This page has now been updated for the New Syllabus from 2022 onwards. 

Experience has shown that Question 3 on the Common Entrance paper can be "make or break": it really separates the Greeks from the Persians!

Once again here are some handy hints to make sure that Qu. 3 isn't your Thermopylae...

This time it will make more sense to deal with the 3 Levels one at a time - although there is a question common to all three which we will look at first. 

There are a lot of topics to cover for this question - use the 'links-box' below to find what you most need to revise!




The DERIVATION question

              All 3 Levels always have an 'English derivation' question, usually picking one of the Latin words from the passage and saying something like (sometimes phrased more simply, especially in Level 1):

       "dormiverunt" (line 5): What does this word mean? Explain the connection between 'dormiverunt' and the English word 'dormitory'. 

       Often there are as many as 3 marks at stake for a correct answer. But it's not as easy as it might seem to score all 3 -and not even all that obvious what each mark is for!

        You may be sure that at least one mark - possibly two - will go on the first part of the question. Most people will know, of course, that 'dormio' means 'I sleep'. But that's not what 'dormiverunt' means, and tough markers won't give you the full 3 unless you translate the word precisely.

       SO - the FIRST point: TRY TO TRANSLATE THE WORD INCLUDING ITS ENDING (if there is one):    Our answer (so far!) : 'They (have) slept'.  

        Now, what about the connection with 'dormitory'? One thing you could say is that they share the same letters as a stem: 'dormi--';

      SO - the SECOND point we could add in is: 'THE WORDS SHARE THE SAME ROOT-STEM (quoting those letters),and the original vocab word.

         That still won't get you the full three marks however. What they really want is for you to explain the connection of MEANING, in this case the idea of sleeping. So - should you just say: "They both mean something to do with 'sleeping'"? Well, you can still go further; after all, what is a dormitory?

       Here's the THIRD point, then: TRY TO EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE ENGLISH DERIVATIVE USING THE MEANING OF THE LATIN WORD - 'A ..... is someone who/something which/somewhere that...' and then mention the vocab meaning again as well.

       Putting all three points together now, our answer should end up like this:

   "Dormiverunt" means "they (have) slept"; 'dormitory' in English shares the stem  "dormi--' (from dormio - I sleep),and a dormitory is somewhere like a largish room where a group of people sleep.

         I defy even the toughest marker not to give you 3 marks for that!





Question 3: TOP TIPS


         If you can get a general idea of the meaning, this will help with answering some of the grammar questions; you will at least know which parts need looking at in more detail.


         Watch out again for the 3 "I"s, PICSI'S and HIIQUPPS!


          If you can't tell a case from a gender, or an infinitive from a preposition, you'll be in big trouble...






With the new syllabus from 2022 onwards, the grammar questions in Level 1 are presented in a Multiple Choice format. This doesn't really affect the main points of general practice listed below!


1. FIND FROM THE PASSAGE... (or in Multiple Choice format "What sort of word is this" (i.e. what part of speech)

        All 3 levels usually start with a question like this. You have to find an example of normally up to 3 grammar items: an adverb, a conjunction, an adjective etc. Level 1 will probably give you a Latin word from the passage and ask "what sort" it is. 

        There is unfortunately no getting round the fact that you have to know your Parts of Speech and Grammar Definitions for this. The Vocab pages on this site are laid out (helpfully!) in colour-coded tables to help you recognise and remember the more straight-forward ones; here below are a few hints about the most common words to look for.

       ADVERBS:  look for "NON" (the most common of all); otherwise some of the likeliest include SUBITO, DIU, MOX, TANDEM, DEINDE, MAGNOPERE....

       CONJUNCTIONS: by far the most common is "ET"; then SED, UBI, QUOD, TAMEN.

       VERBS:  they may ask for a particular tense; remember that Present tense will probably only appear in Direct Speech. Otherwise, it could be an IMPERATIVE, INFINITIVE, or PART of "SUM": brush up on the 3 "I"s!

        PREPOSITIONS: sometimes they make it harder by specifying one which takes the ACC, or the ABL. It is worthwhile again knowing the most common:

+ ACC: AD, PROPE, PER;    + ABL: E(X),A(B),CUM.

             One useful 'trick of the trade' is to remember that apart from AD and PER, all prepositions of THREE letters or less take the ABLATIVE, and those of FOUR letters or more take the ACCUSATIVE (this is a lucky coincidence, not a "rule"!)

              WHAT ABOUT "IN"?  See below - for now, just beware!





   a)  CASE questions 

                The likeliest question is usually one such as this: 

         "agricolae" (line 5): in what case is this noun, and why is it in this case?

