Latin Verbs Teach Us About Family

Last week we began talking about Latin verbs and their four principal parts.  The students caught on quickly and wanted to investigate a set of verbs on their own.   I wrote the four principal parts of different verbs on note cards and handed them out to students who then worked with partners.

The first group looked at Lavo, Lavare, Lavi, Lotus.   The two boys explained how they knew that they were looking at twin bases.  I enjoyed the discussions about lavendar, lavish, lavatory, and lava.  Prior to this investigation, none of us would have seen a meaning connection here, but then again, that is the joy of orthography!

 

The next group looked at Struo, Struere, Struxi, Structus.  This group found there were twin bases coming from this Latin verb.  They found quite a few words with the <struct> base, but just two with the <stru(e)> base.

 

This third group looked at Tracto, Tractare, Tractavi, Tractatus.  They determined that there was a single Latin base here.  They shared their list of words and definitions.

How wonderful to hear the students talk about seeing word connections that they never saw before.  Here is the evidence that words belong to families.  Some of those words are related in the same way that siblings are.  Some are related more like cousins would be.  For example, <laundry> and <launder> would be cousins to the <lave> / <lote> family.  They can all be traced back to Latin lavare, but <laundry> and <launder> do not share the base spelling of <lave> or <lote>.   Another example would be <destroy> and <industry>.  They are related to the <stru(e)> / <struct> family in the same way that cousins would be related to you.  They can all be traced back to Latin struere, but again the cousins do not share the base spelling of <stru(e)> or <struct>.

3 thoughts on “Latin Verbs Teach Us About Family

  1. Wow. This is such a joyful post to learn from. I’ve been studying real spelling for about 15 years now, but only quite recently did I even hear about the 4 principle parts of the Latin verb and how they relate to the structure of English words. From your posters and your presentations there is no question that you have gained so much by studying these concepts. You have traced the meaning connections between words that I had never considered before (all those washing words!). With the “related words” part of your presentations, you demonstrate the ease with which you understand that current English words can share a meaning connection to others through a common root (history) but without sharing the morphological “form” of the base element. As you show ‘laundry” is like a cousin to the LOTE/LAVE family, but it is not in the immediate morphological family. This is a central concept of orthographic analysis that I work with teachers for years to understand as clearly as you have demonstrated here.

    But what grabs me most about these presentations is that all that technical linguistic analysis that you heave mastered is not the point; it is simply the launching pad for deeper learning. The discussions you have about English words and their meanings and uses is so rich once the morphological and etymological relations are laid out for us. I loved the subtle but important distinctions you share about how “construe”, “construct,” and “instruction” convey the idea of “building” but that we use them in different contexts. The depth of our understanding is so much deeper with constructed with such precision.

    I have one question for Mary Beth to clarify my own precise use of terminology. In the post you write, “This third group looked at Tracto, Tractare, Tractavi, Tractatus. They determined that there was a single Latin base here. They shared their list of words and definitions.”

    I’m thinking it would be more appropriate to say that this group “determined that there was single English base that grew from this Latin root.” I’m curious what you and your crew think of that distinction, and whether their may be a way to improve on my attempt to refine this statement.

    With deep thanks to all of you for lighting the way forward for the rest of us — once again!

  2. Wonderful, Mary Beth! What scholarship. Teachers have a difficult time (as I did!) when faced with English spellings that don’t ‘fit’ the matrix or pattern, but you lead students to accept these ‘cousins’ as you stated, “Another example would be ‘destroy’ and ‘industry’. They are related to the ‘strue’ / ‘struct’ family in the same way that cousins would be related to you. They can all be traced back to Latin struere, but again the cousins do not share the base spelling of ‘strue’ or ‘struct’.”

    Thanks for sharing,
    Mary

  3. Mary Beth and Students- I love how you have introduced the four principal parts of Latin verbs to spark these inquiries. I am so impressed by your presentations and will be showing this to my 7th graders tomorrow to help them clarify issues they are running into with Latin roots. Laundry- of course! I had just never thought about this word before. So now I’m wondering about the movement from Latin to Old French and then into English where the ‘v’ is now ‘u’ .. . so interesting and lots to think about and wonder about “borrowing” and assimilating ( is that the right word here for this process?) to the English language. And then ‘lavender’- what a wonderful surprise! I love how words that seem so familiar and on our tongues every day can take on new meanings when we uncover the other members of the etymological and morphological family. We too have made some interesting discoveries recently with a word we thought we knew well that we’ll be writing up on our blog soon!

    Thankyou so much for your work. I have learned a lot from your research here. Keep on with these inquiries! Ann Whiting

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