The Participles

by William Harris
(the text is published with the permission of the author)


Participles, are adjectives with regular noun/adjective endings in a pattern now familiar to you, except for the fact that they use as their stem not normal noun roots, but the root of a verb. They are verb roots with noun endings, and the Latin word for participle (parti-ceps "taking part, sharing") refers precisely to this. They correspond pretty much to the English participles in -ing: loving, warning, leading, hearing.

The Latin word "participle", from partem and capio, means "taking part, sharing", and this is the term the Romans used for this class of words. It is quite logical as a description, since Participles do share the root of the verb and the endings of the noun. Another way of thinking about them would be to call them verbal noun/adjectives, and this is just about how they work.

Examples: if we take the root ama-, from the verb amo, infinitive amare and put onto it a set of Class III specialized endings with a -t- suffix, we get:

The Present Active Participle

                     Masculine / Feminine       Neuter
Sing.   subj.               amans               amans
        poss.               amantis
        to-for              amanti
        obj.                amantem             amans
        abl.                amante

Plur.   subj.               amantes             amantia 
        Poss.               amantum
        to-for              amantibus
        obj.                amantes             amantia
With Class III nouns, masculine and feminine are not usually distinguished, and the neuters are separate only in the forms we have given (subj/obj), and they show no subject/object differentiation, although singular and plural are distinguished. Now if you have a careful eye, you may think to yourself that you have discovered an omission in the above tabulation... Where is the ablative plural? I left it out on purpose, to remind you that in all plurals of all noun classes, the to-for Datives and the Ablatives have exactly the same form. This may seem like pedagogic trickery at this point, but remember that when you are reading Latin texts, awareness of this identity must stay in some far corner of your mind: Simplification now avoids complication later.... such is the nature of language.

You notice that in the above paragraph I translated amantibus as "lovers", whereas you expected the participle to mean "loving", as in an English participle. Again a special caution is in order:

In Latin any adjective and equally any participle can be translated as an adjective, but if the situation requires, for example if no convenient noun is around for it to attach itself to, it not only can but will be translated as a noun. So Ovid's in-famous line: Omnis amans militat. . . which MUST be translated "every lover is a soldier", proceeding with arms and strategy to confrontation and in the end... seduction. (You could also translate the phrase "every loving one militates", which like many another academic phrase, would be correct but senseless.)

The point here is that there are many overlaps between noun and adjective, as we saw before, and this applies also to participles. It may come as a surprise that participles can have forms working in a time sequence, since English has only a present participle (in -ing). Latin has three other forms, two straightforward and one elusive:

The Perfect Passive Participle

In the Perfect tense, there is a corresponding participle, which is found only in the passive. (A perfect active participle is conceivable, Greek actually has just such a form, but in Latin there is none....never ask why.) But we have in Latin a Perfect Passive Participle (so listed in the traditional grammars or PPP), which is much simpler than its regal sounding title implies:

amatus is simply "loved (of a masculine)",
amata "loved (of a feminine)" and so forth.
There are no problems of semantics, and the forms are made up in a correspondingly simple manner:
        I               II              III             IV
       ama-tus         moni-tus        duc-tus         audi-tus
In other words the present infinitive form without its characteristic -re can in a general way be considered the form on which the PPP (perfect passive participle), with regular endings -tus -ta -tum, will be grafted. Two exceptions:

An older Class II monetus has been phonetically switched into monitus; and the Class III form duce-re get shortened to duc- before getting its PPP graft, (duc-tus) since the short -e of the third class is weak to begin with and often disappears.

The Future Active Participle

The next form, the Future ACTIVE Participle is easy to make up, you just take whatever you had in the above PPP class, and insert into it the syllable -ru-, as follows:

PPP amatus gives, with this additional -ru- : amaturus, which is developed like the PPP (following Class I Adjectives). But when we turn to the meaning, two problems come up immediately:

1) Amaturus is a future participle, and there is nothing like it in English. We don't have a form or semantic category for the idea "about to love...", so there will be some puzzlement in translating.

2) Amaturus, which was so easily made up out of a passive perfect participle, participle, is not passive, but active. But it has a "passive look", which causes problems..!

So what does it actually mean? Amaturus sum means "I am about to love", or possibly "being-going-to-love" if you can grasp that phrase. The fact is that it is used in Latin fairly often, you will probably first think it is a PPP, and when you do identify it (as future active participle) you will find you have no familiar linguistic niche in which to put it. Watch this one, it will deserve attention.

One familiar example might help: Morituri te salutamus,"those about to die salute you..." the phrase called out by the gladiators to the emperor before entering the Coliseum arena. Remember the phrase and you remember the Future Active Participle; you can also recite to the the Prof. when the Final Exam begins.

But I don't think you would figure out Petronius' phrase "ituris ad eloquentiam" "those about to go to eloquence", which really means students enrolled in a formal school of Roman rhetoric (in the dative plural, mind you...context says "not Ablative") Keep this one in your back pocket.

