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This chapter marks a large step. You will double the number of verb forms you know and bring into play the verb's third principal part representing the perfect active system. We will study the nature of the perfect system, how the perfect stem is generated and how the various perfect tenses are formed and translated. Make sure you understand each step along the way.
The name perfectum was given to this tense system by ancient grammarians who saw its defining character as "completed action," as opposed to the in(per)fectum (the present tense-system including the imperfect). Perfectum means "thoroughly (per-) done (-fectum)"—our word perfect meaning "in a faultless state" is only first attested widely in the fourteenth century CE. The distinction between im(per)fectum and perfectum underlies all Latin past-tense verbs.
Consider the following: "When I was taking a shower [imperfect], the phone rang [perfect]." The imperfect verb (was taking) involves on-going, incomplete action in the past, while the perfect verb (rang) describes one-time, completed action. The perfect tense also conveys a sense of having impact on the present or being true up to the present time, a connotation the imperfect or simple past does not have, e.g. "I fell (= simple past) down yesterday [connotation: but I'm here and still alive]" as opposed to "I have fallen (= perfect) down just now [connotation: and may have broken my leg]."
While Wheelock is correct that the different conjugations do not affect the perfect system as they do the present, that applies only to the conjugation of verbs (i.e the process of attaching endings to the base). The different conjugations do, in fact, affect how the perfect bases are formed which exhibit distinctive and somewhat "regular" patterns according to conjugation. But it is true that thematic vowels do not play a role in the perfect system the same way they do in the present system, nor are any of the perfect tenses formed differently according to different conjugations.
Because the perfect base cannot always be predicted from the present stem, it must be memorized for each verb (the third principal part). However, many perfect bases follow a predictable pattern falling into three general categories, along with a group of "mixed" formation:
If the categories above help some of you memorize verb forms and, more importantly, later recognize perfect forms, please use them. If not, ignore them and simply memorize perfect bases. It's important to learn to recognize a verb form which exhibits, for instance, reduplication or a w-sound as likely to be perfect [although there are exceptions: iuvo, vivo, nanciscor, titubo], because these are the very things which signalled the perfect tense to the Roman ear, just as when English speakers hear an -ed or a different (usually longer) vowel in a verb base, it's our signal that the verb is past tense [but note that there are exceptions in English, too: wed, bed, tread, etc.].
Latin perfect-tense verbs are formed by adding distinct endings representing the three different perfect tenses (perfect, pluperfect, future perfect) to the perfect base of a verb which is obtained by dropping the -i from the end of the third principal part of the verb.. This process is somewhat simpler than forming a verb in the present-tense system, inasmuch as perfect-tense verbs have only two elements (base + ending) and are in general less often irregular. You must memorize the endings for the three perfect tenses and learn the simple process of adding them to the perfect base. That the endings for the pluperfect and future perfect closely resemble the imperfect and future forms of the verb esse makes their memorization all the easier.
Only one set of forms presents any real problem: the -erunt in the perfect vs. the -erint in the future perfect. If the future perfect endings followed the future forms of sum strictly, the future perfect should have -erunt in the third plural, but because -erunt serves as the third-plural ending in the perfect, the future perfect ending was regularized to -erint along the lines of -eris, -erit, etc.
The translation of these forms is also relatively easy. It's best to begin by laying out all the tenses of the Latin verb on a timeline [ where time flows from left to right]:
In light of this, consider the example of Oedipus:
Thus, the perfect and imperfect tenses happen at the same time (-1, i.e. one step back in time) but describe the past in different ways, entailing what linguists call different "aspects" of the verb. As we have noted before (see Chapter 5), the imperfect shows continuous, habitual or incomplete action in the past; the perfect tense shows stopped or completed action in the past. The perfect tense, then, covers a number of different English usages and can be translated in various ways: saw (the simple past), did see (the affirmative form of the past tense) and has/have seen (the perfective which shows special impact on the present).
The pluperfect tense represents "two steps" back in the past—in order to have a pluperfect verb form, there must be a past reference point from which the pluperfect ("more-completed") shows action happening even further back in the past—"I didn't do my homework yesterday [yesterday = reference point in the past] and I hadn't done it the day before either [the day before yesterday = two steps back in time]." The future perfect shows action prior to the future: "By the time I will turn in my homework on Tuesday, I will have missed the Monday deadline by a day."
Also, note the order in which the tenses are presented. Putting the present and perfect tenses into a symmetrical arrangement is designed to facilitate their memorization:
You are now responsible for memorizing the four principal parts of all Latin verbs which we have encountered through Chapter 12. We will immediately begin using the third principal part (representing the perfect active system) of all the verbs we know. And while Wheelock does not introduce until later the concept and use of the fourth principal part (representing the perfect passive system), you are responsible for memorizing this form for each verb we have learned up to now and will learn in subsequent chapters. Otherwise, when we finally get to perfect passives, you will have to do a great deal of memorization along with mastering the use and function of the perfect passive system. On balance, it's better to start memorizing now the fourth principal parts of verbs rather than later to have to embrace both form and function at the same time.
Note that each principal part conveys essential information about the Latin verb:
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deus: Di (nominative plural) and dis (dative/ablative plural) are contracted forms used widely in Latin.
libertas: As a third-declension noun ending in -tas/-tatis, this word must be feminine in gender (see Wheelock, page 32, note 2).
Asia: Note that in antiquity this name referred to the area we now call Turkey. Because the Romans had little idea of the scope or nature of the huge land mass now called Asia, the name was extended to the entire continent.
Caesar: Note that like all nouns in Latin names decline and therefore must be assigned to a declensional category. Caesar belongs to the third declension.
Practice and Review
14. In this sentence, "to him" cannot be represented by the dative case. Since it means "to(ward) him," how should it be translated?
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