In the ninth class of the Latin from Scratch course, we’ll study the imperfect past indicative in the active voice (from now on, just imperfect). This is one of the two main past tenses, which is appearing all the time in texts about history, narrations, etc.
I explain everything in the following video (⏳ 12m 03s ⌛):
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Morphology of the Latin imperfect indicative
The imperfect past tense in the indicative mood in the active voice is formed in the following way:
- present stem
- linking ē (3rd, mixed and 4th conjugations)
- imperfect indicative morpheme bā
- active endings
In the 1st person singular, the ending will always be ‑m, not ‑o.
(underlined letters are linking vowels)
You should pay attention to the stressed syllables, which in the 1st and 2nd persons plural is the morpheme ba: [amabámus], [amabátis].
Imperfect of the verb sum
We already know that the verb sum is highly irregular through its whole conjugation. That’s why we always have to learn it by heart in every tense and mood. In the imperfect tense, we can even see that the root itself is irregular: er‑ instead of es‑.
Even though the verb sum doesn’t have the morpheme bā, the stress is the same: the 1st and 2nd persons plural are [erámus], [erátis].
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Translation of the imperfect tense into English
There is no exact correspondence in past tenses between Latin and English. We’ll understand better once we have studied the perfect tense.
For now, we have to take into account that English does not have its own imperfect tense. So how can we express in English what the Latin imperfect expresses?
The imperfect tense expresses an action which isn’t considered finished, usually because it was in progress, it was repeated, etc.
A verb such as videbam can sometimes be translated simply as I saw, but other times better as I was seeing or I used to see. As for repetitions, English uses phrases such as I would see.
There’s no way to say beforehand how to translate the Latin imperfect: only context and what feels right!
Now let’s study another tense, quite less frequent: the future indicative tense.
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