I said above that there was no perfect active participle, but in a devious sort of a way there actually is. Some verbs (the Deponents, which we will come to later), have only passive forms (and we will come to this even sooner) and no active at all. But these "passive verbs" are translated with active meanings, and we call them "deponent" verbs in grammar (for no good reason at all ---depono means "lay down your arms, or make a legal asseveration...").Their PPP's are translated as active, that is all!

Since these verbs are passive in looks but active in meaning, then their perfect passive participle must be translated as a perfect active participle, and we do have class of perfect "active" participles by default. Abutor means "abuse", its past participle is abusus -a -um, but this means (actively): "having abused" and incidentally this verb "takes" an ablative object.

 Note: The verbs which rake an ablative object are all deponents, and are:

     utor fruor fungor vescor and sometimes potior
... although this last can (imitating a construction in Greek!) sometimes take a genitive object. Just remember the idea now, when you look up the verb in a dictionary it will tell you about this Ablative Object situation.

Hold for discussion the notion of the deponent verbs, which we must talk about later, but do remember that there is a form exactly like a PPP which should be passive, which IS active. This confuses people regularly, and here is the place to mention it.

The Gerundive

One more class of words completes our list in the participial class:

This one refers not to time, as the others do, but to "oughtness", the kind of thing which one is bound to do, one should do, one has to do. In English we put such structures into the supplementary verb phrase: "You really SHOULD do this....', in Latin we have a preference for doing it the other way around with a specialized participial/adjectival ending:

 "This is a thing which (which) ought to be done...", is in Latin:
    hoc est gerundum.
Since gero is Class III like duco, we take the root ger- and add the longish endings -undus (masc.) -unda Fem.) and -undum (neut) . Thus Gerundive is autogenetically named as an example based on the very word from which this example comes!

 So from amare Class I, we get amandum "something which is to be loved", amandus "a (masc.) to be loved;', and amanda, which is identical to the girl's name, the fond thought of a well-wishing parent. The forms are simple:

              I              II             III            IV
Masculine    amandus        monendus       ducendus       audiendus 
Feminine     amanda         monenda        ducenda        audienda 
Neuter       amandum        monendum       ducendum       audiendum
The rest of the forms are perfectly regular Class l adjectives, I hardly need to list them here, since you can find them In the adjectival category.

 Several remarks are due at this point.

1) When I say "to be loved, or to be done " or something or this sort, I am only implying "oughtness", and you must not confuse this with the English translation of the Latin passive present infinitive amari "to be loved", which has an entirely different meaning. "He wants to be loved" is different in idea from "he ought to be loved, he MUST be loved.... (or else)". The English phrases overlap, the Latin ones are worlds apart in meaning and even more significantly, in use. Watch this detail.

2) When you say in Latin "this ought to be done by you", you might think that the "by you" will be in the ablative with preposition a- or ab-, its variant, since a/ab- normally marks agency. That is generally true, but in this one case, with our Gerundive form in -undus, the doer is in the dative (to-for), which always surprises the person learning to read Latin. Hoc gerundum est tibi (dative) means "this must be done by you", and we call this formally the dative of agent, rare because it is used only here.

A better way of thinking of this Dative is to see it as "The Dative of the Person Concerned", a bad mouthful of verbiage but quite to the point, since it is the person who is concerned with the action who gets involved as agent for getting it done. Point to remember: With Gerundive use Dative for the ageny (actually the person involved, concerned).

When you look up this class in the standard grammars, you will find it under the English title "gerundive". It is certainly eccentric to name a Class of words by an example taken from a single sample of its use, but that is the way it is, and you might as well get used to the term for later use. But always distinguish between this Gerundive and the Gerund which is entirely different.

The Gerund

Now if the "gerundive" is a specialized verbal adjective implying "oughtness", the "gerund" will be a verbal noun, actually the neuter singular form of this class used as a noun. Occasionally you will find this neuter used as a noun, but very occasionally, as in Horace's poetical phrase "why will you persist in destroying this sweet young boy "amando?", that is by loving him. The gerund becomes a noun, in fact is an adjective in the neuter serving as an abstract noun, and amandum is not far different from the common noun amor, amoris "love". The only problem is that when you see this rarish form, you may think it is the more common gerundive, and since there is little distinction of form, you can be fooled. Keep it in the back of your mind.

The Supines

A few more very rare noun/verb forms exist, and I will dedicate just one sentence to each:

1) The Supine (a ridiculous term meaning flat on your back, perhaps from amazement at the rarity of the form) ending in -tum looks like a PPP, perfect passive participle, in the neuter singular, but it is an obsolete infinitive type historically, and used rarely.(Compare Sanskrit "gan-tum" = 'to go', or Latin's obsolete sister-language Oscan "ezum" = esse.)

2) The Supine in -u- is found rarely and only in heightened poetical usage. This Supine in -u-, is derived as if it were the ablative of a Class IV noun formed on the stem-basis of a PPP. It is used only in phrases like "mirabile dictu " remarkable in the saying, "horribile visu" "awful in the beholding, i.e. " awful to behold" Translating as an English infinitive will do the trick once you are secure in your recognition of existence of the Supine in-u-. (I have for many years called it privately the "Soupbone in -u-", and as a result my students have never forgotten it even once.)

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