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As any student of Latin will tell you, verbs are one of the most difficult areas of the language to master. With so many forms and so many exceptions to the rules of forming Latin verbs, many students get lost among a sea of tenses, voices, and moods.
One of the most unfortunate aspects to so many Latin programs is that they tend to take a drop-in-the bucket approach to learning the language. Elementary Latin students usually learn one tense, one voice, one mood, and one conjugation at a time. This makes it hard for the beginning Latin student to understand the global concept of conjugating Latin verbs absent the minute details that make learning verbs so hard.
501 Latin Verbs by Richard E. Prior and Joseph Wohlberg is an indispensible tool for Latin students. This is especially true for Latin students at the very beginning of learning to conjugate verbs. This book is nothing but table after table of the conjugated forms of most of the verbs encountered by an elementary Latin student. Surprisingly, the layout of the book is its most outstanding feature.
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It is hard to define what constitutes completeness in this kind of book because even elementary Latin students will occasionally come upon a Latin verb not contained within 501 Latin Verbs. Why the authors choose 501 as the number of verbs to contain within this tome is a mystery. However, it can be assumed that the previous edition of the book, 201 Latin Verbs, didn’t contain quite enough verbs to make the book useful enough to the Latin student.
Still, my personal experience with the book is such that about 85% of the verbs encountered by a Latin student, say, in a 3-year Latin program can be found here. Of course, by the time the Latin student enters his/her third year, this book’s usefulness will have diminished considerably. Still, 501 Latin Verbs offers an excellent overview of the verbs and verb forms that the advanced Latin student will likely encounter later in his/her studies.
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What makes 501 Latin verbs to useful is its ingenious layout and almost stoic approach to presenting a Latin verb in all its forms. Take for example the Latin word “conor,” a verb meaning to “try” or “attempt.” Students looking up this verb on page 83 can instantly see that the active voice forms of the verb are missing. This clues the student in to the fact that “conor” is a deponent verb that is a verb with passive voice forms but an active voice meaning.
These kinds of visual clues are missing from most Latin program material. Seeing that the verb has no active voice forms is a better learning tool than expecting the Latin student to memorize which verbs are deponent and which are not. This is especially useful to self-learners of the language who have no teacher to correct them if they were to conjugate a deponent verb with active voice forms.
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Ease of Use
The organization of the book could not be easier for the Latin student. Verbs are organized alphabetically with the principal parts of the verb clearly listed at the top of each page. This is especially useful for the Latin student when the subsequent second, third, and fourth principal parts differ significantly from the first.
For example, suppose that a Latin student encounters the verb “ivit” in a sentence. “Ivit” is the third-person singular perfect tense active voice indicative mood form of the verb “eo.” “Ivit” and “eo” are quite different in form. With the principal parts listed at the top of each page, students spend less time searching for the verb and more time in actual translation.
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The following criticism has nothing to do with the authors of the book. Instead, the publisher of the book is at fault. One unfortunate feature of this book is the publisher’s choice of binding. The glued pages are prone to stress from lots of use and the Latin student will soon find that the book is falling apart in his/her hands.
For a book that will be used so much by the elementary Latin student, the publisher needs to consider a better binding even if the price of the book went up a little as a result. A spiral binding would be ideal so the student may lay the book flat and not have to close it while translating a Latin sentence. It may seem like a trivial matter, but this book is unlikely to see a Latin student through more than two years of study due to the poor binding quality.
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Overall Impressions of 501 Latin Verbs
There is no doubt that this book should be on the shelf of every Latin student regardless of the program he/she is using to learn the language. The drop-in-the-bucket approach of many Latin programs does not afford the Latin student an opportunity to appreciate the many forms a Latin verb can take. By presenting all of a verb’s forms in one table, the Latin student can use this book as a reference throughout most of his/her Latin program studies. The unfortunate binding chosen by the publisher, however, is likely to ensure that the elementary Latin student will need to buy more than one copy before he/she completes the program.