Chapter 9: The Latin Verb System

§61. What is a Verb?

In very general terms, we can define a verb as “an action word”—provided that it is the grammatical predicate of the sentence. For example, run is a verb in the sentence, “Your dogs run fast”; but it is a noun in the sentence, “Your dogs had a quick run.” Of course, a verb may also express a state, such as “she is,” “we became,” or “they seem.” By and large, however, it is the concept of action that is most characteristic: eat, drink, bring, make, stand, walk, fall, look. In English, verbs and nouns are often identical in form, and identifying parts of speech can be quite tricky. In Latin, verbs are very clearly delineated. Latin verb roots may be turned into nouns or adjectives by means of various morphemes, but when a verb is acting as a verb it cannot be mistaken for another part of speech.

It is a daunting task to learn the entire Latin verb system, with its complex variations of person, number, tense, mood, and voice. We must remember, however, that our sole purpose is to understand how Latin came to influence English vocabulary. From this point of view, we should need to learn only the root element of each Latin verb, ignoring all those tiresome grammatical aspects. Actually, it’s not quite that simple: because of the history of Latin morphology and of English word derivation, we shall have to learn two related stems or bases for each important verb. But that is still a relatively trivial task, compared to the challenge faced by the student who wants to read Latin.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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