       To answer properly, there are two stages to go through:

                    1. What POSSIBLE cases could it be?

                    2. Which one actually is it in the context of the sentence? 

    Sometimes you strike lucky and there is only one possible answer: e.g. "equos" could only be ACCUSATIVE (plural). Otherwise, you must once again LEARN YOUR DECLENSION ENDINGS! Our original example ("agricolae") for instance could be 4 possible cases from the 1st declension.

    The cases are only used for words for particular reasons. Here is the KEY LIST:


NOM  -  MUST be the subject of a verb in the sentence

VOC  -  MUST be the person, in Direct Speech, whose name or title is being called

ACC  -  EITHER the object of a verb;  OR after a preposition which takes the ACC

GEN  -  MUST have the meaning "of......"

DAT  -  MUST have the meaning "to......" or "for........"

ABL  -  EITHER meaning "by...", "with...", "from...";   OR after a preposition which takes the ABL.



       If you can translate the sentence that your noun is in, it should be possible to follow the chart above and name the case. This is of course the "official" and best way of answering the question.

       There are however some "tricks of the trade" that can help to narrow it down if there is more than one possibility. Take the "agricolae" example once again: the 4 POSSIBLE answers are:

            GEN (SING),DAT (SING),NOM (PLUR),VOC (PLUR).

        It will not be Vocative unless it is in Direct Speech. If it isn't, Nominative is quite likely, but since it has to be Nom PLURAL, ask yourself if there has been more than one farmer in the story - if you are sure there's only one, that eliminates Nom as a choice, and you can concentrate on working out whether the sentence means "of the farmer" (Gen),or "to/for the farmer) (Dat).

       One last "trick of the trade" works very often. I have left it until last here, but it is worth trying first of all when you are answering this question! Look at the word in the line: IS THERE A PREPOSITION BEFORE IT? If so, this immediately narrows your choice to ACC or ABL, and if you know which case the preposition takes, you have the answer to both parts of the question straight away. It is surprising how often this "trick" works! 

         TO SUM UP:                                   

  1. LOOK FOR A PREPOSITION (must then be ACC or ABL).
  2. NO PREPOSITION? DECIDE ON THE POSSIBLE CASES (it's pointless writing down a case that can't possibly be right!)
  3. ONLY ONE POSSIBILITY? There's your answer; now USE THE CHART above to explain why it is that case.
  4. SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES? Use the common sense "tricks" to narrow it down; but really now you must decide by its meaning in the context of the sentence.


  b)  There is sometimes another type of CASE question. This involves changing the ending on a noun given from the passage into a different specified case: 

            e.g.: "gladio" (line 3): this means "with a sword". Change the ending on the word so that it will mean "with swords". 

        As you can see, this basically involves changing a word from singular to plural (or vice versa!). The only way to get this right is to KNOW YOUR DECLENSION ENDINGS! Sorry - no "tricks" can help you with this one!


   c)  GENDER questions 

             They used to ask this question quite regularly, but it doesn't come up all that often any more (it made a rare appearance in a practice paper over 10 years ago...) The question then was:

 "Spes" (line 5). What is the gender of this noun? 

       You of course have a one-out-of-three choice: masculine, feminine or neuter. The words you have learnt so far follow pretty general rules:

             1st declension: usually FEM., except for words referring to men's jobs - e.g. NAUTA, AGRICOLA, POETA (also INCOLA)

             2nd declension (-us or -er): all MASC.

             2nd declension neuter (-um): all NEUT. (surprise surprise!)

         But they have been rather tricky with this example. "Spes" is not a word you know: they did give you the meaning in the vocab help for the passage (it was used then as a Proper Noun, the name 'Hope') - but no gender was supplied! So how are you going to tell?

          The answer, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the word itself, or its ending (although if you knew the 5th decl., you might have a better idea...) Here it is all down to an ADJECTIVE which agrees with it in the line. The sentence actually read:

"Spes sola in cista mansit."

          The adjective "sola" must describe our word, which is the subject of the sentence; and the ending on the adjective is "-A". So, being obviously singular (mansit) this must indicate that our word is FEMININE, since adjectives of this type use 1st declension endings only to agree with feminine nouns. Likewise, they use 2nd decl. masc endings to agree with masculine nouns, and 2nd neuter ('bellum') endings to agree with neuter nouns.

         This question actually demonstrates very well the overall general rule here - IF YOU WANT TO BE SURE OF THE GENDER OF A NOUN, LOOK AT THE ENDING ON AN ADJECTIVE WHICH AGREES WITH IT. 



