Mnemonics for Latin using the Roman Room System

Mnemonic for the First Declension using the Method of Loci

Mnemonic for the Second Declension using the Method of Loci

Mnemonic for the Third Declension using the Method of Loci

Mnemonic for the Fourth Declension using the Method of Loci

Mnemonic for the Fifth Declension using the Method of Loci

Mnemonic for the Five Declension Terminations.

Mnemonics for Latin

Using the Method of Loci to Memorise the Verb Table.

The use of mnemonics can help speed up the learning of various elements of Latin Grammar. Methods like this were used successfully by Roman Orators, and studying how to apply mnemonics formed an important part of the curriculum, as one of the tools needed for rhetoric. The method comes down to us through a work in Latin by an unknown author. The piece, called Rhetorica ad Herennium, is estimated to have been written around 85 BC, though it is unlikely that it was original with this author. The author of this textbook of rhetoric examines each of the five parts of rhetoric, including as the fourth part memoria in which he explains the method of loci. It is the only complete source from the classical world to survive, although there are brief references to the method by others, including Cicero and Quintilian, the chief teachers of rhetoric in the ancient and medieval worlds, and later in the Renaissance.

NOTE - not everyone can 'see' images in their mind's eye - I can't - at least - not clearly, yet the system can still work well for me. I can remember the shape and texture of objects very clearly, so, instead of 'visualising' them in the boxes, I imagine running my hands over them to feel them - very odd it is indeed, running my hand over an imaginary eyeball with an arm growing out of it - but I can then 'see' - for want of a better word, the object very clearly. I don't really 'see' it, but I know exactly what shape it has, and where it is. So the method of loci is still a powerful system for me, even though I can't imagine pictures. If you have an auditory memory, you could do the same thing, but with sound.

A Verb Room using the Method of Loci.

The curious diagram you see here, is very useful, as it is a systematic method for the loci, developed by Fenaigle in the early 1800's. When combined with Gouraud's perfection of the mnemonic system, (which Grey had attempted to base on the Ancient Hebrew mnemonic system of acrostics, known in Classical texts as 'Simanim'. ) we end up with a very powerful artificial memory system. All this sounds very arcane, but has a beautiful simplicity to it.

Step One:

Get comfortable. Sit with your back to the fireplace, or to a wall of your room.

Imagine the floor is divided into 9 squares, 3 squares per row.

Number them:




These 9 are represented in the diagram above, by the 9 squares in the middle.

On your left, is the first wall. Divide this, too into nine squares. Number them, starting from the top left




Now, compare your floor with your wall. None the consistency? This,however, is the FIRST wall, so each of the numbers has a ONE in front of it.




However, don't remember them like this, just as plain single digits.

Place the number TEN just above this wall, on the ceiling.

Then, do the same for the remaining two walls. The second wall will be the numbers 21,22,23 etc, and the third, 31,32,33, and the wall behind your back, 41,42,43 etc

Now, examine, the diagram above. If you cut it out, and folded it up, with the numbers on the INSIDE, you will have your room.

Take some time to get this pattern firmly into your head - I would spend a good 10 minutes, running over it in your mind's eye. The method for constructing this memory room is outlined very clearly is this little books by S.Sams

Ignore everything in the book, except for his very clear description of how to imagine the memory room.

You can put one of these memory rooms in every room and closet in your home. The first room would be for numbers 1 - 50, and the second for 50 -100 and so on.

Setting this system up in your head requires a small investment in time. Once you have it, you'll have it with you for life. Getting a large sheet of card, and drawing out the diagram above, and constructing the cube, can also be of assistance.

NOW, for memorising the verbs using the method of loci:

Turn to page 191 of Sam's Book, (i.e. the last 4 pages or so) where he sets out his system for using the memory cube for learning the Latin verbs. I used the system very successfully myself, so it appears to work for me. It might work for you as well. Sams does not give all forms in his example, you can supply the passive and deponents yourself on the remaining 2 walls of your first room, and place irregulars in another room - or put them alongside the regulars in the same boxes, once you have learned the regulars - remember to keep the tenses in the same loci, even in a new room.

IGNORE the number-word equivalent system given by Sams. If you want to play with this acrostic system, use the more advanced system developed by Gouraud:

Here is the floor of your room:

FIRSTLY, memorise the positions of these in their boxes. You may make up stories, visualise them. ( See the declension tower for examples of how to do this)

The first step is to be able to quickly recognise the forms. The second step, is to be able to give them over.

Here is a simplified set-up. We will learn it, then flesh it out with the full forms of the four paradigms for each tense. Aids to memory are in parentheses - feel free to make up your own ones)

Note - all forms on the diagonal ( in green) from amo, end in o - i.e. amo, amabo, amavero.

The form 'I should have' (red) is almost identical to the form of I shall have.

You can think of your own mnemonics for the forms I have not given.

So, sit in your armchair, and imagine these arrrayed on the floor, in their boxes. Be as vivid as you can, make your images as concrete as you can.

Once you know exactly where the words fall, and which words are in which box, add the rest of the forms of the paradigms of each verb to each box. I would draw up a plan of the floor, and write out the tables in each square, as per the instructions in S.Sam's book.

An hour or so of effort should have you remembering where the things are.

Remember, make use of the objects in your room that happen by chance to fall in the squares. For example, in my room, the top right corner had a table with a top hat on it, so I thought up the line ' I have a top hat', and so immediately recalled that that square was occupied by 'I have'

Now we leave the floor, and turn our imagination to the wall on our left, which we divide into nine squares:

If you have a reasonably good visual or spatial memory, you should be able to get all of this memorised in about one hour. Add all the other forms, as given in Sam's book at the very end. review it regularly...the first attempt will be really hard. Then it will get easier. You will find, even after one hour of this, that your comprehension of texts will jump, as you will recognise verb forms, and be able to relate them to their locations.

Latin Grammar

Over the course of putting my Latinum course together, I noted a few things about textbooks that teach grammar - the material is not usually structured for optimal memorisation. Material is presented in grammatical categories that have been chosen for good philological reasons, not for ease of learning.

For example, playing around with the ordering of the declensions makes for a system that can be learned very quickly indeed:

The following tables are of the case endings for the five Latin declensions.