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So I did well in my Latin GCSE this year but we just learned that -o is first person, -s is second person, etc. But I had a closer look at the textbook today and it lists verbs in four conjugations types. Eg. porto is first, doceo is second, traho is third and audio is fourth.

Do I need to learn which type a verb is? How important is it?

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Yes.

For a simple example, "I will love" is amā-bō, while "I will hear" is audī-am. Why does one take -bō and the other take -am? It depends which conjugation they're in; 1 and 2 use -bō, while 3 and 4 use -am.

Once you get out of the "present system" (present, imperfect, future), things get even more complicated. You'll want to learn the four principal parts for each verb: a set of four specific forms that let you derive all the others. For "run", for example, these forms are currō, currere, cucurrī, cursus, and there's unfortunately no reliable way to derive any of those from any other—you simply have to know all four.

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  • Thanks! Useful answer. So it would matter if I wanted to compose Latin, but would it matter in terms of translation into English?
    – Owl
    Nov 25, 2019 at 18:44
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    Although audī-am is a reasonable representation of the underlying structure, presenting the form that way might obscure the fact that the actual surface form scans with short i because of the rule of shortening vowels in hiatus.
    – Asteroides
    Nov 25, 2019 at 18:55
  • @Asteroides Very true.
    – Draconis
    Nov 25, 2019 at 19:58
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    @TomHahn Absolutely. For example, habet is present but curret is future (present would be currit); amat is indicative but dicat is subjunctive (indicative would be dicit). These distinctions are lost if you don't know the conjugations.
    – Draconis
    Nov 25, 2019 at 20:01
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    @TomHahn The infinitive tells you the conjugation. (That's the main reason it's included as a principal part; the reason you need the first singular also is for an edge case involving the third conjugation.)
    – Draconis
    Nov 25, 2019 at 21:44

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