Saturday, 6 March 2010



One of the more demanding aspects of Latin grammar is the usage of gerunds and gerundives. The purpose of this paper is to explain what they are, the difference between them, and how they are used in classical literature; once a list of exceptions has been compiled, the paper ends with a short but important list of rules for their use. This paper does not deal with how they are formed and declined. For this readers are referred to any standard Latin grammar book. For many of the examples and some of the analysis, the author is principally indebted to D.P.Simpson's "First Principles of Latin Prose", Longmans (1965). A gerund is a verbal noun, which in English is formed by adding "-ing" to the verb. Very similar to it in appearance in Latin, and possibly even the source of its derivation, is the gerundive, a verbal adjective, in the passive voice, but often equivalent in meaning to an active construction. Whereas the gerund is neuter in gender and is found only in singular forms, the gerundive is both singular and plural, and has the complete range of cases and genders. The gerund and gerundive can easily be confused because of their similarity in form, and this potential difficulty is perhaps increased by the manner in which they are used. Hence, even a relatively experienced Latin reader may experience some doubts from time to time, and may need to think hard before identifying which is which. This paper is dedicated to such a person.

The gerund in oblique cases.

In classical Latin the usage of the gerund is in fact relatively rare. It cannot be used in the nominative case, i.e. as the subject of a sentence, nor in the accusative as the direct object. When a verbal noun is sought in these circumstances, Latin uses the infinitive instead. Indeed, it is only found in the accusative case at all, when it follows the preposition "ad" to express purpose, i.e. as an alternative to final clauses ("ut" and the subjunctive). In relation to the cases, usages of the gerund are as follows: in the accusative: after "ad" with the meaning of purpose, as an alternative to final clauses, e.g. ad fodiendum, with a view to digging; in the genitive: as an objective genitive following abstract nouns and certain adjectives which are followed by the genitive, e.g. ars fodiendi, the art of digging, peritus fodiendi, skilled in digging; in the dative: following verbs which take the dative, e.g. fodiendo studet, he is keen on digging, operam dat legendo, he gives attention to reading; and in the ablative: as an instrumental ablative. e.g. summa cura fodiendo thesaurus invenit, by digging carefully he found the treasure. As the last example shows, an adverb or adverbial phrase (but never an adjective) may be added to a gerund to qualify its meaning. Deponent verbs also have gerunds which are formed as in the case of other verbs, and used in the same way, e.g. conando effecit, he managed (it) by trying.

Gerundive to express obligation, necessity or propriety.

In the nominative case, the gerundive carries an idea of obligation, necessity or propriety, passively expressed, and does not just state a simple fact. So "amandus" means "fit to be loved" or "worthy to be loved", denoting propriety, "needing to be loved", denoting necessity, or "deserving to be loved", denoting obligation. In the case of transitive verbs (i.e. verbs which take an object), it has its clearest use in the sense of obligation or necessity when it is the complement of the copulative verb, "sum". e.g. amanda est felis mea, my cat ought to be loved. In this context, it is usually to be found in the nominative case but where it is the subject of an indirect statement it will be in the accusative. e.g. credo spernendas esse ceteras feles, I believe that other cats ought to be despised. The use of the gerundive to express obligation, necessity or propriety is common in Latin, and is used as an alternative to the verbs "debeo", I owe or ought, and the impersonal verbs "oportet", it behoves and "decet", it is right. The most frequent use of the gerundive is with the forms of  "esse" in the Second (or passive) Periphrastic Conjugation, e.g. "amandus sum", I am to be loved, I must be loved. 

The gerundive in oblique case usage.

As a gerundive passes down through the oblique cases, the force of obligation, necessity or obligation, so strong in the nominative, or accusative (when the subject of indirect statement), ceases to exist at all, or is only to be hinted at. Indeed, its meaning draws close to that of a present participle passive. Its main usages here are as follows: accusative: following "ad" meaning purpose, but where there is an direct object following, e.g. ad pacem faciendam, with a view to peace being made; genitive: the same usages as the gerund but where there is a direct object following, e.g. pacis faciendae causa, for the sake of peace being made; dative: after verbs taking the dative, and to show purpose, e.g. rationi reddendae student, they are keen on account being given, decemviros legibus scribendis creaverunt, the ten men were appointed in order  that the laws be written; ablative: instrumentally, but instead of the gerund when the verb had a direct object, and following prepositions which take that case, e.g. corpore exercendo validior fies, you will become stronger by your body being exercised, de vaccis emendis non intellegis, you do not understand about cows being bought. As these examples show, the gerundive is passive but it is equivalent in meaning to an expression of the phrases concerned in an active form.
Gerundive attraction.

