You may recall from a previous article that the phrase caveat emptor is appropriately translated as “let the buyer beware." Common in English, this Latin phrase places the responsibility to watch out for what is being purchased on the buyer and not the seller. Caveat is a good example of the subjunctive mood.
Recall that there are five major aspects to Latin verbs. The “person" answers who, the “number" answers how many, the “tense" answers when, and the “voice" answer to what or whom the action of the verb is directed. The fifth aspect, the mood, answers how the action is conveyed; it answers whether the verb is simply being indicated, is given as a command, or is a theoretical action that may or may not occur. It is this last mood that Caveat demonstrates.
One of the difficulties of learning the forms of the subjunctive mood is that most Latin programs naturally start with the first conjugation. First conjugation subjunctive verbs are funny in that they are regularly formed as any other verb other than the addition of a new letter, the letter –e–, which separates them from the indicative mood. For example:
- amat becomes amet
- amamus becomes amemus
- amant becomes ament
Consequently, Latin students come to assume that the letter –e– is an indicator of the subjunctive mood. Caveat is the subjunctive form of the word “cavet" meaning he/she/it is bewaring. Notice “cavet" is similar in form to a first conjugation subjunctive verb. The addition of the –a– in caveat is the indicating letter that the verb is in the subjunctive mood. In fact, other than the first conjugation, the letter –a– is the indicating letter for the subjunctive mood in all other conjugations. This lesson taught by the word caveat is a reminder that Latin is the language of exceptions which is why English speakers consider Latin so difficult to learn.