 3.  The PREPOSITION "IN" (unlikely now to be found in the questions for Level 1, but we shall see...) 

            This is certainly one of the commonest prepositions, and it is always tempting to pick it if you are asked to"Find.." one "..from the Passage". This is fine, as long as they don't specify a CASE to go after it - if they do, you need to be much more careful.

       "IN" is the one preposition that can take both ACC and ABL: 

                 When it takes the ACCUSATIVE, it means "INTO" or "ONTO"

                 When it takes the ABLATIVE, it means "IN" or "ON".

       A useful trick to remember this is to look at the actual LENGTH of the words:

"ACCUSATIVE" is longer than "ABLATIVE", and "INTO" is longer than "IN".

          So, in this type of question, you need to be certain you've got it with the case they want. In particular, if the passage contains "IN" more than once, you may have to give either a line-reference for your answer, or (better still) also write the noun after it - this may help you to check visually that you are using a word with the right case ending.

e.g.  "Find....a preposition followed by the ACCUSATIVE CASE."

    WRONG ANSWERS:  1.  IN.  (There may be more than one "IN" in the passage)

                                       2.  IN (line 2) (....if it actually says IN AGRO on line 2: this is + ABL!)

                                       3.  IN AGRO (line 2) (even worse - you've written an ABL ending too!)

     RIGHT ANSWERS:    1.  IN (line 2) (...if it really says IN AGROS on line 2)

                                       2.  IN AGROS (line 2) (Yes - you've proved it has an ACC noun after it!)





        a)  What PERSON, NUMBER & TENSE...?  

   This is one of the most common of all the questions, and is probably also one of the most straightforward; but you do need to make sure you understand the Grammar definitions and how to answer in the correct way.

             PERSON:   you can only write "1st", "2nd" or "3rd": NOT "I", You", "He" etc. 

            NUMBER: very often misunderstood; it only means "singular" or "plural": NOT the conjugation number.

             TENSE:  for Level 1 this can only be PRESENT, IMPERFECT or PERFECT.

      The first two of these are often combined ("1st plur.", "3rd sing." etc.) Here is a chart to help you tell which is which. There is only really any variation with the 1st & 2nd person singular.

      LATIN ENDING                       PERSON

                -O,  -M,  -I                        1st person singular 

                  -S,   -ISTI                        2nd person singular

                        -T                              3rd person singular

                  -MUS                           1st person plural 

                   -TIS                            2nd person plural

                  -NT                              3rd person plural

             As far as TENSES are concerned, if you know your grammar, it makes it a lot easier to tell...! Here however are a few extra hints:

           PRESENT:   the verb will have the original stem (unchanged) and short endings.

                             It is also likely only to be found in Direct Speech.

          IMPERFECT:  look for the giveaway letters  -BAT, -BANT, etc. as the ending.

          PERFECT:   if the stem has changed at all, it will be Perfect.

        Don't forget it is just as likely to be a tense of "SUM", which of course is highly Irregular. 



  b)  A common variation on this question is just to ask you something like this:

"cepit" (line 3) What tense is this verb? What is the 1st person singular of its Present tense?

          It may be rather obvious, but this gives you a pretty big clue that it is not Present tense at the moment!

          That leaves you with the choice between Imperfect and Perfect: it doesn't end in the giveaway -BAT; so that leaves PERFECT as your answer.

          To answer the 2nd half of the question, you need to know how verbs change their STEMS: in other words, the "PRINCIPAL PARTS". Hopefully you will have learnt here for example that CEP-- comes from CAP-IO.

The VOCAB pages elsewhere on this site always show you each verb's PRINCIPAL PARTS.



  c) Still with TENSES, a 3rd type of question involves changing one tense to another - usually keeping the person & number the same. 

      Sometimes they simply say:

"mansit" (line 2): change this verb into the Present tense.

      More likely, in recent years, it is phrased more obviously in English:

"mansit" (line 2): this means "he stayed". How would you say in Latin "he stays"?

      Notice you will probably again have to know your PRINCIPAL PARTS ("mansit" from "maneo" in this question)

The GOOD news is that in Level 1 at least they can only ask you to change verbs into the PRESENT tense; and they will only ever be 1st or 2nd conjugation (like AMO or MONEO)... and the correct answer will be a multiple choice option anyway.







"ambulabat" (line 3): give the Latin SUBJECT of this verb.

"portaverunt" (line 5): what, in Latin, is the direct OBJECT of this verb?

         There is something about this question that wreaks havoc with even the (usually) most confident examinees...!

One of the first points you probably learnt about a sentence is that the SUBJECT is the name for the PERSON/THING DOING THE VERB, and the OBJECT is the PERSON/THING HAVING THE VERB DONE TO IT.


