Chapter 9: The Latin Verb System
The 3rd conjugation is a very large group of verbs that includes some of the most common and fundamental roots in the Latin language. Its present infinitive does not have a strong ending like the -āre of the 1st and the -ēre of the 2nd; it is spelled -ere, but the vowel is short, so that the accent is placed on the preceding syllable. Typical 3rd conjugation infinitives, therefore, will be ágĕre, cédĕre, míttĕre, régĕre, scríbĕre. Like the 2nd conjugation, the 3rd has no predictable perfect participles; but by studying those forms with English derivatives in mind, it is not an overwhelming task to learn them. If the following list looks intimidating, do at least read it through several times, linking the Latin verb bases with their English meanings and their more obvious English derivatives.
ferre (fer-), latus
To illustrate how many prefixes can be used with some Latin verb bases, let us take a couple of verbs of motion, cedere and currere. When it stood alone, cedere, cessus tended to mean “yield,” a force that it has in our word cede and the legal term cession. With prefixes attached, it was a more neutral verb of going. Intercede and intercession, for example, suggest “going between”; notice again how our English verb derivative comes from the present infinitive and the noun from the perfect participle. It is distinctly confusing that some cedere derivatives are spelled -ceed and others -cede—but English is that kind of language. Thus we have proceed (“go forward”) and procession; exceed (“go out”) and excess, excessive; succeed (< sub-cedere, literally “go under”) and success, succession. Closer to the Latin spelling are accede (< ad-cedere, “go toward”), concede (“go together”), precede (“go before”), recede (“go back”), and secede (“go apart”), along with all their corresponding nouns in -cession. If flood waters are receding, that is happy news; if male chins or hairlines are receding, that is not so good. After we study Latin present participles, we’ll understand antecedent (“going before,” a word for grammarians) and decedent (“going down” [if not actually “long gone”], a word for Perry Mason fans). Predecessor and ancestor (L antecessor) also belong somewhere on this list.
We can perform the same exercise with currere, cursus, finding derivatives like current, course, cursor, cursory, cursive; concur, concurrent, concurrence, concourse; discourse, discursive; excursus, excursion; occur, occurrence (what is the prefix?); precursor (“forerunner”); recur, recurrent, recurrence, recourse; and succour. Can you relate all these words to running? Succour, for instance is “running beneath” (sub-currere) to offer help. (If you are drowning on the French Riviera, shout “au secours!”; in Italy, try “soccorso!”) Do you see any semantic link between the modern English meanings of concur and concede?
For other prefix exercises of this kind, try mittere, missus (“send”) and trahere, tractus (“drag, draw”). Here are some suggestions to get the juices flowing on mittere: mission, missive, missile, admit, admission, admittance, commit, commission, dismiss, emit, emission, intermittent, intermission, permit, permission, permissive, promise, submit, submission, submissive, transmit, transmission. Similarly, try these for trahere: tractor, traction, abstract, contract, detract, distract, extract, protract, retract, subtract—and all their counterparts in -ion (abstraction, etc.). Notice the virtual disappearance of the base trah- in English; its only survival is the mathematical term subtrahend. Other good verbs on which to practise are ducere, ductus and scribere, scriptus.
The close similarity of cadere, casus (“fall”) and caedere, caesus (“cut”) has been the bane of Latin students through the ages. Cadere has some recognizable derivatives that retain the vowel -a-: cadence, case (the grammatical kind, or “in case I see you”), decadent (“falling away”), and occasion. This verb often became -cĭdere with prefixes, as we see in accident (ad + cadere), incident , coincidence, and occident (ob + cadere). In contrast, all the English derivatives of caedere contain prefixes, with the verb forms changed to -cīdere, -cīsus. Examples of its derivatives are circumcision, concise, decide, decision, decisive, excise, excision, incision, incisive, incisor, precise, precision.
It should be explained that deponents are unusual Latin verbs that do not have active forms—but sequi, loqui, and nasci are present infinitives, nonetheless. We can treat them the same way as any other verbs on our list, realizing that derivatives of loqui will have forms in loque– like eloquent or eloquence, whereas locutus gives us locution, elocution, and interlocutor.
At this point you probably need a word or two of gentle comfort and reassurance. The challenge of mastering Latin verb forms and their English derivatives is not the task of a single evening or even a single week: it can take months or years to assimilate all this knowledge. The immediate goal is merely to introduce you to Latin verb vocabulary.
- The verb tendere has an alternate perfect participle tentus, a form that overlaps with tenere. ↵