Irregular Isn’t Irrational

To be or I am or I was or I will

The verb sum does not get the credit and spotlight it deserves. Now, before the pitchforks are lit, hear me out. The present tense of sum gets more than it’s fair share of spotlight time, but what about the imperfect and future tense of sum? Anyone that has taken Latin can recite the present parts of sum (trust me, my geography professor did it freshman year). But, how many could also tell you the imperfect and future?

I have been tutoring Latin for the past 4 years, more or less, and the amount of tutees I have that do not know the other tenses of sum rattle my brain. I understand that the different tenses of “to be” aren’t used as often as they are in English. In English, conjugating “to be” helps us determine tense and procession of the action. However in Latin, the verb is elongated to express tense, not the word count in the sentence.

Regularly Ignored

The reason so many students seem to draw a blank when it comes to the different tenses of sum is because teachers brush it under the rug, or treat it as a yield sign concept instead of a stop sign, or at least that happens in the speed of a college elementary Latin class. The students are expected to either pick it up or somehow absorb it in the different ways it is used.

To have been or I have or I had or I will have

The lack of understanding for the imperfect and future form of sum hinders the understanding and learning of the perfect system. When conjugating a verb into the perfect system for tenses such as pluperfect and future perfect, it helps get the idea of the tense across when there is an emphasis on the whole ending aside from adding more letters onto the word.

I have seen the perfect system taught two ways.

amo amare amavi amatus – to love

One way to teach pluperfect:

  1. Go to the 3rd principle part: amavi
  2. Drop the “i”: amav
  3. Add “era”: amavera
  4. Add your personal endings: amaveram, amaveras, amaverat, amaveramus, amaveratis, amaverant

Another way to teach pluperfect:

  1. Go to the 3rd principle part: amavi
  2. Drop the “i”: amav
  3. Add the imperfect form of sum depending on person and number: amaveram, amaveras, amaverat, amaveramus, amaveratis, amaverant

This second method combines the last two steps in the process. This then makes it easier when remembering the perfect passive system. If more time was spent treating the imperfect and future tense of sum like the present tense, then learning how to conjugate the perfect system of verbs would be picked up more easily. This is mainly a theory, but one that makes sense. It would be one thing if the pluperfect was taught before the tenses of sum, but that would be an odd way of going about the language.

Don’t let the imperfect and future tense of sum fall through the cracks. They are just as important as the present tense.


About Stephanie

Latin is my major and teaching is my aim. I enjoy puns and making learning and life dorkily effective. This is the term I use to define my teaching philosophy. It means that things do get done, but can be done in a dorky fashion.

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