It still doesn't stop people throwing this basic knowledge completely out of the window, and answering either of these questions by writing down some other part of the verb they give (usually some bit of the present tense),something like "ambulo", or "portat". WRONG!!

I suppose the confusion comes because they don't actually say:

"Give the Latin NOUN which is the SUBJECT of..."

or "Which NOUN, in Latin, is the direct OBJECT of..."


Whether they ask for the SUBJECT or the OBJECT, they want you to write a NOUN, not a verb - and by the way, they want it (as they tell you!) in LATIN too! It's no good writing it in English (lucky level 1 candidates are again just required to underline the correct answer).

Here's the routine you should go through:


  1. Translate the verb (here: " he/she was walking")
  2. Ask yourself WHO was walking
  3. Find this word by translating the sentence, and check that you have a NOUN with a NOM ending (e.g. "servus")
  4. Write this as your answer - IN LATIN!



  1. Translate the verb ("they carried")
  2. Ask yourself WHAT did they carry
  3. Find this word by translating the sentence, and check that you have a NOUN with an ACC ending (e.g. "gladios")
  4. Write this as your answer - IN LATIN!











      In general, everything I have written about Level 1 in the sections above is equally relevant to the higher levels. You should certainly read the sections on Noun Cases, Gender, The Preposition "IN" and Subject & Object, which really need little extra information, and are just as likely to be asked in Levels 2 & 3 as in Level 1.

     I will add here however some extra information that may be useful for the sections on "Find from the Passage..." and "Verb Questions", as well as some other types of questions that sometimes appear. 



        LEVEL 2


              "FIND FROM THE PASSAGE..."

           First read the Level 1 info section above. As well as the more basic Parts of Speech, you are now quite likely to be asked to find the following:

        PRONOUNS: Personal, Reflexive;
                                 COMPARATIVE or SUPERLATIVE ADJECTIVES
                                TENSES new to Level 2: FUTURE & PLUPERFECT;
                                Parts of the IRREGULAR VERB "POSSUM".

          A "GRAMMAR PACK" (due to be updated summer 2022) for each level is available (click here) on this site (including a sheet on Grammar Definitions) to help you to identify these "items". As you can see, many of them would come under the heading of the "PICSI'S" already mentioned for Question 2. You should be prepared to answer questions about these.

         One helpful hint: like Present, you will only find the FUTURE tense in Direct Speech. This also applies to PERSONAL PRONOUNS (EGO, TU etc.) and IMPERATIVES. 


               VERB QUESTIONS

            Once again, read the Level 1 information first. Now you can also be expected to recognise Future & Pluperfect tenses; but they can only ask you to "change" a given tense into the PRESENT or the IMPERFECT - and only of AMO or MONEO verbs at that.

           e.g. "deleverunt" (line 2): this means 'they destroyed'; how would you say in Latin 'they were destroying'? 

 (Ans. of course "DELEBANT".)

         Be aware too that they may ask questions about the Irregular verb POSSUM. 





           One question that can sometimes come up from Level 2 onwards looks like this:

                  "eos" (line 4): Give the nom. masc. singular of this pronoun.

          Here they are checking your recognition of the pronoun "IS EA ID". They could equally well ask about parts of "EGO", "TU", "NOS" or "VOS" (the Personal Pronouns),or even "SE" (the Reflexive Pronoun).

           You should be prepared for this type of question; fortunately the answer you are asked for can only be the NOM MASC SING of the word, e.g. "IS", "TU", or in the case of "SE", the first case that exists (in fact, the ACC).

             Also, they may ask something like this:

                    "eam" (line 2): to whom does this pronoun refer?

  This is asking you to name the person (or thing) that the pronoun is standing in place of in that line. Here, being feminine, "eam" will mean "her": ask yourself WHO is the "her" they are talking about? Your answer will be a character by name or "job", e.g. "Athena", or "the goddess", whichever word actually appears in that sentence.



                 COMPARATIVE and SUPERLATIVE


           Questions on this topic often use the giveaway word "DEGREE" (see the Level 2 Grammar Definitions sheet, available as part of the Grammar Pack - click here):

        e.g. "fortiores" (line 3): which degree of comparison is this? Give the adjective in its Positive form, nom masc singular. 

          Knowledge of this topic will lead you here to the answer COMPARATIVE (you can tell by the "-IOR-" letters in the middle: a SUPERLATIVE adjective most usually ends "-ISSIMus"). The term "POSITIVE" simply means the original form of the adjective, i.e. the vocab word you would learn; in this question "FORTIS".

