Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.07.24

Dale Grote, A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock's Latin.   Wauconda:  Bolchazy-Carducci, 2000.  Pp. 338.  ISBN 0-86516-486-X.  $29.00.  

Reviewed by R. Scott Smith, University of New Hampshire (
Word count: 2232 words

Latin instructors, even if they are distracted by the three-dimensional font on the cover, should be delighted to see the new orange and maroon companion to Wheelock's Latin on bookstore shelves this coming fall. The volume is the culmination of Dale Grote's (hereafter G.) some twenty years of experience with the seemingly deathless textbook, which is still the most popular even if most vilified Latin textbook around, both in the college classroom and in the homes of the home-schooled. The benefits of this book for both Latin students and their instructors are legion (as were the earlier, outdated electronic notes), but most importantly it addresses and aims to rectify one of the most persistent problems instructors face, namely, their students' ignorance of their own language. Instructors who use this book are likely to see the pace of their class accelerate and their students understand the material in the textbook more fully. Yet, for all that, caveat emptor: every benefit of this potentially fine tool must be weighed against 1) the omnipresent traces of haste and carelessness in editing and publication (for a list of errors, see endnotes) and 2) its exorbitant cost ($10 more than the textbook itself!). These two factors are certain to lead some instructors to leave it off their syllabuses, and no one can blame them for doing so until the numerous problems within have been corrected.

Many Latin instructors who currently use Wheelock will already be familiar with G., who in 1991 began posting, in electronic form, supplemental notes designed to accompany Wheelock's fourth edition in response to the ever-increasing number of students who had little active command of English grammar. These notes have been a proven success and are still available online on four different servers, one of which boasts well over 50,000 hits. The enduring textbook, however, has undergone two subsequent revisions since G. first posted his notes, and he has taken this opportunity to revise, update and publish them in print. Although the updated notes are available only in print, G. still utilizes the internet to offer additional quizzes and RealAudio files, each roughly forty minutes long, to accompany the Self-Tutorial Exercises in the textbook ( Although the latter are notoriously unreliable, as on three occasions the reviewer was unable to access these files for a variety of reasons, they are indeed helpful as review and have the additional advantage of being available to students around the clock.

Changes from the electronic version are significant only insofar as the notes had to be reorganized to conform with the new format of the 5th and 6th editions of Wheelock. Notes have been added for chapters 15 (chapter 40 in the fourth edition) and 36-40 (omitted in the electronic version); the text of existing notes has been only intermittently modified. In order to help students pronounce unfamiliar vocabulary, G. has also added to the printed version the sort of amateurish "phonetic" spellings that often cause more trouble than they are worth, and he does not provide a key to his own inconsistent invention. Consequently, the phonetic spelling is sometimes mistaken (p. 6 "in FIN in tive" [infinitive]), inaccurate (p. 42 "sub stan TIVE uh lee" [substantively]), confusing (p. 133 "eh YEAH kee" [eieci]) or just bizarre (p. 15, "ah KWU zah tive" [accusative]).

In content and form, however, the published version of the guide remains fundamentally the same as the electronic. G. still fully discusses basic grammatical concepts in the English language and assumes no prior knowledge, as evidenced by full paragraphs devoted to definitions of terms as simple as "verb" and "noun." This is a particularly nice aspect of the guide, and one most likely to please the instructor facing the modern Latin classroom, since the typical student today--although the complaint is not new--enters the university virtually ignorant of his own native tongue. The guide does not, however, focus solely on a review of English grammar, as there are many such books that might fill this need. Rather, G.'s guide provides just enough explanation to understand the Latin grammar presented in Wheelock, and equal attention is devoted to Latin morphology, grammar and vocabulary. Only occasionally does G. introduce new concepts, and not always happily, as can be seen in his relentless fascination with rhotacism (he prefers the phrase "intervocalic -s-"), which will more likely confuse students than help them in those few instances where it explains irregular forms (e.g., esse, posse).

G. also includes, as he had in the electronic version, some drills on Latin morphology, translation and more difficult grammatical points (i.e., relative clauses and indirect statement); he does not test their comprehension of English. Instructors who use the supplementary workbook to the textbook should note that, although some of the drills are similar to the exercises found in the Workbook for Wheelock's Latin (3rd Revised Edition June 2000), they do not replace them, either in type or extent. Users too should be aware that answers for selected (not all) drills are given in the back, since it is nowhere mentioned that these answers exist save for the blurb on the back cover of the book, nor are the selected drills themselves marked in the text. Despite this nuisance, the drills are generally well chosen and should facilitate rote memorization as well as guide students through the mechanisms of Latin morphology and grammar.

