Tip 5: Weird Words!

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Vocabulary



Some words (mostly verbs) which you come across in the Consolidated Learning Vocabulary List at the back of the Language Reference Book just look odd! For example:


sum (irreg.), esse, fuī, I am

   est, (he/she/it/there) is

   erat, (he/she/it/there) was

erant, (they/there) were


What are you supposed to make of that?! Well… not an awful lot, really. There’s no reliably repeatable, memorable pattern or association (or not that’s very obvious, at least) for your brain to latch on to. There’s ‘su’ and ‘es’ and ‘fu’ and ‘er’. But then, in English, there’s ‘am’ and ‘is’ and ‘are’ and ‘was’ and ‘were’. You either have to memorise all the different forms and their different meanings (the surer option) or hope that you’ll become familiar enough with them, as you read more Latin, that they’ll somehow stick in your mind (the riskier option).

Luckily, there aren’t very many such ‘tricky’ words in the list that you’re expected to know. And couple of them are actually closely linked to ‘sum’; and that makes them easier to learn:


absum (irreg.), abesse, āfui, I am away, distant                          

abest (he/she/it) is away, distant


This is just the verb ‘sum’ with ‘a’ or ‘ab’ (i.e. ‘away from’) stuck on the beginning.

  adsum (irreg.), adesse, adfuī, I am present



This is just the verb ‘sum’ with ‘ad’ (i.e. ‘to’ or ‘towards’) stuck on the beginning.


And then there’s the likes of:

crēscō (3), crēvī, crētum, I grow, increase 

Do you learn ‘cres-’ and ‘crev-’ and ‘cret-’ separately? Or do you learn ‘cre-’ and remember it can be followed by ‘s’ or ‘v’ or ‘t’? Or do you string ‘s’ and ‘t’ and ‘v’ together and remind yourself that they almost form a little independent snippet of the alphabet: ‘stuv’ (if you ignore the ‘u’).

And then you can learn ‘crestuv’ – which sounds like ‘crest stuff’. And ‘stuff’ to do with the ‘crest’ of a wave is when the wave swells i.e. when the wave ‘grows’ or ‘increases’. And hey presto! You have managed to come up with a memorable way of recalling the Latin root and its variant endings (‘cres’ and cret’ and ‘crev’) whilst at the very same time incorporating the meaning in English too (‘grow, increase’) reinforced by a mental image (the crest of a wave). That may all seem to involve some rather forced, tortuous little connections. BUT THAT IS EXACTLY THE POINT!!! Because it’s how your brain learns best.


More of that next time…


(And don’t forget to keep chipping away at your vocabulary, learning it by heart, little by little, day by day, in all those odd few moments of spare time, here and there, however short, which you can turn into productive study slots, to spend just a second or two on a new word.)



Steven Havelin (19.11.17)