Teaching the Tenses

Today’s Feature Post is by CANE regular Ruth Breindel, who shares a PowerPoint that she uses to help students understand tense.


I have found that some students don’t understand time – how the various tenses interact with each other.  Here is one way I show them, using a PowerPoint of a Christmas tree – see tree tenses here!

How to use this:

  1. After you have explained and explained and explained how the tenses relate, and they still don’t get it, show them the slides.
  2. They are arranged so that the time sequence is: Pluperfect, Perfect, Imperfect, Present, Future and Future Perfect.  Note too that the tenses are not put in a straight line, but in a “swoop” down and up.  For some unknown reason, this does help some students to understand the relationship better.
  3. With the first presentation of each tense, there is a time assigned to it, so students get the idea of the passage of time.
  4. The future perfect, being an “unreal” tense, is shown last, as an amalgam of the future and the perfect.  Personally, I tell my students that they may never use the future perfect in a sentence, because I’ve found that they will translate the perfect (amaverunt – they loved) as the future perfect (they will have loved) just because they are so enamoured of the future perfect!  I think this is because the “erunt” ending on the perfect looks just too much like the future.  I’d rather have them wrong 1% of the time by using the perfect for the future perfect, than wrong 99% of the time by using the future perfect for the perfect!
  5. I tried to inject some humor into this, too:
  • the imperfect has a broken ornament, making it “imperfect”
  • the present tense is a present under the tree

Feel free to modify this – add color, or Latin, or whatever!


How to Teach Conditionals

Today’s Feature Post is by Ruth Breindel, Classics Teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence, RI and CANE’s current Treasurer.


Textbooks make a big deal out of conditionals, spending many chapters and thoroughly confusing students! I have a much simpler method, which explains it easily.

Here is the explanation that I hand out:

Simple: indicative in both halves (any tense, but usually present and future)

 1. Si amicus est, bene est: if he is my friend, it is good.

 2. Si amicus erit, bene erit: if he will be my friend, it will be good.

Should/Would: present subjunctive in both halves

 1. Si amicus sit, bene sit: if he should be my friend, it would be good

Contrary to Fact: imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive

 1. Si amicus esset, bene esset: if he were my friend, it would be good

 2. Si amicus fuisset, bene fuisset: if he had been my friend, it would have been good

Here are some exercises I give my students for practice (see below for instructions and an accompanying PowerPoint.

 English Type

1. If she arrives, I will be happy.

2. If she were to arrive, I would be happy.

3. If she had arrived, I would have been happy.

4. If she should arrive, I would be happy.
 Latin Type

1. Si id munies, venient.

2. Si id munias, veniant.

3. Si id munivisses, venissent.

4. Si id munires, venirent.

5. Si hoc intellegeretis, sapientes essetis.

6. Si hoc intellegetis, sapientes eritis.

7. Si hoc intellegissetis, sapientes fuissetis.

8. Si hoc intellegatis, sapientes sitis.

9. Si veniet, discedam.

10. Si venisset, discessissem.

11. Si veniat, discedam.

12. Si veniret, discederem.

How to use it:
Double space the sentences (I did it this way to take up less room for you!) and hand them out to the students.

Go over the 3 types. We know that students have no idea that “were” is a subjunctive, and should/would is almost unheard of in normal speech. Therefore, after doing the English version, go to the PowerPoint version.

PowerPoint: put on your sound, since there is some sound for 2 slides. See if any student recognizes the nursery rhyme about “if wishes were horses…” etc. I bet they don’t!

Now come back to the English sentences 1-5. Explain the “tip offs” for the various types: had/would have, should/would, etc.

Now do the Latin sentences. Emphasize that if there’s a present subjunctive in both halves, it’s should/would; if there’s an imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive in both halves, it’s a contrary to fact; if there’s no subjunctive, then it’s a simple if/then sentence.

Virtual Rome, Living Language, and some Military: Links for 29 May

Looking for a cool Rome model online?  Check out Virtual Rome!

So, why is keeping the Classics alive important in creating a full education?

An interesting perspective on teaching grammar.

Archaeologists have found a HUGE military camp in Germany!

Oooohhh Tut’s Tomb….

A “Byzantine iPad”?  What?  This thing is COOL!