Monday, September 12, 2011

Nick - How Hard Could It Be?

Freshman year I had to pick a language to study. Thinking I would get my language requirement out of the way in a way that would help me with medicine or law, I decided, hey, why not latin?

After all, latin phrases are used all the time in English. Plus it will be easy because latin words look like English words a lot of the time, right?

Oh how foolish I was.
This is a table of latin "declensions." Declining a noun is kind of like conjugating a verb in English. Except that there are five declensions, each of which contains ten endings, and that's only if we're not counting the vocative case because it's usually easy.

But the nouns aren't the difficult part. The difficult part is verbs. You know how we have those handy tenses? For example, past tense? Well, latin adds some fun extra tenses, like the pluperfect, in case you need to express something that happened way in the past. Or the imperfect tense, which expresses something that was happening in the past and may or may not still be happening in the present. Or, my personal favorite, the future perfect tense, which expresses something that has already been completed in the future.
Here's a chart for a first conjugation verb. There are four conjugations, each of which has 6 forms per tense, if we leave out infinitives and imperatives. Plus they also have a subjunctive form for each person, and a passive form on top of that. If we do a little bit of math, we can see that there are roughly 480* forms for verbs. Awesome!

*Do not question my math

Also, let's talk about the subjunctive mood real quick. You use the subjunctive mood when you want to express something that you want to happen. Or something that could happen. Or something that would happen. Or something that should happen. So basically, if you're reading along and you run into a subjunctive verb, you just guess what it means and hope that you're not wrong. (protip: you are wrong most of the time.)

One last fun aspect of latin is that the words don't really have to be in any order. So sentences are just collections of words, jumbled around in a completely unhelpful configuration. They also didn't have any qualms with run-on sentences, so sometimes you have to look really hard just to find the verb, and then guess what it's taking as its object.

If there's one thing that I've learned thoroughly from studying latin, it's why latin is a dead language.



  1. We've learned the French pluperfect in two separate semesters so far and I still don't think I know how it's formed.

  2. Could you do something with the conjugations and how you change the endings for Latin?