Chapter 9: The Latin Verb System

§63. Latin Verbs of the First Conjugation

Like Latin nouns, Latin verbs can be grouped by pattern or type, so as to make them much easier to learn. In Chapters 2 and 3, we learned nouns in groups that we called DECLENSIONS. For some two thousand years, Latin verb groups have been known as CONJUGATIONS (literally, forms “joined together”). Don’t let the label alarm you; once again, we are merely talking about separate types or categories.

The 1st conjugation is an ideal place to begin, since it is the easiest and most regular. It is not the category to which vidēre belongs; all verbs in this first class will have a PRESENT INFINITIVE in āre, like vocāre (“to call”) or portāre (“to carry”). Because the ā of that infinitive ending is a long vowel, we should pronounce the form as vocā́re. (Don’t use those marks in writing the word; they are merely pronunciation guides.) The regular simplicity of the 1st conjugation is best seen in the PERFECT PARTICIPLE, which almost always assumes a form like vocātus or portātus. That reassuring fact makes this conjugation thoroughly predictable—a great blessing, since it is the source of at least a thousand English words. Remember it, then, as the “vowel A” conjugation, characterized by the two forms -ARE and -ATUS.

cantare, cantatus sing putare, putatus think, reckon
clamare, clamatus shout secare, sectus cut
mutare, mutatus change servare, servatus save
plicare, plicatus fold stare, status stand
portare, portatus carry vocare, vocatus call

This is a mere sampling of literally hundreds of Latin verbs that follow this pattern. Just to keep you honest, we have included one that departs from type: the perfect participle of secare does not show the usual -atus ending, but instead is sectus. If you apply the memory trick given in §62, you can easily remember sectus from the English word section (“something cut”).

At first glance, you may not spot a great many English derivatives from the verbs in Table 9.1. The real linguistic dividends start to accrue when you combine these verb bases with the prefixes of the last chapter (§59). Though portare by itself may suggest only the French-derived portage (< late Latin portaticum), the prefixes will soon bring to mind such words as import, important, export, report, deportation (a “carrying away”), disport (to “carry apart” from work)—the source, believe it or not, of our common word sport. A similar assault on putare will yield compute, computer, deputation, dispute, impute, reputable, disreputable, and reputation, as well as more learned words like putative. In earlier chapters we saw that the scope of Latin noun and adjective derivatives is rich and varied; but the extent of Latin verb derivatives in English is simply mind-boggling.

If you know any French, you will recognize cantare as the source of chanter; indeed, it is usual for 1st conjugation Latin verbs in -are to become 1st conjugation French verbs in -er. Thus English chant can be seen as an Old French loan-word, whereas recant and incantation come directly from Latin.[1] Therefore enchant and incant are perfect doublets, while enchantment and incantation are closely related. You may be startled to realize that a sea shanty and a Bach cantata are brothers under the skin.

Don’t be surprised if you find spelling changes in Latin verb derivatives. Our verbs claim (“shout”), exclaim (“shout out”), proclaim (“shout forth”) and reclaim (“shout back”) are all derivatives of clamare. But observe how the corresponding noun derivatives, all from the perfect participle, show the correct Latin spelling: exclamation, proclamation, reclamation. A parallel is seen in derivatives of vocare. From the present stem we get convoke (“call together”), evoke (“call out ”), invoke (“call in”), provoke (“call forth”), and revoke (“call back), whereas the perfect participle provides us with convocation, invocation, and provocation. (We’ll meet later such interesting forms as irrevocable.) Notice, by the way, that reclaim and revoke are very close in etymological meaning, and do have some kinship in meaning today.

Sometimes the English derivatives can be thoroughly disguised. From plicare you would soon discover complicate (“fold together”), implicate (“fold in”) and explication (“a folding out”), and you might then track down implicit and explicit; but you would need an etymological dictionary to uncover plait, pleat, ply (all < plicatus), imply, employ (both < implicare), deploy, display (both < displicare), apply, appliqué (both < applicatus < ad-plicatus), and the noun exploit (< explicatus). If you then learned that the root plic- occurs also in complex, accomplice, simplicity, and multiply (= Germanic manifold), you would realize that you had unfolded a very complicated pattern.

The first time around, you are likely to make a few mistakes. You would be wrong to think that servare is the source of English serve (< L servire); but it is the origin of conserve, conservation, preserve, reservation, reservoir, etc. The important Latin verb stare, status is cognate with—but is not the source of—the Germanic English verb stand; it has given us the derivatives status, station, stature, constant, instant, stance, and inconstancy. There is absolutely no way that you can grasp all these words at once; some of them will be carefully explained in later chapters. The only expectation at present is that you will try to learn the two necessary Latin forms and the basic English meanings for each of the verbs on the table, making intelligent use of any English clues that you can spot.

To review and stress that all-important key to the perfect participle, here is an -ionguide to the ten 1st conjugation verbs on Table 9.1: incantation, exclamation, mutation, complication, deportation, reputation, section, conservation, station, and vocation.

  1. Sometimes English will “correct” or “re-Latinize” the spelling of a word taken from French. The term descant, for instance, was derived from L discantus (“singing apart”) through F deschant.


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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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