G. sees his guide as "help-when-you-need-it" (p. xxiii), to be consulted when the textbook's presentation of the material is opaque or merely cloudy. It is patently "not for geniuses" but for the "struggling and frightened." Most students will nevertheless benefit from constant consultation, since only some of them will completely understand Wheelock's presentation most of the time, and all could use the reinforcement provided by the exercises. G. consciously and unabashedly writes in an informal, colloquial style with abundant review of earlier material, and the guide therefore acts much like an experienced and (for the most part) reliable tutor, amicably guiding the students thought the unfamiliar terrain of terminology, morphology and syntax. While this decision will annoy some (as G. himself predicts), the benefits of reaching more students more often will, for many instructors, outweigh any perceived loss of dignity in the classroom. The book will almost certainly evoke differing reactions from students as well; some in the reviewer's class felt 'talked down to', while others thought the notes 'friendly'. Still, the book, as a tool to be used outside of class, does a marvelous job at making the opaque become at least translucent, if not wholly transparent.

In spite of the book's usefulness, however, the author and publisher should be held accountable for the numerous problems and errors found within. For all the years of work invested here in making Latin more accessible to a diverse student body taking Latin for many different reasons, and for the most part succeeding in that goal, publication should have been put off yet one more month, so that someone could have corrected the numerous errors, typographical and otherwise, brought on by what appears to be a rather indifferent attitude towards editing. As it now stands, it looks as if minimal effort was exerted to ensure that the electronic notes (the format of which was limited by the constraints of HTML) were transformed into a printed volume of the highest quality. Visually, it appears that a hastily-edited, camera-ready copy was sent to the publisher: the font is not attractive, the text is not justified, italics and boldface are haphazardly employed, and errors abound. Questions (at least twenty times) end with a period and not a question mark; notes are cut-and-pasted without modification; and ungrammatical sentences are left in the text, undetected and uncorrected because final editing apparently consisted of pushing the key for Spellcheck. While this volume does not approach the utter depths reached with the first printing of Wheelock's fourth edition or the original third edition of the popular elementary Greek textbook From Alpha to Omega (a corrected version has just appeared), it does show the same signs of an industry that insists on producing new editions of old standards (of which G.'s guide can be viewed as one) with a view to profit and not quality. If one truly wants to use an imperfect tool, unsightly and marred by errors, why not save students thirty dollars and have them download the free notes off the internet?

One would naturally expect that errors in the internet version, which G. himself acknowledges on his website, would have been discovered and corrected during editing for the printed version. This, however, is not the case. For instance, ignis on pp. 120 and 323 is still marked as feminine, and residue from the electronic version is visible on p. 161: "I've inserted dashes" remains where the print edition is crossed out with "X". Even more unsettling: during revision no fewer than 11 substantial errors in the Latin were introduced, all of which are sufficiently grave to mislead unsuspecting students and would have earned the red pen in an elementary class on prose-composition.1

Less dangerous, but again indicative of the relaxed editorial standards, is the guide's treatment of macrons. The print version supplies macrons (omitted by necessity in HTML), presumably to bring it more in line with the textbook, which faithfully marks long vowels. For some unknown reason, the publisher did not feel it worth the expense to find and purchase a font that included true macrons, preferring to allow the caret (circumflex), widely available in most standard fonts, to stand in its place. Worse still, G. himself vacillates when it comes to the value of long vowels. On the one hand, he emphasizes (p. 103) that the medial vowel lengthens in the perfect stem for some verbs, and (p. 186) that gerundive endings are added to the lengthened stem [emphasis his]. On the other hand, he downplays the importance of quantity in his discussion of dies (p. 181), "[s]ince you're not overly concerned about getting all the long marks right at this point of your study, you might just as well cross out dies in Wheelock and forget about it." While his ultimate point, that the quantity of dies is not needed to understand Wheelock's sentences, instructors who do underscore the quantity of Latin vowels as much as Greek accents may be surprised at such a personal and potentially subversive statement in an elementary text. At any rate, his indifference to macrons has affected the text, where macrons are used almost whimsically: in over 25 instances macrons are omitted for long vowels, and, worse yet, some short vowels are marked long.2

