A Subjunctive Story, I

salvēte, amīcī. As promised, here’s a sequence of stories that we might use if, in fact, we introduce present subjunctive verbs (modus optātīvus, as the Romans said, or used independently, as we say, in constructions called things like “volitive” or “hortatory” or “jussive”) during Lectiōnēs XIII-XVIII, when members of all three of our familiae are attending a chariot race. It seems that there wasn’t a Circus in Naples, so I haven’t quite decided whether we’ll be taking a longish trip to Rome or an extremely long trip to Mediolānum, where Caelius might possibly have some family. Either way, we’ll be on the road for several days, and young Cnaeus will have plenty of opportunities to annoy his parents, his sisters, and everyone else on the trip.  Everyone will also have plenty of opportunities to wish for things, and to request things, and to tell people – politely or impolitely – to do things.

At some point, of course, the three boys – and their sisters – will grow up, and we’ll deal with the issues of love and marriage that are dear to the hearts of teenagers. And this may be the beginning of that time,  since Lucius’ older sister, at 12, is certainly of Roman marriageable age.  This trip will probably involve some negotiations with the family of her future husband, currently (but not necessarily forever) named Vipsānius and presumably related, in some way, to Vipsanius Agrippa.

We can’t yet know about the family connection, though, in part because we (and I include myself here!) don’t quite know the social status of the Valeriī or the Caeliī.  The historical Vipsāniī, it seems, may have been of the equestrian order (in any case they were “not prominent in public life” according to the Wikipedia article about Agrippa).  But obviously Agrippa’s own status changed considerably – and he was, after all, educated with the young Octavian.  A direct descendant of his would be quite unlikely to marry some girl from Herculaneum … but a distant cousin of lower status might.

So what do we know about our own characters’ status?  The Valerii appear to be a wealthy equestrian family, though they might possibly be of senatorial rank.  The Caelii are clearly wealthier and may well be of senatorial rank (and that might be why Cnaeus is so unpleasant; perhaps his aunt Caelia “married down,” as some people say, but that marriage brought in some money that maintained their social station.) Anyway, our Vipsanius need not be a close relative of Agrippa’s, and the boys (and little girls) need not know about the hidden reasons for the trip. For them, a trip to the races would be sufficiently exciting.

So picture … a picture, with some very bored children in a wagon, and the older boys on horseback.  And keep in mind that all the narration is in present tense, since that’s the only verb tense we’ve encountered.

Cnaeus sēcum loquitur. “multās iam horās iter facimus,” inquit. “ad istum locum advenīre volō.  ūtinam mox adveniāmus!”

Valēria sēcum loquitur. “quam longum est iter!” inquit. “estne Vipsānius iuvenis benignus? ūtinam pulcher et fortis sit!”

Prīma et Secunda inter sē susurrant. “quam stultus Cnaeus est! quam molestus!” inquit Prīma. “ūtinam taceat!”

“quam patiēns equus est, quī Cnaeum stultum fert!” respondet Secunda. “ūtinam equus effugiat! ūtinam frāter ad terram dēcidat et lacrimet!”

You can probably imagine the comprehension questions, which will key in on what Prima and Secunda (and Cnaeus) wish.  And, of course, there has to be a

quid novī?

You probably noticed the word ūtinam, which means something like “I wish that” or “if only.” You also probably noticed that the vowels in the verbs after ūtinam were a bit unusual. Obviously, if you wish for something, it isn’t happening right now, so a “normal” verb doesn’t quite express the situation. In this situation, Romans used a special form that we call the “subjunctive mood,” but they called modus optātīvus. (They also used these verbs in some other places, where they called them modus coniūnctīvus.)

As usual, we’ll ask learners to assess their comfort level, and then we’ll proceed to this:

Can you see the difference between the “normal” verbs (Romans called them modus indicātīvus) and the new modus optātīvus?

  • Lūcius nōn ambulat. (indicātīvus)
  • ūtinam Lūcius ambulet! (optātīvus)
  • Prīma nōn sedet. (indicātīvus)
  • ūtinam Prīma sedeat! (optātīvus)
  • equus nōn prōcēdit. (indicātīvus)
  • ūtinam equus prōcēdat! (optātīvus)
  • mustēla mūrem nōn capit. (indicātīvus)
  • ūtinam mustēla mūrem capiat! (optātīvus)
  • īnfāns nōn dormit. (indicātīvus)
  • ūtinam īnfāns dormiat! (optātīvus)

On a scale from 1-5, how well do you think you can distinguish the indicātīvus from the optātīvus?

Would you like an additional explanation?

As always, note the degree to which we’re consciously promoting learners’ Ownership of their learning.  If they think they can do without the explanation, they’re welcome to try; if they find they’re wrong, they can return to it as many times as necessary.  What’s important is that they learn – and that they come to know themselves as learners.  The specific pathways to learning and the accumulation of “points in the book,” so essential (and standardized) in a factory-model approach to learning, are just not that important in the Tres Columnae system.

And so, if learners say “yes” to the question about needing more explanations, we proceed to this:

Take a closer look at the relationships between the infinītīvus, the indicātīvus, and the optātīvus.

Infinītīvus Indicātīvus Tertiae Persōnae Singulāris OptātīvusTertiae Persōnae Singulāris
ambulāre ambulat ambulet
sedēre sedet sedeat
prōcēdere prōcēdit prōcēdat
capere capit capiat
dormīre dormit dormiat

The letter before the ending changed:

  • For verba prīmae coniūgātiōnis, where the letter is normally an ___, it became an ___
  • For other verbs, the letter was an ____.

On our usual scale, how comfortable do you feel with distinguishing the indicātīvus from the optātīvus now?

And then, of course, there’s an exercise where you determine whether given verbs (all familiar) are indicātīvus or optātīvus. You get to decide whether you see the infinitive or not, at first, and then (if you choose the “with infinitive” version), eventually you get a without-infinitive version.

Then, when you’re ready, we proceed to the story. But we’ll save that for tomorrow! 🙂

intereā, quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Is this a good place to introduce the subjunctive? Or is it too early?
  • Do you think it makes sense to introduce subjunctives with their “primary” meaning of wishes (and hopes, and requests, and such), or would you rather see them first in dependent clauses?
  • And do you find the Roman distinction of optātīvus and coniūnctīvus helpful or harmful?

Tune in next time for the actual story … or one of them. You’ll have to wait for a bit to find out if Cnaeus falls off that horse, though! 🙂 And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Okay! I see how we can distinguish the two now. I think it would be reasonable for students to see this form (perhaps (?) as Laura suggested in passing rather than for mastery.

    Actually, I use the hortatory subjunctive quite early in place of commands (except when they aren’t listening at which point I use the imperative–quite forcefully). Students just stand up “surgāmus.” Those who don’t receive an emphatic “surgite!”

    • Randy,
      I know you found an answer in that subsequent post. You’re quite right that one could approach subjunctives in passing rather than for mastery if you’d like. Or, if you do want learners to master them early on, there’s a variety of exercises that we’ll make available to help learners distinguish the optātīvus from the indicātīvus.

      Love the way you use hortatory subjunctives early on!

      ut valeas,

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