Tip 8: Perfect Nuisance!

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Grammar – Tip 08


The perfect tense is a pain! It contains a few little fiddly bits and pieces which can prove tricky to learn. This is because they interrupt the regularity, or predictability, of the patterns which you’ll have spotted for the present and imperfect tenses. In particular, there can be changes in the stem as well as the ending; and there are odd letters unexpectedly added to, or missing from, the endings.

Here’s ALL you need to know about the perfect tense, condensed and summarised. Try to commit this to memory and you’ll not go far wrong!

perfect table


A This is the conjugation to which the verb belongs.
B This is the basic meaning of the verb.
C This is the root present form of the stem of the verb.
D This is root perfect form of the stem of the verb if it changes from the present form.
E This is a linking vowel if there is one.
F This is a linking letter if there is one.
G This is the characteristic ‘i’ of the perfect tense. n.b. it’s only not there in the 3rd person plural!

In the 3rd person you always get ‘-eru-’ in stead of ‘-i-’!

H There’s an extra ‘-s-’ in the 2nd person plural before the usual ‘-tis-’ ending!
I These are the same personal endings as the present and imperfect tense except in the first person singular where instead of the ‘-o’ (present) or ‘-m’ (imperfect) there’s nothing at all!
J There’s an extra ‘-ti-’ in the 2nd person singular after the usual ‘-s-’ ending!
K This is a reminder of the English personal pronouns associated with the personal endings.
L This reminds you of the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd).
M This reminds you of the number (singular or plural).

I’d suggest glancing at this for a minute or two at a time, as often as you can. Print some copies off. Stick them above the wash-hand basin; next to the loo; on the outside of the shower screen, on the tiles next to the bath; on the fridge door; next to the kettle; next to the cooker; near the kitchen sink; on your bedside table; on the dashboard of the car (to look at only when you’re parked up!); next to the computer; inside your laptop/i-pad cover/e-reader case/book you’re reading; screenshot it and put it on all your devices as a screen saver!


Irregular perfects

Once you’ve got the hang of the way the perfect tense works, then irregular perfects are easy. They almost all go like habeo except for eo which goes like audio. Look back to the table at the top where * and ** show you where this all fits into the general scheme:

* habeo volo nolo sum possum **    audivi             audivisti        audivit            

   audivimus      audivistis      audiverunt

ignore ‘aud-’ for the perfect of eo (‘go’):

   ivi, ivisti, ivit, ivimus, ivistis, iverunt

which can also be found without the ‘-v-’:

    ii,   iisti,   iit,   iimus,   iistis,   ierunt

and can even then lose the duplicated ‘-i-’:

     i,    isti,    it,    imus,    istis,    ierunt

  hab vol nol f pot  
  have want be un-


be be able to  
  no stem change stem change  
  These all add ‘-u-’ to then follow the same 2nd conjugation perfect pattern as ‘hab-’  


Speedy shortcuts

I hope you can see how pattern-spotting and schematizing can speed up your learning dramatically. We’re usually more used to learning in a linear fashion – being presented with bite-size bits of learning that gradually build up in size and difficulty as we piece together the bigger picture. It’s certainly a very thorough, methodical way to learn. But it’s also, even though it’s reliable, relatively slow.

In contrast, being blasted with the whole picture at once can be intimidatingly overwhelming. But if you’re shown how to see the connections between all the pieces (pattern spotting) and the way they all relate to each other (how they fit into a scheme) then that can pays dividends.

The former approach will leave you feeling very sure of what you have managed to cover in that way but it takes a long time. The latter approach happens much more quickly, though at the expense of a bit of uncertainty. For me the trade-off is worth it. I’d rather know most of it all, reasonably well, quite quickly (and accept letting some of it slip; especially the stuff that’s a total struggle!) than only some of it really well but then run out of time for the rest.


Steven Havelin (04.03.18)