinitive’s ending (-re). So, 1st Conjugation Latin verbs are also known as “a-stems,” since the stem is lauda|… ending with an “a” (see above).
You might say, “But I don’t see the “a” on the end of the Present tense (1st principal part) of the verb!” True enough. It’s actually hidden, superceded by the addition of the verb’s 1st person singular personal ending (“o“). Or, as I like to say, it’s been “swallowed up like Jonah inside the whale.” However, the “a-stem” immediately reappears as the verb proceeds through its conjugation:
laudo = I praise
laudas = you praise
laudat = he/she/it praises
laudamus = we praise
laudatis = you (pl.) praise
laudant = they praise
While there are four (4) main conjugations of Latin verbs, with some “irregularities” or variations from the above paradigm that occur, this is the “model” or norm for how Latin verbs derive their various forms.
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