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Participles bridge the world of verbs and the world of adjectives. As adjectives, Latin participles have case endings and thus agree with a noun in number, gender and case. They can also form substantives and indeed often serve as nouns. As verbs, Latin participles are built on verb bases and expect objects, adverbs or any construction the base verb can take after it (e.g. direct object, indirect object, complementary infinitive, agent, ablative of separation, etc.). In sum, their first half (the verb base) looks ahead in the sentence to what follows (object, predicate, agent, etc.); their second half (adjective ending) looks back in the sentence to the noun with which the participle agrees.
Latin has only four participles (present active, perfect passive, future active, future passive). It lacks the two others which would fill out the system (present passive, perfect active). Here is how each are formed:
Stems. Two of the participles use the present stem (e.g. am[a]-): present active (amans), future passive (amandus). The other two use the fourth principal part stem which must be memorized for each verb (e.g. amat-): perfect passive (amatus), future active (amaturus).
Endings. Three of the participles use first/second-declension endings (-us, -a, -um): perfect passive (amatus), future active (amaturus), and future passive (amandus). One uses third-declension endings (-ns, -ntis): present active (amans). Note that, like third-declension adjectives in general, present active participles are i-stem, with -ia (neuter nominative/accusative plural) and -ium (genitive plural). But there is one exception: in the ablative singular they may end with either -i (most often when used as an adjective) or -e (when used as a substantive).
Literal Translation. Each of the participle has a distinctive translation based on its tense and voice:
The Translation of Participles as Subordinate Clauses in English. Where English more often uses extended subordinate clauses, Latin tends to deploy participles alone to cover the same territory, frequently leaving the logical relationship between participle and main sentence implicit in the context of the sentence. Therefore, a Latin participle like actum ("[the thing] having been done") can be used where English would more naturally have "when it was done" (implying a temporal connection between participle and main sentence), "since it was done" (implying a logical or causal connection), "although it was done" (implying a contrary-to-expectation or concessive connection) and "if it was done" (implying a condition). We will focus at first on the literal meaning of participles before we attempt to translate them figuratively.
There are two worksheets for this chapter. Click here for a worksheet on the formation and translation of participles. Watch carefully the expectation associated with each type of participle: present and future active participles expect (accusative) objects and perfect passive participles expect ablative agents. In the next chapter we'll learn that future passive participles in passive periphrastics expect dative agents.
In both English and Latin, participles show time relative to the main verb. That is, a present participle happens at the same time as the main verb (+0 in time value), whereas a perfect participle shows action prior in time to the main verb (-1) and a future participle action time subsequent to the main verb (+1). Better names for these participles might be "contemporaneous," "prior" and "subsequent." The main difficulty in dealing with relative versus absolute time comes when changing a participle which uses relative time into a clause which uses a finite verb and absolute time. Remember that this is not a problem exclusive to Latin. English speakers innately know how to shift between relative and absolute time, since it is a part of speaking the English language.
Past-Tense Main Verb + Present Participle (versus Clauses which use finite verbs). Most problems arise when the main verb is in the past tense:
The verb esse has only one participle in Latin: the future active futurus which, like all forms of the linking verb, expects a predicate. The absence of a present active participle for esse—the counterpart of "being" in English—is unexpected and precipitates difficulties in certain constructions (see Chapter 24, Ablative Absolute).
aliquis: = ali + quis/quid.
iucundus: An adjective, not a future passive participle!
liber: Does not contract!
audio: It's important not to confuse this verb with audeo (Chapter 7).
cupio: Takes a complementary infinitive.
peto: Although peto belongs to third conjugation, it forms its perfect active base (petiv-) as if it were a member of fourth (cf. scivi).
premo: In compound, this verb becomes -primo through vowel gradation, cf. opprimo (ob- + premo).
verto: The perfect active form of this verb, verti, lost its reduplication in early Latin—the reduplicated form is not attested—leaving the present and perfect active bases identical. Thus, vertit and vertimus can be construed as present or perfect.
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