          Beware of the FIVE ADJECTIVES that have very irregular Comparatives & Superlatives! They need careful learning (they are in the Level 2 Grammar Pack): namely BONUS, MALUS, MAGNUS, PARVUS and MULTUS - otherwise known as the FAMOUS FIVE!






       LEVEL 3 

           Please read first the notes above on Levels 1 & 2. Everything there so far is equally relevant to you!

      Extras new at this level now may include:

              "FIND FROM THE PASSAGE..."

                     They may ask you for more complicated structures now - it wouldn't surprise me to see a question asking for 'an infinitive in an Indirect Statement'! So be prepared for questions on the HIIQUPPS listed in the notes for Question 2.
      A 'Grammar Definitions' sheet
(to be updated Summer 2022)is available in the Level 3 Grammar Pack (click here).

              NOUN QUESTIONS

                      Referring to the chart of "CASES", there is now one more reason that a noun may be in the ACC or ABL: namely if it is part of a Time Expression (ACC - HOW LONG; ABL - WHEN/WITHIN WHICH). If you are asked the "WHAT CASE?" question about a word such as "ANNOS", "DIEBUS", "HORAS" or other similar "Time" nouns, a little bell should start to ring!


              VERB QUESTIONS 

                    There are no new tenses to spot, but watch out for questions about more complicated parts of the verbs:

         e.g. "Missi erant" (line 2): this is a verb in the pluperfect passive tense. From what verb does it come? Give the 1st pers sing, pres indic act. 

     This sounds complicated, but all it actually means is for you to write the 1st Principal Part of the verb (here "MITTO").

               4 more Irregular verbs now appear: EO (& its compounds),VOLO, NOLO and FERO. They can have linked questions:

          e.g. "pro Graecis pugnare nunc noluit" (lines 2-3): "pugnare" is an Infinitive. Why is this part of the verb used here? 

       The answer is that it is a so-called "PROLATIVE" Infinitive, used after "noluit": "he refused TO FIGHT...".


               PRONOUN QUESTIONS

     Be ready now for "HIC", "ILLE", IDEM", "IPSE", and "QUI" ('Hic' and 'Ille' are known as 'Demonstrative' pronouns - they point things out ('this one', 'those ones'); along with "IDEM" they can also sometimes be called an adjective.... you really don't want me to start a debate about whether they are pronouns being used adjectivally, or adjectives being used pronominally - do you!?!)

       e.g. "eodem" (line 1): give the nom masc singular of this 'adjective'.

                    Answer: "IDEM".  Simple, hey?





                   ....may now come up: here below are some examples and tips about how to answer them.


        1.  PASSIVES 

                 If they ever use the term "VOICE", this will be to distinguish between tenses that are ACTIVE or PASSIVE - in fact, if they ask "What VOICE is....", you can be pretty sure that the answer will be PASSIVE!

                 To recognise a Passive verb (more officially!),look either for the particular Passive Person Endings:

                                                                       e.g. "servabantur"

        or a verb in TWO WORDS, consisting of a PERFECT PARTICIPLE and a TENSE of "SUM" 

                                                                       e.g. "conspecti sunt".

              Sorry - this is not the place to go into how to translate the passive when you see it in a passage.  Don't be too disappointed.... 



                    This is rather an unknown quantity for now, as this will be the first time for many, many years that this (really quite advanced) construction has been included in Common Entrance. It will require you to have learnt the Present Passive infinitives, and to have practised both how to spot an example of the construction in the first place and then how to translate it. I must assume that your teachers will have covered this sufficiently in your lessons. A page with some practice examples will be added to the Grammar Pack for Level 3, and a new Level 3 practice translation passage contains one, explained on the page dealing with Question 2 (soon to be added - keep checking back!)

But here's a couple of possible grammar questions about it anyway, just for good measure...!

               "mitti" (line 4): what part of the verb is this? Why has it been used here? 

             The answer is "Present Infinitive Passive" (no other part of Mitto has identical spelling). If the sentence also contained a "Hear'Say" main verb (see the page in the Grammar Pack),it will have been used as the verb in a clause of 'reported/Indirect speech'.

"Nuntius clamavit hostes urbem appropinquare" (line 6): what case is "hostes", and why?

Here we are in seriously complicated territory...! The answer is "accusative", for the technical reason that "the subject of the infinitive in an Indirect Statement goes into the accusative case". See the grammar pack for more information about this... or ask your teacher to go over it again - I'm sure they will have explained it in your lessons.




You probably feel like you've just run a Marathon after all that - but at least you'll have sent those Persians back where they belong!

Why not go back to the top now and have another read through?

OK, maybe tomorrow.....