I am a beginner in Latin. I don't have a lot of vocabulary. I am trying to read a book and learning the basics at the same time. With this method, I except to have a greater vocabulary. But the process is quite tedious, since I have to look up every word I meet and check its suffix because of declensions (I don't know all of them yet).

How do one increase its vocabulary? What characteristics of the word do you want to remember (like noun, verb, ablative)? For example, nouns have lots of declensions.

For the second question, I remember seeing somewhere a guys saying that when learning a noun you want to remember its genitive and nominative forms. So what are your "tips" about it?

1 Answer 1


You seem to be reading texts that are above you skill level. You are maximally vague about the type of text you read (your full description of it is, and I quote, “a book” ;-)), but it is simply no fun constantly having to look up words and being hindered in the process by unknown or ill-understood word forms. Unless you are equipped with supernatural patience, this kind of reading will probably lead nowhere.

Solution 1: Start reading simple texts specifically written for beginners. There are lots of those; in fact, most Latin textbooks for schools start with simple texts, use context and pictures to make guessing meanings easier, and then continuously introduce more and more grammar and vocabulary from chapter to chapter. One textbook using this approach that is very popular on the Internet currently is Lingua Latina per se illustrata (or LLPSI for short).

Solution 2: There is a school of thought that says you should memorize Latin morphology – not the rest of the grammar, just those pesky suffixes – before you do anything else, even before starting with a textbook like LLPSI. And specifically that you should do this by taking a lot of paper and writing down all the declension and conjugation tables (also known as “paradigms”) 100 to 200 times. This is known as the “Dowling method” after William C. Dowling, an Amercian professor (though not a classicist or philologist); also recommended by Luke Ranieri (one of the best Latin speakers in the world, so it sure worked for him).

You say that “nouns have lots of declensions,” and what this tells me is that you haven't looked too closely at verbs yet ;-) You will use up a lot of ink if you really want to go through with this, and I wouldn't really recommend it, but it is certainly a good idea to get your head around declensions and conjugations early on, and it is also undoubtedly true that that will require a degree of rote learning.

Regarding your second question, you must know the nominative, genitive and the gender for every noun. It just won't suffice to remember that “time” is tempus; you wouldn't know how to use it, and you wouldn't recognize it when reading O tempora, o mores. See this question (and the answers) for why this is so.

I'm not sure it's much of a tip, but I would say that it's easiest to just memorize these forms in the order that you see in most dictionaries, i.e., tempus, temporis, n. time; palus, paludis, f. swamp; malum, mali, n. apple; and so on. And please say these out loud or in your head to learn the vowel lengths, they're an integral part of the word.

Also note that the same applies to verbs, where you will usually recite first person singular present active indicative, then the same for the perfect, and then the perfect participle or supine.

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    Agreed. Taking a Latin course, whether from a textbook or a teacher, is the tested and existing solution. Trying to reinvent the wheel is to waste effort and to build a wobbly square that doesn't quite roll.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 28 at 22:12
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    @JoonasIlmavirta Ideally, of course, a textbook and a teacher. Most textbooks are designed to be used in a classroom with a knowledgeable teacher who'll answer your questions. Contra vulgatam opinionem, this also applies to LLPSI. Commented Feb 28 at 22:30
  • One comment on Ranieri. He didn't learn via his own "Ranieri-Dowling" method. He was already a somewhat experienced Latinist before he did the Dowling brute force memorization. He thinks it helped him. I can see that; consolidating phenomena that you've already experienced is often a good thing. But it's an enormous leap to recommend that to beginners. It makes way more sense to just memorize as you go. Commented Feb 29 at 14:49

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