The natural way of listing verbs in dictionaries is by infinitive, but this is not the case in many Latin dictionaries. Why? Were there some of the first Latin dictionaries using first person singular as the verb's base form?

  • 5
    Fwiw: A Hebrew verb is typically listed under its third-person masculine singular past (or perfect). An Hungarian verb is (I think) typically listed under its third-person singular present. A Welsh verb is (I think) typically listed under its participle (or whatever it's called).
    – msh210
    Feb 23, 2016 at 21:08
  • 2
    There is no compelling reason that infinitive should be chosen as the "representative form" of a verb to be used in a dictionary. The choice is somewhat arbitrary, although I admit that infinitive feels quite natural.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Feb 23, 2016 at 21:36
  • 3
    I believe the tradition/convention of using the 1st p.sg.ind.actv form as the citation form of a Greek or Latin verb probably goes back to ancient times, but I haven't been able to confirm this yet - beyond the fact that a 4th c. AD grammarian Flavius Sospiater Charisius appears to treat it as such. E.g. he gives an example of a first-conjugation verb as "amo amas", and second-conjugation "teneo tenes". In his description of all the various forms (declination) of a Latin verb, "amo" starts off the list, and the infinitive "amare" comes right at the end, after the subjunctives and imperatives.
    – rjpond
    Aug 20, 2020 at 22:43

1 Answer 1


First, not all dictionaries follow that convention.

Importantly, though, the infinitive cannot distinguish between 3rd and 3rd-IO verbs, which of the four principle parts, is only distinguishable in the first person present (cf. ago, agere, egi, actus v. facio, facere, feci, factus). Not having that there would lead students to miss that crucial information.

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    But then the first person present can't distinguish between III-io and IV!
    – jwodder
    Feb 23, 2016 at 20:30
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    No, because dictionaries give four principle parts, so the difference between III-io and IV is immediately clear in the form following the first person present.
    – cmw
    Feb 23, 2016 at 20:36
  • By that logic, the difference between III and III-io would also be immediately clear with an infinitive lemma, as the first person present would be the next principal part. Apr 17, 2016 at 10:26
  • @LeifWillerts The dictionaries I've seen where the infinitive is listed first do not then list the first-person present singular.
    – cmw
    Apr 17, 2016 at 12:59

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