Tip 6: The Big Decline!

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Grammar – Tip 06

hitchhikers guide

Have a quick flick through the Language Reference Book at nouns (pp.13-20) adjectives (pp.21-26), numbers (p.27), participles (pp.28-30), demonstratives (pp.31-34) and pronouns (pp.35-38). They all decline, i.e. they all belong to declensions. A declension is just a particular pattern of endings which each of these sorts of words follows. This allows you to ‘chant’ (i.e. decline) that word in all its cases and gender(s), in both the singular and plural (i.e. in each number).

Just as you can chant nouns, so you can chant adjectives, numbers, participles, demonstratives, and pronouns. Look back at Grammar Tip 4: an End-chanting Approach! How could you apply the suggestions there to all these other ‘declinable’ (i.e. ‘chantable’) words? Remember that the brain likes to build things up by joining together short chains of three links. So always double up the nominative to give you a vocative (even if the vocative isn’t even possible!) to keep that pattern of three going (nom.s. voc.s. acc.s.  |  gen.s. dat.s. abl.s.  ||  nom.pl. voc.pl. acc.pl.  |  gen.pl. dat.pl. abl.pl.).


Next, try linking types of words together to chant:

not just:           femina / femina / feminam

but also:          magna femina / magna femina / magnam feminam

or even:           una magna femina / una magna femina / unam magnam feminam

or further:       haec una magna femina / haec una magna femina / hanc unam magnam feminam

i.e. ‘woman’, ‘great woman’, ‘one great woman’, ‘this one great woman’ etc….


I can just about do this but certainly not perfectly. There’re always a few glitches!


And then look for combinations that are tricky and might catch you out:

ille unus magnus scriba / ille une magne scriba / illum unum magnum scribam

i.e. ‘that one great scribe’

The catch here is that although scriba is first declension and looks feminine (and almost all first declension nouns are feminine) it is in fact masculine. So this means that ‘that’ (ill-) ‘one’ (un-) and ‘great’ (magn-) all have to have masculine endings!


I find this trickier and I do stumble through it and make mistakes.


omnis audacissima manus  /  omnis audacissima manus  / omnem audacissimam manum

i.e. ‘every boldest hand’

Here ‘hand’ (man-) is feminine [a 4th declension noun] and so ‘every’ (omn-) has to be feminine too [a 3rd declension adjective], and ‘boldest’ (audac-issim-) has to be feminine as well [a 3rd declension adjective BUT in its superlative form {‘very’;‘most’} and so taking 1st/2nd declension “-us, –a, –um” endings after ‘-issim-’]. Eek!

I can’t do this!


Don’t Panic!*


For reassurance, look back at ‘Further Challenges!’ in Grammar Tip 4 and ‘Progress’ in Grammar Tip 5.


To be able to chant like this proficiently would take years to master – like learning times tables that go all the way up to ‘and ninety-nine times ninety-nine is…’ well… exactly: you’d have to look it up or work it out. Only after a lot of repetition would it start to flow naturally from memory. The whole grammar ‘thing’ can start to feel like a fiendishly impossible mental maths challenge!

But you can tackle it all step-wise. Start small. Build up gradually. Some people will get further than others. No will get all the way. And no-one will get nowhere at all. Do what you can, when you can, for as long as you can, as often as you can. Every little bit helps. Think of each small step in progress you could make as being a possible extra ½ mark you might snaffle up in the exam. It might be the one single ½ mark that takes you over the grade boundary from a fail to a pass; a pass to a merit; or a merit to a distinction!


Steven Havelin (18.02.18)


*If you know The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams you’ll get the significance of ‘Don’t Panic!’. If not, then buy a copy and read it!. It’s brilliant. Book first though (always!) before any of the various audio/TV/radio/film versions/adaptations. The book beats them all.

Motto for life: ‘Book is best!