Overview of the Latin Verb

  • Latin verbs do more than just show what action is being performed. There are five different components that all come together to show exactly what a Latin verb is communicating. These are as follows: person, number, tense, voice, and mood. But what exactly do each of these things mean? 
  • Person: refers to the grammatical subject of a verb, that is, who precisely is performing the action that the verb describes. There are a total of three separate persons in Latin, just as in English. They are as follows:
1st. Conjugationamō, amāre
1st. person: I am doing x1st. person: we are doing x
2nd. person: you are doing x2nd. person: you (pl.) are doing x
3rd. person: he/she/it is doing x3rd. person: they are doing x
  • The first person is used when speaking of yourself, either on your own (“I”) or with other people you include alongside yourself (“we”). The second person is used when directly addressing one person or more (“you,” either singular or plural). The third person is used to describe what people not directly involved in a dialogue are doing (“he,she, it, they”).
  • Number: You may have noticed a distinction being drawn between singular and plural numbers for the person of a verb. Indeed, the two concepts are closely related: a verb in the first person, for instance, can refer either to “I” or to “we,” with the former being the first person singular and the latter being the first person plural. The number of a verb, coupled with its person, thus shows exactly who is performing that verb’s action.

In English, “you” can be used either for the second person singular or the second person plural. Verbs in either number, however, are not formed identically to each other. You will see more of this when you study how to conjugate verbs in depth.

  • Tense: Latin has a total of six different verb tenses, but they broadly show at what time the action of a verb is taking place. This can be in the present, the past, or the future. While you might need additional words to show when a verb is taking place in English (e.g. “I will eat,” “she was eating,” etc.), Latin shows everything you need to know about the time at which the action of a verb is taking place within the verb alone.
  • Voice: Latin distinguishes between two different kinds of voice: active or passive. A verb in the active voice describes something that the subject is doing, whereas a verb in the passive voice describes something being done to the subject. This is as simple as the difference between saying “the fish eats” and “the fish is eaten.”

Latin verbs are conjugated in the passive with a special series of endings. Additionally, Latin also has ways of indicating the agent of a passive verb (for instance, by whom exactly the fish is being eaten). You will learn all of these things in later lessons.

  • Mood: The final category by which Latin verbs are divided is mood. Latin verbs have a mood in order to describe a kind of modality, or in what manner an action is being expressed. There a total of four different verb moods in Latin:
    1. Indicative: Latin verbs appear most often in the indicative mood, which is used to express that an action is definitive or factual. If a verb is in the indicative, it is really happening! 
    2. Infinitive: You can translate the infinitive of a Latin verb into English by simply adding “to” to it: the infinitive amāre, for instance, means “to love,” and expresses the idea of an action as an abstract verbal noun. 
    3. Imperative: Verbs in the imperative are given as commands. If someone were to tell you to do your homework, feed the cat, or go away, they would use the imperative in Latin. 
    4. Subjunctive: Verbs in the subjunctive typically express the opposite of the indicative. Instead, they indicate actions about which there is some uncertainty, perhaps as a doubt, a wish, a goal, or even a fear. 
  • Every one of these categories will cause a verb in Latin to conjugate differently. If you change any one of these five components (e.g. a verb’s tense from past to future, or its person to first to third, and so on) you will need to write that verb differently in order to show that! You will learn all about these aspects of Latin verbs in later lessons.