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.
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
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
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.
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").