Re: How to memorize verb forms...

Carl W. Conrad (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 11:10:38 -0600

At 8:49 AM -0600 12/2/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I'm trying to memorize scads of verb forms. What is the best way to do this?

How many verbs per scad? There are, maybe, about 50-60 common irregular
verbs that you need to learn, and most of them are irregular in only one or
two tenses. You need to memorize the principal parts, but I'd say that what
you need to do first is be sure that you know how to derive the other
principle parts from present stems of those verbs that behave like
respectable citizens and never violate the laws: there are categories, such

CONTRACT VERBS: These regularly lengthen the stem vowel of the present stem
before adding the tense-markers for the other tense stems: -EW --> -HSW,
-HSA, -HKA, -HMAI, -HQHN; -AW --> same result because A lengthens and
changes to H; -OW --> -WSW, -WSA, -WKA, -WMAI, -WQHN.

LIQUID/NASAL VERBS: These generally lose the sigma in the future and
aorist, and for the most part, those are the only tense forms you need to
pay attention to, thus:
FQEIRW: fut. FQERW (always an EW form); aor. EFQEIRA (loss of S,
compensatory lengthening of preceding stem-vowel--e.g. E --> EI)
STELLW: fut. STELW (EW form); aor. ESTEILA
MENW: fut. MENW (EW form); aor. EMEINA
GAMEW (NOT a standard EW verb): fut. GAMW (EW form); aor. EGHMA (A
lengthens, changes to H)

VOWEL-GRADATION/ABLAUT VERBS: These generally undergo changes of stem from
E grade in present to zero grade in aorist to O grade in perfect--but in
fact, you have to memorize their principal parts; there are only 2 or 3
dozen of them:

This is by no means a complete listing, but you really need to become
familiar with the types of verbs and what is characteristic of them by
type. In addition to that you also really need to learn the ROOTS of the
irregular verbs, many of which have two or more variations that appear in
the different principal parts; but it's instructive to study the principal
parts in terms of how each form is constructed from a form of the verb root
+ the tense-formative element.

Better grammars (like Smyth) will give you that sort of information in
their full discussion of the morphology of verbs; they will also give you
lists of principal parts of most irregular verbs. Nevertheless: you gotta
grub for this and plan on spending plenty of time memorizing. As either
Euclid or Eratosthenes (I can't remember which, but I think it was Euclid)
said to the prince seeking an easy course in geometry, "There ain't no
royal road ..."

Here we go again: I have a hand-out that I've constructed for my own Greek
classes over the years of principal parts with the verb ROOTs listed for
each verb. I could probably use a little program I have to transform the
font from my own GreekKeys keyboard pattern to the SuperGreek/LaserGreek
keyboard and make available to those who want it, but I won't be able to
get it ready for another day or two. Anyone who wants a copy should request
it of me OFF-LIST.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR