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How to master English by learning Latin -Lesson 1 - First Declension.

How to master English by learning Latin -Lesson 1 – First Declension.


In the introduction part of these series of lessons, the importance of the agreement of verbs with accompanying nouns was emphasized in constructing a correct sentence both in Latin and English. Of course, recognizing the subject, the verb, the object etc. is of utmost importance. Nothing should be taken for granted because even dons are not spared of these grammatical snarls. However, blames should be passed with levity because of the current educational structure which favors mediocrity at the expense of excellence

Nevertheless, the sorry situation can be remedied when the ingredients of a valid statement are considered in details both in Latin and English. We will treat in this lecture some 1st declension nouns and 1st conjugation present and past tense verbs. As a matter of fact, the Nominative and Genitive cases are written side by side in the declensions of nouns in Latin e.g. aqua aquae. This enables us to know the nature of plural form of the noun. Similarly, in the conjugation of verbs, the four principal parts of a verb are stated e.g. amo, amare, amavi, amatum. This helps in knowing the past tense or the perfect tense of the verb.

To prove that Latin is easy, we’ll start with a straight forward group of words, all of which end in the vowel ‘’-a’’ e.g. persona/person, causa/cause, area/area, camera/camera, arena/arena, pupa/pupa, terra/earth or land, femina/woman, cura/care, forma/shape or form, fortuna/fortune, gloria/glory or fame, lingua/speech, etc. Many of these words have the same meaning in English. But it is common knowledge that Latin pre-dates English. So English borrows largely from Latin. As mentioned earlier 1st declension nouns have feminine gender except few occupational nouns like nauta/sailor, papa/pope, poeta/poet and a few others which have masculine gender. We can see the importance of knowing the gender of a noun when a possessive adjective is attached to the noun. For example papa meus/my pope, fortuna mea/my fortune or my luck
Let’s take a go at declining the first declension nouns singular and plural.

Illustration 1

Causa which means cause or reason.

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Illustration 2

Another example: terra i.e. land

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Exercises: [a] Decline regina, poeta, agricola, nauta and papa in singular for all the cases.
[b] Translate into Latin: [i] From the farmer [ii] to the pope [iii] of the queens [iv] with the sailor


We can now try making some Latin phrases e.g. the queen of the coast- regina costae, the father of the land- pater terrae, glory to the sailors- gloria nautis. As you can observe, Latin is economical with words. The motto of Pope St John Paul II was ‘totus tuus’. This literally means ‘all yours’ but in actual fact, it means ‘I am all yours’. You should try making some phrases in Latin at this level.


In the previous introduction, the present tense of amo which means I love was conjugated. In this lesson, we will give the present tense and simple past tense of some 1st conjugation verbs. Some of the first conjugation verbs include among others; lego- I leave or bequeath, oro- I pray, confirmo- I confirm, edifico- I build, laboro- I work, voco- I call etc. Normally, the four principal parts of a verb are learnt. They include the present indicative, present infinitive, simple perfect and supine tenses. Using amo for example, the principal parts are amo, amare, amavi, amatum; voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum; laboro, laborare, laboravi, laboratum etc. These principal parts enable one to build up the various tenses of Latin verbs.

These are some tenses in Latin: – present or present continuous tense, past or present perfect tense, imperfect tense, past perfect tense or pluperfect, future tense, participle [form of a verb that functions as an adjective, a noun or gerundive] and so on. As we progress, we will learn imperative mood, subjunctive mood, and the various clauses. In Latin, the same verb is used for the present tense and present continuous tense. Similarly, the past tense and perfect tense are expressed in the same Latin verb.

Illustration 1

We can now conjugate the present tense and past tense of ‘Laboro’, ‘laborare’ which means ‘to work’.

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To conjugate the earlier mentioned verbs, remove the ‘-are’ to get the stem. Then add these endings: -o, -as, -at, -amus, -atis, -ant. The key letter in these endings is ‘a’. All verbs have the same endings in the past tense.


Another example is voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum being the principal parts of the verb voco, vocare meaning to call.

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Now a complete sentence can be made in Latin. For example, I love the farmer- agicolam amo. ‘‘I’’ is the subject of the verb love and so is in the nominative case while ‘’farmer’’ is the object and is in the accusative case. You will notice however that the verb comes last. Another example: – The woman calls the sailor- femina nautam vocat.


Like nouns, adjectives are also declined and should be in the same cases as the nouns they qualify. Therefore, masculine adjectives should agree with masculine nouns; feminine adjectives with feminine nouns and also neuter adjectives with neuter nouns. Thus, masculine, feminine and neuter forms of any adjective is usually given; e.g. bonus, -a, -um which means good. This implies bonus for masculine noun, bona for feminine noun and bonum for neuter noun. Bona falls into the first declension, bonus belongs to the second declension while bonum is in the fourth declension. Other adjectives are malus, -a, -um/bad, suus, -a, -um/his, her, its, decorus, -a, -um/well mannered, decens, -ens, -ens/proper or decent, deformis, -mis, -me/ugly, elegans, -ans, ans/elegant, magnus, -a, -um/great or big, firmus, firma, firmum/firm or strong, etc. As we progress, we will learn how to use adjectives to qualify nouns and the appropriate declension cases.

In lesson 2, we will venture into second declension and conjugation. See you then.

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