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©Damen, 2003
Chapter 23

RULE 1: Latin has only four participles: the present active, future active, perfect passive and future passive. It lacks a present passive participle ("being X-ed") and a perfect active participle ("having X-ed").

RULE 2: The perfect passive, future active and future passive participles belong to first/second declension. The present active participle belongs to third declension.

RULE 3: The verb esse has only a future active participle (futurus). It lacks both the present active and all passive participles.

RULE 4: Participles show relative time.

I. Grammar

A. What is a Participle?

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.

B. The Formation of Latin Participles

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:

1. Present Active Participle: present stem (ama-) + -nt- + third-declension endings = amans, amantis, . . .

2. Perfect Passive Participle: fourth principal part stem (amat-) + first/second-declension endings = amatus, -a, -um

3. Future Active Participle: fourth principal part stem (amat-) + -ur- + first/second-declension endings = amaturus, -a, -um, etc.

4. Future Passive Participle: present stem (ama-) + -nd- + first/second-declension endings = amandus, -a, -um, etc.

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).

C. The Translation of Participles

Literal Translation. Each of the participle has a distinctive translation based on its tense and voice:

1. Present Active Participle: "X-ing"; or as a substantive "the one X-ing, the one who is X-ing, the X-er"

2. Perfect Passive Participle: "having been X-ed" (not just "X-ed"!); or as a substantive "the one having been X-ed, the one who has been (or was) X-ed"

3. Future Active Participle: "about to X, going to X, likely to X, intending to X"; or as a substantive "the one about to X, the one who will X"

4. Future Passive Participle: "to be X-ed, deserving to be X-ed, fit to be X-ed, "worth X-ing"; or as a substantive "the one who must/should be X-ed" (this use will be discussed more fully in the next chapter)

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.

D. Participles and Relative Time

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:

Present Participle: The student, ignoring the rules of tense formation in participles, failed the class.
Finite-Verb Clause: The student, who ignored the rules of tense formation in participles, failed the class.

Perfect Participle: The rules, having been ignored, came back to haunt the foolish student.
Finite-Verb Clause: The rules, which had been ignored, came back to haunt the foolish student.

E. Participle of Esse

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).

II. Vocabulary

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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