Tip 4: Three, Four and More-part Words!

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Vocabulary – Tip 4

I call nouns and adjectives ‘two-part’ words because they have a ‘stem’ and an ‘ending’. Verbs, like nouns and adjectives, also have a ‘stem’ and an ‘ending’ except that the ‘stem’ can change (or be modified) and the ending can be broken down further into smaller segments. That makes them what I call ‘three, four and more-part words’. For example, the verb ‘amabantur’ can be broken down into five (!) parts:

amabantur = they were being loved

(the a doesn’t mean anything; it is a ‘sound bridge’ between the m and the b)

But just ignore this for now!

(because that’s mostly all grammar and not vocabulary; whereas this is all about Targeting Vocabulary – because it says so in the title above!)


What’s most important to know straight away is that the very first bit of the verb (the ‘am-’ above) tells you the basic meaning of the verb (in this case ‘love’). As you know by now, learning the basic meaning of Latin words off by heart gives you the very best chance of understanding any Latin you read even if you’ve not really grasped the grammar terribly well. This is because, so long as you can recognise the basic beginning of a word, and you know what that means (because you’ve learned it by heart) then you can have a pretty good guess at what a whole sentence means. But even if your grammatical understanding of a word is perfect, you’ll make no sense of it all if you can’t recall its basic meaning

So, when you see the verb ‘love’ listed as “amo (1), love” but the verb ‘rule’ listed as “rego (3), rexi, rectum, I rule, command” what are you supposed ‘learn’? The simple answer is “am- = love” and “reg- = rule” and hope for the best that you’ll hear ‘reg-‘ and ‘rex-’ and ‘rec-’ all sounding similar enough in your head to think of the three together meaning ‘rule’. You can help yourself here a bit by playing around with sounds and spellings, like this:

reg = the basic sound ‘stem’

rex sounds almost like ‘regs’ because ‘gs’ makes a ‘x’ sound

rect sounds almost ‘regt’ because ‘gt’ makes a ‘ct’ sound

so the ‘reg-’ sound stem is actually there in ‘rex-’ and ‘rect-’ as well.

This approach won’t always help. And it doesn’t explain why there are three things listed for ‘rule’ (reg-, rex-, rec-) and only one for ‘love’ (am-). Nor have I explained about the ‘-o’ on the end of ‘amo’ or ‘rego’; or the ‘-i’ on the end of ‘rexi’; or ‘-tum’ on the end of ‘rectum’ (obligatory snigger!). That’s because that’s all to do with grammar whereas (clue’s in the title – see above!) I’m all about targeting vocabulary. Do remember that cracking on with learning vocabulary by heart, little by little, day by day, is the ideal way to mop up the odd few minutes of spare time here and there, and turn them into productive study slots, however short – it takes seconds to learn a new word.

That’s not quite it for the vocabulary of verbs, though. More next time…


Steve Havelin (05.11.17)