Similar to my question about labeling declensions by something other than just numbers, is there a way to describe the four groups of regular conjugations using something other than just numbers?

The reasoning behind asking this is numbers make sense organizationally, but not semantically. They don't really describe why verbs in the first conjugation are grouped together. Using a different label could be a helpful mnemonic tool for understanding each individual conjugation.

  • 2
    I edited "ordering" to "labeling", as you don't seem to want them in order but just named. Feel free to roll back my edit if you prefer the old wording!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 24 at 15:14

This answer is aimed to be useful for a student learning Latin, not accurate as a historical description of where the conjugations come from. In my opinion it is best that beginning students use a system that is practical and makes sense to them; historical linguistic notes can be added later unless that is the very goal of studing Latin.

Latin verbs can be (mostly) classified in four groups called conjugations, and the verbs within each conjugation behave (almost) identically to each other. The four conjugations are distinguished by a vowel:

  1. Stem ends in ā.
  2. Stem ends in ē.
  3. Stem ends in .
    • Some verbs have is a part of their stem.
    • Some put it after the stem (which ends in something else) if a vowel is needed.
  4. Stem ends in ī.

These vowels make decent labels for the four conjugations. The order is irrelevant, but I am presenting them here using the standard numbering.

Good labels within the third conjugation are a little harder to come by. Calling the two classes "vowel stem" and "consonant stem" doesn't quite work, as there are verbs like ruere whose stem ends in a vocalic u. If you use a numbering, then "III-o" and "III-io" make decent labels. Or you can say that the stems end in and . One option is not to use labels at all and just remember that there are two types of verbs with very but not exactly similar endings.

The labeling vowel is most clearly visible in the active present nominative second person singular. The first person confuses I with III-o and messes vowel lengths. The infinitive has a different vowel in III.

Conjugation I (ā) II (ē) III-o () III-io () IV (ī)
Infinitive laudāre audēre trahĕre facĕre audīre
1st person laudō audĕō trahō facĭō audĭō
2nd person laudās audēs trahĭs facĭs audīs

You may also choose to label the third conjugation by instead of .

One good option is to simply label the conjugations by example verbs. Speaking of amare-type and audere-verbs and such will make communication easy. This approach has the benefit that no unnecessary abstract structure is added to the mix, as some students tend to be confused by that.

There are situations where the vowel gets shorter, but the short one of the third conjugation can never get long.

In the end, labeling with numbers works well too. The labels might be arbitrary but they are simple and common, so they are easily worth the trouble of learning.

  • 1
    As a side note (too tangential to deserve its own answer), it seems common for linguistic discussions of Latin to use the second singular as shorthand for different inflection patterns in general, because vowel length is preserved before S and there's no risk of vowel contraction. For example, the present subjunctive might be referred to as amēs when discussing its etymology.
    – Draconis
    May 26 at 19:29
  • I learnt them as -āre, -ēre, -ĕre, -īre, perhaps (back-)influenced by the Spanish system for labeling regular conjugations from the infinitive (-ar, -er, -ir).
    – Rafael
    May 26 at 23:42

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