Tip 3: Two-Part Words


Two-part Words


In Latin, nouns and adjectives are what I call ‘two-part’ words because they have: a ‘stem’ (the start of the word) which tells you its meaning; and an ‘ending’ (the end of the word) which tells you its function. That’s enough to know for now! As you get to grips with grammar you’ll come to appreciate how the endings of words subtly influence their exact meaning. But you can often have a good guess anyway, even if you’re not sure of the grammar. You won’t, though, get far at all if you don’t know the basic meaning which the beginning (the ‘stem’) of the word tells you.


If you look up even just a few random nouns and adjectives in the in the Consolidated Vocabulary at the back of the Language Reference Book you’ll see they’re listed there in what can initially seem a bit of a bewildering variety of different ways. Why this is the case can seem confusing – not just now, as you are getting to grips with learning the language, but even after you’ve found out about the grammar of the different sorts of regular patterns Latin nouns and adjectives follow and then all the annoying irregularities that kick in too!


To cut through all the grammatical gunk just keep reminding yourself that recognising the basic meaning of a word is the key to comprehension. For now, then, I would recommend ‘learning’ (i.e. by heart) only the ‘beginning bits’ of nouns and adjectives and what that tells you they must basically mean. That will usually go a long way to helping you work out what’s going on, until you get a firmer grip on grammar.


Here, for example, is a random selection of nouns and adjectives listed in their ‘dictionary forms’:

amīcus, –ī (2m), friend; fēmina, –ae (1f), woman; bellum, –ī (2n), war; parvus, a, um, small; mīles, mīlitis (3m), soldier; urbs, urbis (3f), city; audāx, audācis, bold, daring, brave; fortis, e, strong, brave


I would reduce these to a learning list that looks like this:

amic- friend; femin- woman; bell- war; parv- small; milit- soldier; urb- city; audac- bold; fort- strong


For sure, you have to keep an eye out for audax and milit and be happy they’re near enough to audac- and mil for you not to have to feel that you need to be learning the two similar bits separately. But for now this approach should pay dividends. The important point is that it allows you to get ahead keeping up with vocabulary learning, little and often, day by day, as you go along, to make the very best use of your valuable study time. If you look back at ‘Tip 1’ you’ll be reminded why that’s important.


Steven Havelin (29.10.17)