Participles: A Discussion in the Abstract

Let us begin with two sentences:

  1. The students, opening their books, learn about Latin.
  2. The students, who open their books, learn about Latin.

The first sentence uses a participle; the second uses a verb. Yet they both have the same meaning. Keep this in mind.

Participles are verbal adjectives. They describe a person, place, or things as acting, rather than stating the action. In the above sentences, number two states the action “The students, who open…;” sentence two describes the students as taking the action: “The students, opening….”

Because participles are verbal, they can do most of the things regular verbs can do. They take direct (or indirect) objects; they can be active or passive; they can take different tenses. English even has progressive tenses, which are formed by combining a form of to be and a participle. E.g. The students are opening their books and are learning.

Latin participles work much the same way as do English ones, in that they are directly formed from their verbal form. It is important to note, however, that Latin participles differ greatly from English in several key ways.

  • Latin has only four participles: the present active, perfect passive, future active, and future passive.
  • Latin is very strict with the sequence of tenses. English allows sentences such as Leaving the building, the man forgot his briefcase. Latin does not because the tenses of the participles are incompatible. More on this later.
  • Latin has gender, number, and case, so participles, being adjectives, must decline to match.
  • Latin participles may be substantives. They may  not have an antecedent at all. (For more information on substantives, see the Glossary of Terms.)

There are no exercises for this lesson, for I have given no really practical information. The following lessons will provide more detailed information on participles.

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De Rebus Futuris

I haven’t had much time recently to post, since I’ve been moving; however, now that I am reasonably settled, I plan to begin regular postings. I intend to run several series of posts on the related topics, beginning with participles, and continuing on to conditional sentences and then several poetry analyses. The general idea is to post every three days or so; at least once per week. This should take until the summer, at which point we shall begin upon other topics. A general syllabus (without any time-frames, tangential, even) follows:

  • Participles in the abstract
  • The present active participle
  • The perfect passive participle
  • The future active participle
  • (The future passive participle/Gerundive)
  • Conditional sentences in the abstract
  • General conditions past and present
  • Future vivid conditions
  • Present and past contrary-to-fact conditions
  • Intro to Roman poetry
  • Ovid
  • Catullus
  • Virgil
  • Any other poet I feel like studying
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    The Third Option for Language Learning

    Learning a second language requires dedication, perseverance, and, to some extent, skill.

    Many people assume that there are two ways to learn a language: for grammar or for conversation. They assume that learning for grammar is boring, tedious, and unproductive; and that learning for conversation is easy, fast, and immediately rewarding. Well, yes and no. It is generally faster to learn conversationally than grammatically, and grammar can certainly be boring. The conversational method is obviously extremely marketable, and many ads say that classroom/grammar-based learning is a waste of time and can be easily bypassed without losing anything. But, like most other things in life, either extreme is unhelpful, and there’s always a third option, and in many cases the third option is the best.

    Over my years of linguistic experience, I’ve learned that both methods are equally important to learning language. In any language there are two overarching concepts: syntax and semantics. Simply put, syntax is grammar–what the words literally say–and semantics is what the words mean. This includes figures of speech, connotations, and the like. Grammar based curricula teach syntax, while conversational curricula teach semantics. You can’t have the one without the other. Well you can, but you really shouldn’t. It is important not only to know what you are saying, but why what you’re saying means what it means. We take English grammar classes in high school so that we can have a greater understanding of our langauge in practical use. So I say that both methods are necessary to learn a second language. A really good langauge course should involve both grammar practice (yes, that means drills and flashcards), as well as conversation. (Who wants to learn from a teacher who can’t use the language anyway?)

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    Some Summer Reading

    For all you Latin nerds out there (because there are just SO many of you), I have complied a list of good summer reading material. Summer reading is important because, in the words of Charles Dickens: “The mind, like the body, may fall into an ill-conditioned, pimpled state by mere excess of comfort.” So read up.

    Level I

    • SCRIBBLERS, SCVLPTORS, AND SCRIBES By Richard A. Lafleur This is a book of Roman graffiti, inscriptions, and primary texts that covers introductory grammar. For every inscription, there is an explanation of the grammar and the vocabulary, allowing students to see actual use of grammar concepts from primary sources. Though designed for use with Wheelock’s Latin, SCRIBBLERS, SCVLPTORS, AND SCRIBES works well with most other courses as well.

    Level II

    • There are many interlinear translations of famous works now available online. Interlinear means that the English is printed in a smaller font beneath the Latin text. Pick one and read it, making sure to read the Latin, not the English. Also, there are many untranslated texts available through the Perseus Project ( ).
    • Also, consider reading Edward Gibbon’s four-part series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This will help establish a context for many of the readings you’ll probably be going through in Latin III.

    Level III

    • If you’ve gotten to level III of Latin but can’t find your own summer reading, you should consider taking some other language, like German.


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    How to Learn and Study Latin

    As the school year generally winds down, I thought it would be appropriate to write about how to study Latin for tests, as well as about language learning skills in general. Some of this advice is specific to Latin, but much of it can be applied to any subject. If you are thinking about taking Latin, I hope you will benefit from this and not make the same mistakes I did. If you are moving to a higher level in Latin, hopefully your next year will be easier than the previous one. And if you think this advice has come too late, it’s never to late.

