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Using patterns: Latin verbs: Part 4: Person and number

December 16, 2014

Latin has two numbers, single and plural, and three persons, first, second and third. While comparable languages like ancient Greek and Sanskrit retained a dual number into the documented period, Latin did not; also while most Romance languages use both a familiar and a non-familiar or deferential form of the second person, Latin does not.

The first person includes the speaker. Although other languages have inclusive and exclusive forms of the first person plural, most Indo-European languages such as Latin do not. Hence whether or not the person addressed forms part of the we or us referred to depends on context.

The second person includes the person or persons addressed but not the speaker. Modern English does not typically distinguish between singular and plural forms of you, although some dialects include the option of phrases such as y’all or you guys. Nevertheless, the distinction is often important and is included in Latin and the Romance languages.

The third person refers to discussion of someone or something not including either the speaker or the person(s) addressed. In English, the associated pronouns include he/she/it and they/those, among others.

The combination of persons and number create a simple table in which the basic pattern of conjugations for Latin is shown:

person singular plural
1st -o/-m -mus
2nd -s -tis
3rd -t -(u)nt

Of the six Latin simple tenses, five employ a form of this basic pattern and the sixth, the perfect, uses a pattern which is not entirely dissimilar:

person singular plural
1st -i -imus
2nd -isti -istis
3rd -it -erunt

The specific patterns of conjugation as previously discussed follow five basic classes, four conjugations of which the third has two sub-types. These conjugation classes are characterized by the length and vowel characteristic of the root of the verb. (First, second and fourth conjugations are respectively associated with long vowels a, e and i, while third conjugation is associated with short vowels e and i. Examples and more detailed discussion can be found in Allen & Greenough.

For the present tense (indicative active), the first pattern

person singular plural
1st -o -mus
2nd -s -tis
3rd -t -(u)nt

is followed in the first, second and fourth conjugations, where the u of the third person plural is employed in the (third and) fourth conjugation(s), not the first and second conjugations. These suffixes are added to the root of the verb exactly as the first principal part of the verb is formed but retaining the characteristic vowel of the root. In the third conjugation, the characteristic vowel becomes an i, and the u of the third person plural is used.

In this previous post, I described the formation of the first person singular indicative active of each of the six basic Latin tenses. The present and perfect tenses are already discussed above. The remaining tenses to fully conjugate are the imperfect, the future, the pluperfect and the future perfect.

For the imperfect, the characteristic suffix on the root is -ba- for all conjugations. It then conjugates to become:

person singular plural
1st -bam -bamus
2nd -bas -batis
3rd -bat -bant

For the first and second conjugations, the future suffixes are markedly similar:

person singular plural
1st -bo -bimus
2nd -bis -bitis
3rd -bit -bunt

but for the remaining conjugations the future suffix takes a form:

person singular plural
1st -am -emus
2nd -es -etis
3rd -et -ent

Then the pluperfect and future perfect in all conjugations both add the marker -er- to the prefect stem but differ in the characteristic vowel. Like the imperfect, the pluperfect has an associated vowel a and, like the future, the future perfect has a characteristic vowel i. Thus one uses

person singular plural
1st -eram -eramus
2nd -eras -eratis
3rd -erat -erant

for the pluperfect and

person singular plural
1st -ero -erimus
2nd -eris -eritis
3rd -erit -erint

for the future perfect.The point is that with minor variations, the patterns are essentially the same throughout. One need only learn the basic pattern and the peculiarities of how each tense adapts that pattern.

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