Latin for Duolingo: Perfect Tense, Lesson 1
Salvete omnes! Welcome back to Latin for Duolingo. This is an ongoing, unofficial course in Latin; if you would like to catch up with previous lessons, you can find a directory, a classified vocabulary list, and Memrise courses at these links:
- Directory of Lessons
- Vocabulary List
- Memrise course for vocabulary
- Memrise course with sentences
- Previous lesson: Corpus Humanum 2
In this lesson we begin our study of the perfect tense in Latin. You’ll remember we’ve studied three tenses so far, present, imperfect, and future, which together make up the “present system” and are formed with the “present stem.” The perfect tense describes completed past action, while the imperfect tense describes continuous, ongoing, or habitual past action. “Perfectus” in Latin means “finished/completed.” The perfect tense is the most common past tense in Latin.
It is formed very regularly for all four conjugations and even irregular verbs, but because it requires the third principal part of the verb (the “perfect stem”) it demands more advanced vocabulary study and memorization than most beginning students realize. Now is an excellent time to get busy with vocabulary cards: it’s not enough to know that do = give; try memorizing do, dare, dedi, datus (1) = give. You’ll need that 3rd form, dedi, to form the perfect tense.
Now taking the stem of that 3rd principal part (everything but the i), add the endings
i, isti, it, imus, istis, erunt:
1st person singular:
-i -> dedi = I have given, I gave, I did give
2nd person singular:
-isti -> dedisti = you have given, you gave, you did give
3rd person singular:
-it -> dedit = he/she/it has given, gave, did give
1st person plural:
imus -> dedimus = we have given, we gave, we did give
2nd person plural:
istis -> dedistis = you pl. have given, you gave, you did give
3rd person plural:
erunt -> dederunt = they have given, they gave, they did give
You’ll notice that the 1st person singular of the perfect tense IS the 3rd principal part, so remember the –i is not part of the stem. You’ll use that same stem to form the pluperfect and future perfect, further on down the line.
I often feel like I’m nagging my students to study vocabulary when we reach the perfect tense, but it really does help. For this lesson I’ll add in a list of the verbs we’re using, but you may want to go to the above link to the vocabulary list and scroll down to study a whole bunch of verbs at once.
Also, the 3rd person singular and 1st person plural of some verbs are identical in present and perfect tenses; for example, venit can mean he comes, or he came; edimus = we eat, we ate. The imperative singular and the 1st person singular perfect of some verbs are identical; “Veni” can mean either “Come!” or “I came.” Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often and context will solve most issues.
In case this wasn’t enough of a grammar explanation for you, there is more here.
Verbs in this lesson
do, dare, dedi, datus, 1 = give
habeo, habēre, habui, habitus, 2 = have
video, vidēre, vidi, visus, 2 = see
bibo, bibere, bibi, (bibus/bibitum), 3 = drink
edo, edere, edi, esum, 3 = eat
lego, legere, legi, lectus, 3 = read (gather, collect)
venio, venire, veni, ventus, 4 = come
vinco, vincere, vici, victus, 3 = conquer, win
possum, posse, potui, irreg. = am able, can
sum, esse, fui, futurus, irreg. = I am
Cervisiam bibisti, sed Marcus aquam bibit. = You drank beer, but Marcus drank water.
Discipuli panem ederunt et lac biberunt. = The students ate bread and drank milk.
Malum edi, sed Lucia fragum edit. = I ate an apple, but Lucia ate a strawberry.
In cauponā heri edimus. = We ate at a restaurant yesterday.
Raedam numquam habui. = I have never had a car.
Marcus et Lucia pecuniam non habuerunt. = Marcus and Lucia did not have money.
Paula duos filios habuit. = Paula had two sons.
Ubi fuisti (fuistis)? = Where were you?
Felices fuimus. = We were fortunate.
Paula fuit magistra; Marcus et Gaius discipuli fuerunt. = Paula was the teacher; Marcus and Gaius were students.
Cum parvus puer fui, regem vidi. = When I was a little boy, I saw the king.
Simias in vivario vidimus. = We saw monkeys in the zoo.
Vidistine eam? = Have you seen her?
Quando venisti? = When did you come?
Paula domum venit, cenam edit, et diarium legit. = Paula came home, ate dinner, and read the newspaper. (OR Paula comes home, eats dinner, and reads the newspaper.) Veni, vidi, vici. = I came, I saw, I conquered. (Julius Caesar)
Legeruntne librum? = Did they read the book?
Vidēre potui. = I was able to see.
Potuistine venire? = Were you able to come?
Invenire libros non potuimus. = We could not find the books.
Librum tibi dedi. = I gave you a book.
Librum mihi dedisti (dedistis). = You gave me a book.
Pecuniam nobis dedit. = He gave us money.
Pecuniam eis dedimus. = We gave them money.
Pecuniam ei dederunt. = They gave him (her) money.
Those are probably enough sentences to start with. Until next lesson on the perfect tense, valete!
Next lesson: Perfect Tense 2
Do you have any idea if the imperfect came to be used more at the expense of the perfect in post-Classical / early ecclesiastical Latin? In my reading many times where I would have expected perfect, it's in the imperfect instead. Granted, I'm just a beginner in Latin, but reading French or Spanish I am surprised much less often, and I would have thought the rules were pretty much the same.
I couldn't speak authoritatively as to the development of Latin and which tenses predominated, but it's a fascinating topic. It could be the basis of a doctoral thesis! (If you're reading beginner-level texts, they tend to favor the imperfect tense because it's easier to teach and grasp than the perfect, and modern authors will adapt classical texts to simplify them for students. Also, there is not always agreement on how best to translate the tenses into English, let alone other languages.) But the actual choice of tense rested with the individual authors, as it always does. Many classical authors used the historical present tense rather than either imperfect or perfect - Caesar jumps to mind. This has the effect of making history seem more immediate, and then the challenge for the translator is to decide how literal to be when rendering it into English, which doesn't use the historical present as much in formal writing. When past events are being related and the author DOESN'T choose the present tense, I have observed that perfect is used more often than imperfect... even in the Vulgate Bible from the 4th century. Perfect tense conveys a feeling of closure in Latin, that the action is concluded. But even within the context of a story being told about the past, both tenses may be used in one sentence; while they were fighting (imperfect), suddenly Marcus shouted (perfect.) And when/if we get to subordinate clauses and the subjunctive mood, both imperfect and perfect tenses have specific uses in those circumstances.