Latin Verbs: Their Person and Number

The endings of Latin verbs are packed with information

Latin is an inflected language. This means that verbs are packed with information by virtue of their ending. Thus, the ending of the verb is crucial because it tells you the:

  1. person (who's doing the action: I, you, he, she, it, we or they)
  2. number (how many are doing the action: singular or plural)
  3. tense and meaning (when the action happens and what the action is)
  4. mood (whether this is about facts, commands or uncertainty)
  1. voice (whether the action is active or passive)

Look at the verb dare ("to give"). In English, the ending of the verb changes once: It acquires an s in "he gives." In Latin, the ending of the verb dare changes every time the person, number, tense, mood and voice change. 

Latin verbs are built from a stem followed by a grammatical ending that contains information about the agent, specifically the person, number, tense, mood and voice. A Latin verb can tell you, thanks to its ending, who or what the subject is, without the intervention of a noun or pronoun. It can also tell you the time frame, interval or action performed. When you deconstruct a Latin verb and look at its component parts, you can learn a lot.

It will tell you who is speaking. Latin counts three persons from the perspective of the speaker. These can be: I (first person); you (the second person singular); he, she, it (a third-person singular person removed from the conversation); we (first person singular); all of you (second person plural); or they (third person plural).

Verb endings reflect the person and number so clearly that Latin drops the subject pronoun because it seems repetitive and extraneous. For example, the conjugated verb form damus ("we give") tells us this is the first person plural, present tense, active voice, indicative mood of the verb dare ("to give").

This is the complete conjugation of the verb dare ("to give") in the present tense, active voice, indicative mood in singular and plural and all the persons. We take off the -are infinitive ending, which leaves us with d-. Then we apply the conjugated endings. Note how the endings change with every person and number:

Latin         In English

doI give
dasyou give
dathe/she/it gives
damuswe give
datisyou give
dantthey give

Number

You can determine the number from the verb's ending, in other words whether the subject of a Latin verb is singular or plural.

Person

Based on the verb ending, you can also identify whether the verb represents the first, second or third person.

The Pronoun Equivalents

We list these as a comprehension aid. The Latin personal pronouns that are relevant here are not used in Latin verb conjugations because they are repetitive and unnecessary, since all the information the reader needs is in the verb ending.

  • I: first-person singular 
  • You: second-person singular 
  • He, she or it: third-person singular
     
  • We: first-person plural 
  • All of you: second-person plural
  • They: third-person plural