Overview

In Latin, "We Beat A Friar's Liar" is a mnemonic device relating to the subjunctive mood. In order, the vowel combinations in the phrase give the alternate endings assumed by present tense Latin verbs of each conjugation when placed in the subjunctive mood.

Note: it is helpful to know a little something about Latin, grammar, and Latin grammar for this writeup...

The What Mood?: a Brief Introduction to the Subjunctive mood

In Latin (and some other languages as well), there are several moods:

1) The Indicative - this is simply a normal verb that states an action (it indicates it). E.g. Puer parvus canum sequatur.

2) The Imperative - this is a command or order. E.g. Tacite, discipuli!

3) And finally, relevant to our discussion here, the Subjunctive - this is kind of the bastard child of moods. In English, the verb "to be" is in the subjunctive in "If I were you...". In Latin, there are many uses of the subjunctive.

Some Important Uses of the Subjunctive

1) The Hortatory or Jussive Subjunctive - is used with regard to encouragement or ordering. For example, if one were to translate "You should try to whatever" into Latin, the verb tempto, -are, -avi, -atus -- to try would be placed in the subjunctive mood: Temptes whatever.

2) The Purpose Clause - when a subjunctive verb is used with ut or ne to express the purpose or reason for an action. E.g. Nuntium mittam ut scias. "I will send a messenger so that you will know."

3) Indirect Question - this one is hard to explain. The best thing is to give an example: "He wants to find out who owns the property." The phrase "who owned the property" would be translated into Latin using a relative pronoun qui, quae, quod - who, what, which and a subjunctive habeo, -ere, -ui -- have, hold, (own).

These are some of the most important uses of the subjunctive in Latin, but there are several others. However, it is important to note that the tense of the subjunctive depends on the tense of the main (indicative) verb. This follows a pattern called a sequence of tenses.

Ok, so what about this Friar, then?

A present subjunctive - a verb in the subjunctive mood and the present tense - is used, according to the sequence of tenses, when the main verb is in the present tense and the action of the subjunctive occurs at the same time or later than that of the main verb. Whoo! That was a mouthful! Basically, it is often, really useful to know the present subjunctive form of a verb.

Latin verbs exist in conjugations, or classifications based upon how their endings are formed.

For each conjugation, a partical vowel string is appended to the root or stem of the verb in question. To this is then appending the appropriate ending from the chart below:N.B. - this depends on whether the verb is to be in the active or the passive voice.
 
      Person:              Singular:          Plural:
       1st - I, we             -m/or         -mus/mur
       2nd - you               -s/ris        -tis/mini
       3rd - he, she, it / they   -t/tur        -nt/ntur

Read up about Latin to understand this chart better!

The conjugations and their present subjunctive forms are below:

First Conjugation. E.g. amo, amare, amavi, amatus - to love. Characterized by -are in the second principal part.
Present subjunctive formed about -e-. For example, amet - "let him love / may she love" or however you want to translate it...

Second Conjugation. E.g. maneo, manère, manui, manitus - to warn. Characterized by -ère in the infinitive.
Present subjunctive formed about -ea-. For example maneat - "may it warn"

Third Conjugation. E.g. mitto, mittere, misi, misus - to send (away). Characterized by -ere in second principal part.
Present subjunctive formed about -a-. E.g. mittat - "let it send"

Third Conjugation I-Stem. E.g. capio, capere, cepi, captus - to take, capture, seize. Characterized by -io in present active indicative first person singular* (i.e. first principal part) and by -ere in the infinitive.
Present subjunctive formed about -ia-. E.g. capiat - "may he take"

Fourth Conjugation. E.g. audio, audire, audivi, auditus - to hear, listen. Characterized by -ire in the second principal part.
Present subjunctive formed about -ia-. E.g. audiat - "let her hear"

Thus, the all-important vowel strings are, in order:

-e- -ea- -a- -ia- -ia-

Hence the mnemonic is:

We Beat A Friar's Liar.


* - Ya gotta love Latin, dontcha? ;)

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