Learning Latin often feels like swimming in a strange sea of grammar. It’s tricky, but persist, persist! Soon you will surf the waves of that ocean with joy, I promise, just keep at it!
In the meantime, to help make it easier, here’s a diagram for you. This picture illustrates things the forms/endings of a Latin verb show–person, number, tense, mood, and voice. I chose to use that ever-popular example amare/to love (think “amo, amas, amat…”) in this image; thank goodness stick-men and hearts are so easy to draw!
By way of explanation, in the center of this map you can see the first dictionary form of our chosen verb: amare, “to love”. Then you can see five tentacle- or branch-like arms radiating from that center. Why five? Because every Latin verb form that you see tells you five very important things about the way that particular word is being used in its sentence.
Number: This is how a form indicates how many people are “doing” the verb. If just one–that form will be singular–and if two people or more–that form will be plural. This is inextricably tied in with what “person” the verb form is using, so see the next section directly below…
Person: The above-mentioned singular and plural forms apply to whom we are talking about–the person who is (or persons who are!) doing the verb. I could be loving, or maybe we love–both ideas need 1st person forms. Sometimes you and many of you/ you all love–these use 2nd person forms. And he loves and they love–they use 3rd person forms. (In each of these examples above, I/you/he are all singular, and we/you all/they are plural, see “number” in the previous section.)
Tense: This refers to the time your verb form happened in: past, present, or future. Interestingly, there is more than one kind of past tense in Latin, and more than one kind of future tense, too; however, it all makes a lot of sense once you learn when and why they are used. (I love how learning a foreign language leads you to consider things about language that you never examined previously, when using your own!) But for now, just think, past, present, and future–tense endings indicate one of the three.
Mood: We use the term “mood” to describe the way the Latin verb’s action is done. So, the action, here in our chart, “loving”, could be really happening, as an actual fact: “I love this cheese!” This is one mood, called the Indicative Mood. The action in a sentence could be imaginary, hoped for: “I might love somebody someday…” and this would be phrased in what is called the Subjunctive Mood. Or the action could be abstract and outside of time, “To love, or not to love…” which is what the Infinitive Mood is used to show. Finally, a fourth mood, the Imperative Mood, is used to give commands, such as, “Love your brother!” (For more on moods, see the section “P.S. Super-Nerdy Detailed Technical Grammar Stuff” at the bottom of this post.)
Voice: When we talk about the “voice” of a verb form, thankfully we are only talking about two. Like English, and unlike Classical Greek, there are just two in Latin: Active voice and Passive voice. Those of you who have been criticized for using the passive voice too much in your writing will recognize the difference immediately: I love, active voice, I am loved, passive voice. (The passive voice is used in this blog quite often–it is liked by me, unaccountably.)
Well, there–I hope that this picture makes the work of a Latin verb a little more clear! So much information is contained in that tiny word “amo,” and all the other many forms of amare. Refer to this image when you need a reminder of those things Latin verb forms tell us. You’ll have this down pat before you know it, and soon be sailing the grammatical seas with ease!
P.S. There is technically a little more to verbs than I included in this chart: participles, the Gerund, and Supine. But but BUT since these are noun and adjective forms of these verbs (yes, yes, I know, but Latin does have them!), all that is for another post…if you dare…