In all the above examples where a gerundive is used, the process of gerundive attraction has occurred. This means that while a gerund could theoretically have been used, Latin either prefers or requires a gerundive, perhaps because it was thought to be a more concrete form of expression. Because of the possibility of confusing gerunds and gerundives in translation, it is important to understand what gerundive attraction means. In these constructions the gerundive is used in agreement with the noun, and the whole phrase, including the gerundive is placed in the case in which the gerund would have been. Where the verb is of the standard transitive type and governs a direct object in the accusative case, the gerundive is always used in classical Latin prose, and the dative of the gerund cannot be used to show purpose; and even where a choice is possible, Latin almost always prefers the gerundive construction. In practice, when translating Latin into English we almost always reverse the gerundive construction into the use of a gerund: for instance, "for the sake of peace being made" usually becomes "for the sake of making peace". Such a reversal from a passive to an active phrase in the course of translation is a further reason for confusing gerund and gerundive, especially, when both are possible grammatically.

Gerundives with intransitive verbs.

It is here that there is most the most uncertainty. Because intransitive verbs lack a passive voice, one would not expect a gerundive, which is after all a passive adjective, to be available to them. And, indeed, in later oblique case usage (i.e. genitive, dative, ablative) the gerundive is not generally found with intransitive verbs. However, when it comes to the nominative and, in the case of indirect statement, the accusative, a gerundive of intransitive verbs is also used to express obligation, necessity or propriety. Although the verbs concerned have no passive voice, a gerundive is formed, exceptionally, for this purpose, as in the case of the impersonal passive construction, on which it is based, e.g. currendum est, one must run. In such cases the gerundive is often accompanied by a dative of the agent or where the gerundive comes from a verb taking the dative, by "a/ab" and the ablative, eg. currendum est mihi, I must run, tibi a me parendum est, I must obey you. In past years, standard Latin grammar books did not in fact classify this use of the gerundive as a gerundive at all, but saw it rather as the nominative of the gerund, with which it is identical. The currently prevailing view is suggested by the fact that the gerund does not appear elsewhere in the nominative, and because in no other case does the gerund have the remotest sense of obligation or necessity. On the other hand, in support of the old view, there is often no way in which gerundives used in this impersonal way can be expressed in a passive form. In practice, this controversy does not affect composition, and scarcely translation, of Latin, but it certainly demonstrates the ease with which gerunds and gerundives can be confused.

Exceptions and particular instances.

Perhaps the use of gerundives to express obligation or necessity in the case of intransitive verbs is one of these. Others are set out below.

1. The gerundive is used with some verbs of giving, eg. do, trado, and of seeing to, e.g. curo, to indicate that something is caused to be done. e.g. opus faciendum curavi, I saw to the work being done; libri legendi tibi dabuntur, books will be given to you to read.

2. Although the gerund in the accusative is only usually found after the preposition "ad", it is occasionally found also following "ob" and "inter".

3. When the genitive plural of a personal pronoun ends in "i", a gerundive is put into the genitive singular to agree with it, e.g. nostri adiuvandi causa ( NOT nostri adiuvandorum causa), for the sake of helping us.

4. In the three cases, genitive, dative and ablative, a gerund may be used after all to govern as a direct object either a neuter pronoun or a neuter adjective because, if a gerundive were used, the thing concerned would otherwise no longer be recognised as neuter, e.g. hoc videndi causa (NOT huius videndi causa), for the sake of seeing this

5. Where the repetition of genitive plurals would make use of the gerundive clumsy, the gerund is used instead. e.g. Romanos videndi causa (NOT Romanorum videndorum causa), for the sake of seeing the Romans.

6. The gerund is very occasionally found after prepositions taking the ablative,e.g. ab, de, ex, in. But neither gerund nor gerundive are ever to be found following "sine", without.

7. A gerund is also found instead of a gerundive to avoid complication where there are objects of different genders. e.g. facultas viros et feminas occidendi, the chance of killing men and women.

8. Several deponent verbs governing the ablative case have gerundives which may be used impersonally. e.g. gladiis est utendum, one must use swords, but because such verbs are sometimes regarded as transitive verbs, i.e. taking a direct object, they can sometimes be used as in the following ablative absolute, vi utenda, by force being used.

Short summary of the rules for gerunds and gerundives.

1. The gerund is a verbal neuter noun, is active, and is declined in the singular only. It is not found in the nominative, nor in the accusative as a direct object or the subject of indirect statement. Its use is therefore relatively rare.

2. The gerundive is a verbal adjective, passive in form, and is declined in all cases and genders, both in singular and plural.

3. In the nominative and accusative (when the subject of indirect statement), the gerundive expresses the ideas of obligation, necessity or propriety. This sense disappears, or becomes much less strong, in the other cases.

4. The gerund can be used where there is no direct object, but where there is a transitive verb with a direct object, the gerundive is almost always used.

5. The gerundive should be used to avoid a direct object following the dative of a gerund, or the accusative or ablative of the gerund after a preposition, and, of the two, only a gerundive can be used to show purpose.

6. Where a choice is possible, e.g. as a genitive following "causa" or as an instrumental ablative, in cases where there is a direct object involved, the gerundive is preferred in classical Latin.

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