Confused about Latin verb conjugations? Read this quick post to learn how to find the conjugation of any Latin verb.
Almost all Latin verbs belong to one of four conjugations (or categories). If you aren’t quite sure what a conjugation even is, then pause right here and go read my post all about conjugations. Otherwise, let’s keep moving.
I said almost all Latin verbs, because there are a few irregular verbs that don’t fit into the four categories. We will address them at the end of this post.
In the next few minutes you will learn:
- why knowing a Latin verb’s conjugation is important
- how to find the conjugation of any Latin verb
- what the common Latin irregular verbs are
It is actually quite easy to determine what conjugation a verb is, so you are in luck!
Why does a verb’s conjugation matter?
You need to know what conjugation a verb belongs to because otherwise you will not be able to understand or translate it properly. It’s that simple.
Here’s a quick example to demonstrate what I mean. The present tense of second conjugation Latin verbs features long ē vowels. But the future tense of third and fourth conjugation verbs features long ē vowels.
monēmus (2nd conjugation) = we advise (present tense)
mittēmus (3rd conjugation) = we will send (future tense)
The verb ending is the same in both cases: -ēmus. And yet one verb refers to the present and the other to the future.
The only way you can determine the proper meaning is by knowing that moneō is 2nd conjugation and mittō is 3rd conjugation. And this is just one example of why memorizing (or at least being able to identify) a verb’s conjugation is so important.
Okay, I have made my point. You now understand why knowing a verb’s conjugation is essential. Now let’s move on to how you actually tell what conjugation a Latin verb belongs to.
How To Find the Conjugation of a Latin Verb
Regular Latin Verbs
In order to determine the conjugation of a regular Latin verb, look at its second principal part and see what it ends in.
(Not familiar with principal parts? I have a whole post about them. But in short, the principal parts of a verb are four forms that give us all the verb’s stems.)
The second principal part is the present active infinitive of the verb. Here are the endings for each of the four conjugations:
Pay special attention to 2nd vs. 3rd conjugation: the only difference is a macron. (You really should memorize those pesky macrons!)
Let’s test this out on a real verb. I have given all four principal parts, as is standard.
iaciō, iacere, iēcī, iactus ‘throw’
What conjugation does this verb belong to? If you answered “3rd”, good job. The second principal part ends in –ere (without a macron), and –ere indicates 3rd conjugation.
Now you try! What conjugation does each of the following verbs belong to?
- sedeō, sedēre, sēdī, sessus
- vocō, vocāre, vocāvī, vocātus
- audiō, audīre, audīvī, audītus
- misceō, miscēre, miscuī, mixtus
- petō, petere, petīvī, petītus
- veniō, venīre, vēnī, ventus
- clāmō, clāmāre, clāmāvī, clāmātus
- noceō, nocēre, nocuī, nocitūrus
How are you feeling? That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now we just have to address a few exceptions.
How To Find the Conjugation of a Deponent Verb
If you are just beginning to learn Latin, you probably don’t know what deponent verbs are yet, so feel free to skip this section. But if you are a little further on in your studies and deponents are on your radar, these tips will prove helpful.
Just like with regular non-deponent verbs, you check the second principal part to determine what conjugation the verb is part of. But deponent verbs don’t have active forms, so their second principal part cannot be the present active infinitive. Instead, the second principal part of deponents is the present passive infinitive.
And this means that there is a separate set of endings for the second principal part of deponent verbs. Here they are:
Time to practice again! Identify the conjugation of each of the following Latin deponent verbs by checking what ending is on their second principal parts.
- mīror, mīrārī, mīrātus sum
- proficīscor, proficīscī, profectus sum
- fungor, fungī, fūnctus sum
- fateor, fatērī, fassus sum
- orior, orīrī, orsus sum
- reor, rērī, ratus sum
- cōnor, cōnārī, cōnātus sum
- vereor, verērī, veritus sum
And that’s all there is to it. Now let’s take a look at how verbs are entered in dictionaries, to make sure you are comfortable finding the conjugation no matter what.
But first, if my explanations are helping you, make sure you follow my @latinwithlivia account on Instagram. I will be sharing lots of Latin study tips and trivia, as well as fun facts about ancient Rome. Don’t miss out!
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And now let’s talk about the dictionary form of verbs.
How To Tell the Conjugation of a Latin Verb From the Dictionary
So far I have taught you how to identify a Latin verb’s conjugation when looking at all its principal parts. Most textbooks and many dictionaries will give you each verb’s full principal parts in order.
It is worth noting, though, that sometimes dictionaries present verbs in slightly different ways.
First of all, dictionaries may record a verb’s information in abbreviated form:
EXAMPLE: amō, 1 – “love”
The 1 means that amō is a 1st conjugation verb. And because amō has regular principal parts, many dictionaries (and even textbooks) will use “1” as a shorthand. It simply isn’t necessary to list all the principal parts; giving the first principal part and the conjugation is enough.
Sometimes you will see the following:
EXAMPLE: mittō, mīsī, missus, 3
For instance, this is how Logeion (my favorite online Latin dictionary) presents verbs. Logeion gives us the first, third, and fourth principal parts, but skips the second principal part.
Why? Well, all (non-deponent) 3rd conjugation verbs have a second principal part ending in -ere. So, since the dictionary tells us that mittō is a 3rd conjugation verb, we can assume that the second principal part is mittere.
This can be confusing at first, and honestly I wish all dictionaries would just list all four principal parts. It would make life easier for Latin students and teachers!
But the good news is that the number will tell you what conjugation the verb belongs to. And you won’t even have to go through the steps outlined in this post to figure it out!
Common Irregular Latin Verbs
There are a few Latin verbs that are highly irregular and do not fit into any of the four conjugations. These verbs also tend to have irregular second principal parts, so it is easy to spot them.
Here are the most common irregular Latin verbs:
- eō, īre, iī, itus ‘go’
- ferō, ferre, tulī, lātus ‘carry, bear’
- mālō, mālle, māluī ‘prefer’
- nōlō, nōlle, noluī ‘be unwilling, not wish’
- possum, posse, potuī ‘be able, can’
- sum, esse, fuī, futūrus ‘be’
- volō, velle, voluī ‘wish, want’
As you delve deeper into Latin you will gradually learn how each of these verbs works. But in the meantime, don’t stress about them. Just focus on learning how to use and understand regular verbs effectively.
Final Thoughts on Latin Verb Conjugations
Now you know how to determine the conjugation of any Latin verb. It is really quite easy to do, even when you throw in deponent verbs. You just have to memorize the endings of the second principal parts and you are good to go.
It’s true that often a dictionary will simply tell you what conjugation a verb belongs to. But it is still very important to be able to find the conjugation of any Latin verb just from looking at the principal parts.
Why? Some dictionaries and textbooks will not explicitly list the conjugation. And, of course, many Latin teachers like to test students on conjugation identification!
Pro Tip: When you learn new Latin verbs, make sure you memorize all of the principal parts. I always list all the principal parts on my Latin verb flashcards, and you should, too. Trust me – it will help you out so much in the future.
Now you know how to determine verb conjugations – but how do you feel about noun declensions? Be sure to check out my post on how to find the declension of any Latin noun.
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