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Chapter 24

RULE 1: The noun/subject of an ablative absolute is "absolute" from (i.e. not a constituent of ) the main sentence, in theory.

RULE 2: The passive periphrastic carries a sense of obligation or necessity ("must, have to"). It uses the dative case (without a preposition) to express the agent.

I. Grammar

A. The Ablative Absolute

There are basically three types of ablative absolutes in Latin:

1. ablative noun + ablative perfect participle (the most common type): "with X having been Y-ed";
2. ablative noun + ablative present participle: "with X Y-ing";
3. ablative noun + ablative noun/adjective: "with X (being) Y" [there is no present participle for sum].

As with participles, learn the literal meaning of the ablative absolute first, then the figurative translation ("when, if, since, although").

Note that the "absolute" part of the ablative absolute means that the construction is grammatically "removed" from the main sentence. In other words, the subject of the ablative absolute should not be a constituent of the main sentence, in theory—there are, however, many exceptions in Latin—and if the noun in the ablative absolute is used elsewhere in the sentence, the participle should be attached to the noun there, making an ablative absolute unnecessary.

For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the noun of the ablative absolute as the "subject of the ablative absolute" and the participle as the "verb of the ablative absolute."

B. The Passive Periphrastic

Arguably, the most difficult thing about the passive periphrastic is its name. "Periphrastic" is derived from Greek and refers to a "roundabout (peri-) way of saying (-phrastic) something"—cf. the Latin-based term circumlocution ("speak around")—in this case "something said in an indirect way using the passive voice." A more descriptive and precise name might be the "gerundive of obligation or necessity."

This construction adds to the verb a sense of obligation or necessity, usually encompassed in English with "must" or "should." It's important to remember that the Latin construction is always passive, implying "must be, should be."

In addition to that, there are three important points about the passive periphrastic:

1. Voice. Because the Latin construction is always passive and the English is not, often the best translation of a Latin passive periphrastic entails changing the voice of the verb from passive to active in English (and making other necessary alterations in the sentence). And because Roman writers often use this construction, this inversion of voice will happen with some frequency in translation. As with other constructions, however, learn the literal translation of the passive periphrastic first. Only after you've mastered this, move on to making the passive-active transition.

2. Have to. In regard to expressions of obligation or necessity, English offers its own pecularities. For instance, "must" has no true past-tense form—"must have" is not the past tense of "must" but implies probability (e.g. "He must have left," meaning that he has probably departed)—thus, to create a past tense for "must" (showing necessity), English is obliged to use another verb form, "had to" (the past form of "has/have to"). This is another example of "composite conjugation" (cf. go/went and am/is/be), comparable to Latin fero/tuli and tollo/sustuli (see Chapter 22).

3. Dative of Agent. Unlike other passive forms, the passive periphrastic does not take an ablative agent but a dative of agent. Since no dative form will ever be the object of a free-standing preposition, there can be no distinction in the passive periphrastic between personal and impersonal agent, in the same way that the presence or absence of the preposition ab distinguishes agents in other passive constructions.

Click here for a handout which focuses on the translation of ablative absolutes and passive periphrastics. Click here for an other worksheet summarizing the rules for forming and using participles.

C. Reading and Recitation

Here is a link to the Reading for this chapter, a passage from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

II. Vocabulary

quisque: = the interrogative pronoun (quis, quid) + the suffix -que.

re(d)-: An inseparable verbal prefix which, unlike most other verbal prefixes, cannot be used as an independent preposition. Most often, re(d)- adds only the connotation "back" or "behind" to the verb's basic meaning; see below, recipio ("take back") and relinquo ("leave behind").


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