    Number one: flashcards. While this method may seem quaint or boring, it really is one of the most effective methods for memorizing word endings. My advice is this: On one side write the official, grammatical name of the paradigm (a group of forms), such as First Conjugation: Present Active Indicative. On the other side, write out the forms. Note that this ony works of you know the use of each paradigm, so it may be a good idea to make another card with the name of each paradigm and the function of each or the translation of each. (Present Active Indicative–I am doing this)

    Number two: repetition. I hate redundancy as much as the next guy, but in Latin, it is of first importance to study regularly and often. By often, I mean every day, and by regularly I mean every day. Spending just ten minutes a day studying will greatly improve your vocabulary and comprehension.

    Number three: write stuff. There are three major learning styles: visual, aural, and kinesthetic, and by writing things down you kill two birds with one stone. It helps to write out charts (or at least synopses) of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, as well as to actually write sentences in English and then translate them to Latin or vice versa. I also tend to talk to myself while I study. This may be a sign of some insidious mental problem, but I find that if I can explain something to myself or hypothetically to a teacher or other student, I usually know the material pretty well.

    Number four: breathe. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to psych themselves out about a test, exam, or even just a quiz. Despite popular opinion, it is not the end of the world if you do not make a one hundred. Keep in mind that a B is actually still above average (those of you with parents who insist upon all A’s may refer them to me). Often times, in fact, forcing yourself to know everything to a T is counterproductive because of the stress. I actually force myself to stop studying in the five minutes before a test. This allows me to focus on the test, not on the stuff I do not know.

    Number five: think. Latin is a very logical language, which is why it survived as the academic lingua franca for so many centuries. As such, many things can be derived just by thinking about them. So if you do not remeber a specific rule, logic it out, that is how Latin came to be in the first place.


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    Latrunculi: Chess for Real People

    Just when you thought that studying Latin couldn’t get any nerdier, along comes Latrunculi. This Roman equivalent of chess actually derives from the Greek game Petteia, but does share some important characteristics with chess. For example, both simulate a battle between two armies, and the goal of both is to capture or immobilize the king (or dux in Latrunculi). There is one key difference, though: we know all the rules of chess with certainty. The same cannot be said for Latrunculi, whose name means “little robbers.” Unfortunately, the Eastern game of chess won out over its Roman counterpart, leaving us without a complete set of rules. Because of this, there are many possible rules and many version that can be found by Googling Latrunculi. Many of these proposed rules have some issues which can lead to unwinnable games. The set below is my favorite version of Latrunculi.

    • Use a 12 x 8 board
    • Black plays first.
    • All pieces may move any number of spaces in the horizontal or vertical
    • A single stone is captured if it is surrounded on two opposite sides.
    • The outside walls cannot be used to capture men.
    • A stone in the corner can be captured by two stones placed across the
    • Multiple stones can be captured along a line.
    • The king (or dux) cannot be captured but can be immobilized by being
      surrounded on all four sides.
    • First player to immobilize the enemy king wins.
    • The king is immobilized if it is blocked by an enemy stone such that it has
      no place left to move.
    • If the game stalemates, the player with the most captured enemy stones wins.
    • Sequences of plays that repeat endlessly must be prohibited (this is usually
      obvious to both players after two series of moves repeats — any move initiating
      a third repeating series of moves is illegal).
    • Players must announce when they ‘squeeze’ a stone in-between enemy stones
      (to avoid any later dispute).

    This set of rules allows for a game that is winnable, though very difficult. Since any piece can move any number of spaces in any direction, capturing any piece can be a real challenge. Therefore, opening sequences are very important; how you start a game can determine the outcome. Compared to chess, Latrunculi may seem simplistic, but I speak from experience when I say that it is very difficult and just as intellectual.

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    Roman Socks

    You can tell a lot about a man by his sock drawer, and you can tell a lot about a culture by its phrases. In the interest of promoting Roman culture, here are some Latin idioms and their explanations.

    • Di te ament: “Good Luck.” Literally, “May the gods love you,” this phrase is used to wish someone furtune.
    • Gratias tibi ago: “Thank You.” This saying really means, “I do grateful things for you.” The Romans had no words for, or even concepts of “Please” or “You’re welcome,” so I really think that this phrase ought to be translated more forcefully, something like, “I do grafetul things to you.”
    • Salutem dicit: “Says a Greeting.” This is used in the opening of a letter and would actually be used in the third person about the writer to the recipient, something like, “Marcus Antonius salutem dicit Augusto Caesari,” which means, “Mark Antony says a greeting to Augustus Caesar.”
    • Uxorem duco: “To Lead a Wife.” The Roman social order was very strict and very sexist. There is no word for to marry, so this male chauvinist phrases takes its place.
    • Necesse est: “It is Necessary.” For those of you who cannot remeber how to spell that dang word necessary, the Romans had the same problem. This phrase is typically paired with a dative to make a “must” statement of sorts (i.e. It is necessary for me to give this to you).
    • Res publica: “A Public Thing.” The Roman idiom for their own style of government, this phrase is supposed to convey the openness of the Roman republican government.
    • Senatus Populusque Romanus: “The Roman Senate and People.” Abbreviated as SPQR, this phrase adorned any decrees of the Senate, and is related in implication to the phrase, “res publica.”
    • Iste, Ista, Istud: This is, an actuality, a pronoun, not a saying, but I though it would be good to mention. It means, essentially, “that thing of yours,” and is often used derogatorily.
    • Noli. . .: “Do not. . .” This is perhaps the nicest commend phrase in Latin. The negative imperative comes fro the verb nolo, “I am unwilling,” and is translated literally as “Do not wish to. . .”

    You probably won’t be able to use these phrases in any real context, but they provide a window into Roman life and culture.

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