Tip 3: Pattern Spotting Endings

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Grammar – Tip 3


We’ve well and truly established that memorising the basic meaning of words is all to do with their stems and that, in turn, is all to do with learning vocabulary which, by now, you’re thoroughly familiar (keep it going!).

We’ve also established that grammatical terminology works just like vocabulary. Just as you can learn the stem of a word you can learn a grammatical technical term. Just as you can learn the meaning of a word you can learn a technical grammatical definition. The same learning strategies apply. And you’ve now (hopefully) got all of that well underway, too (so keep that going, as well!).

What’s left to tackle now are the endings of words which put the grammatical terms and definitions into action. Here it’s helpful to have an overview of all that’s going on, combined with a strategy for honing in on the detail. One way to do this is by what I call ‘pattern spotting’. I’ll focus on just nouns for now. You’ll need to refer to pp.13-20 of the Language Reference Book.


You’ll notice that the ending ‘-arum’ is always first declension, genitive case, plural number; and almost always feminine gender, just very occasionally masculine gender.

But you’ll notice that the ending ‘-a’ can be first, second or third declension; nominative, vocative, accusative or ablative case; and feminine or neuter gender. That’s annoying; and potentially very confusing!

So you can make yourself a table like this:

Ending “-a
femina first nominative singular feminine
femina first ablative singular feminine
scriba first nominative singular masculine
scriba first ablative singular masculine
bella second nominative plural neuter
bella second vocative plural neuter
bella second accusative plural neuter
nomina third nominative plural neuter
nomina third vocative plural neuter
nomina third accusative plural neuter


This is the sort of thing that fits nicely on a pocket-sized index card. It’s best to do it all (at least at the first attempt) in pencil if you’re going to do it by hand (and then go over it in pen; or rub out each bit and replace it in pen).

Or you can work on the computer. Following which you can print things, cut them out and stick them on index cards. You can even screen shot what you’ve done, crop the images, send them to a digital device, and then flip through them in the digital photo stream facility on that device!

Even better is a second, simplified  version like this:



and producing the second simplified version from its first fully detailed form is in itself a learning process that makes you think about (and therefore remember better) what all the possible grammar of the endings could be.


There are 122 possible rows of tables you could fill in if you transfer each Latin word from every box in every table on pp.13-20 of the Language Reference Book. You can tick each word in the book as you go to show you’ve transferred it. If you can transfer 25 words a day you’ll crack them all in a five day working week! And you’ll have produced some revision materials you can carry around with you to keep refreshing your learning over the coming weeks and months. Aim to sit down for a few minutes at a time, five times a day for the coming week and see if you can do it (go on… you can… you know you can!).

Next time – a different approach to learning the same thing. Will it work better for you? Or is ‘pattern-spotting’ going to be more you? Wait and see…!


Steven Havelin (28.01.18)