Still other mistakes in the notes occur; some are merely annoying, others (thankfully few), potentially deleterious. I here note only three that I find particularly egregious and append the rest in the notes.3 1) On p. 238, G. repeats the formula for constructing the imperfect subjunctive, which "is the first principal part plus se + the active personal endings," which would produce exceptional forms, e.g., "sumsem" and "amoset". This lazy mistake existed in the electronic version, and a similar mistake is introduced on p. 300 n. 100 and elsewhere. 2) On p. 98, G. states, apparently to reassure the student that Latin is regular, that "all first conjugation verbs form the third principal part in just this way [sc. -avi-]," disregarding the common verbs dare, stare and iuvare which students have already encountered in previous chapters. While these exceptions may just prove the rule, the last thing struggling students need is to be misled in return for the scant comfort offered by the seeming regularity of first conjugation verbs. 3) G. often uses terminology for grammar and morphology different from that in Wheelock. While some are only mildly confusing and easily sorted out (e.g., he uses "termination" instead of Wheelock's "ending" for third declension adjectives), at times it is a real obstacle to understanding what he means. The worst case of this is on p. 245, where G. states, "you've seen the subjunctive the result and final clauses," although he nowhere introduces students to the term "final" (despite having equated "result" to "consecutive" on p. 239).

Despite these flaws in execution, G.'s guide will be an extremely useful tool for Latin programs, since one will likely move more quickly through the lessons because of it, as K. Ormand's puff in the foreword suggests and as G. himself states in his electronic preface: "whereas I previously struggled to finish twenty chapters in a semester, my first semester class now easily finishes twenty-seven chapters in their first semester, with time left over for connected readings." While not every instructor will experience the same meteoric rise in pace--since not all will feel comfortable in leaving grammar outside the class as G. has done--the guide will surely save minutes of class time which can be reallocated as each instructor sees fit. And, if the guide provides students the opportunity to reach genuine Latin earlier in their careers, as I think it will, then G. has done a great service to pedagogy. I only wish that the author and publisher had not rushed to publish nor put so great a price tag on the book. I fear that the cost as well as the numerous errors in the text will keep the volume off of the shelves of university bookstores, where it would certainly do far more good than harm.


1.   I omit diacritical marks for ease of reading. For mistakes in the Latin: p. 124 read cardo for cardino; p. 129 septendecim is 17, not 70; p. 132 read aestate for aetate or modify translation; p. 178 read tua domus for tuus domus; p. 295 read sumus for summus; p. 303 read urbs for urb; p. 305 read pecuniam for pecunciam; p. 310 read huc for hinc or modify translation; ibid. dabatur is translated incorrectly; p. 312 read petunt for petiunt; p. 313 read exponendi for exponandi; p. 323 read habuerint for duxerint.
2.   For long vowels without macrons, I have found the following in a cursory rereading of the text: p. 60 nomen; p. 69 vitam; p. 138 [last paragraph] acer; p. 145 genitive -ius; p. 147 vidi; p. 154 adiuvabimur; p. 155 movebat; p. 171 istius; p. 177 civitates; p. 188 laudaturus; p. 194 revenerunt, viderunt; p. 199 reliquit (ter); p. 202 delenda, deleo; p. 215 visuros; p. 287 arbitretur; p. 308 mirabile, visu, natu, ierat; p. 314 de; p. 316 hostes, argis, decedent; p. 317 Hercules; p. 320 te. For short vowels marked long, I found three instances: p. 153 first person imperfect passive indicative ending -bar is marked long; p. 154 dabunt and dabuntur are given a long -a-; p. 250 faceres contains long -e- twice.
3.   I list the following problems: the dedication is in the nominative and not the dative; p. 33 read "will exhibit" for "will be exhibit"; p. 47 G. asks students to give the imperfect tense for all 4 conjugations, but only provides boxes for the first two, following Wheelock; p. 126 fourth line from bottom, read "cardinal" for "ordinal"; p. 132 note 42 is bizarre; p. 142 read "thoughts" for "though"; p. 148 read "You've seen" for "You've see"; p. 150 "Similarly..." is a sentence fragment; p. 179 read "border" for "boarder"; p. 194 puellae is translated as a singular; p. 219 read "Latin has two ways to do this" for "Latin has two ways to does this"; p. 229 [line 13] replace semi-colon with comma; p. 270, n. 83 is an unaltered cut-and-paste copy (!) of n. 79 (likewise p. 272 n. 86 is the same as n. 82); p. 291 add closing parenthesis; p. 304 s.v. ut, read "subjunctive" for "subjunction"; p. 305 [last line of paragraph 2] is nonsensical.

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