Introducing Aspect, V, Pluperfects

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll look at the introduction of pluperfect indicative verbs … what Donatus calls verba temporis praeteritī plusquamperfectī … in the Tres Columnae system.  I had expected to post this at my normal early-morning hour, but found myself unexpectedly busy, as my one-and-only eight-year-old had an unpleasant stomach bug. 😦

Anyway, the pluperfect will make its first appearance in Lectiō XXII, to complete our initial exploration of verbal aspect. Once we know about it, we’ll have a pretty clear sense of how Romans expressed the relationship between time and aspect:

Ongoing Action (Imperfective) Completed Action (Perfective)
Looking at things “now” tempus praesēns: present tense, formed from infinitive or imperfective stem with no additional marker tempus praeteritum perfectum: perfect tense, formed from third principal part or perfective stem with no additional marker
Looking at things “in the past” tempus praeteritum inperfectum: imperfect tense, formed from infinitive or imperfective stem, plus – tempus praeteritum plusquamperfectum: pluperfect tense, formed from third principal part or perfective stem, plus –erā

It wasn’t until I made this chart that I saw how simple and logical the system is! I can’t wait to share it with my face-to-face students. 🙂 And I hope you like it, too, and that it helps you … and your students … even if you never become a Tres Columnae subscriber.

Anyway, today we’ll explore the introductory material for pluperfects; tomorrow, we’ll look at an actual story that features all four of the tenses we’ve come to know. Lectiō XXII, in which we meet the pluperfect, takes place in mid-to-late spring, before all the wedding festivities for Valeria and Vipsanius. The setting is in the theater, where an old favorite play of Valerius’ is to be performed. The whole family is there, of course, as is Fabius the teacher, who also admires the old favorites. But Valerius’ neighbor Flavius Caeso is also in attendance (he did leave Sabina the mustēla at home, thank goodness!) and he has a rather different – and rather un-Roman – viewpoint about drama. As the Lectiō opens, though, everyone is getting ready to attend the play, and poor Cnaeus (poor Cnaeus? Well, he does bring a lot of it on himself, doesn’t he?) is about to be reminded of an unfortunate incident he’d rather forget.

So picture the illustrations and imagine the audio for this little fabella:

  • hodiē āctōrēs in theātrō fābulam Plautī agunt.
  • proximā nocte āctōrēs in caupōnā dormiēbant.
  • heri āctōrēs urbem intrāvērunt.
  • trēs annōs hī āctōrēs urbem Herculāneum nōn vīsitāverant.
  • hodiē Cnaeus cautē sē gerit.
  • heri Caelius Cnaeum valdē castigābat, quod Cnaeus īnsolēns erat.
  • heri māne Cnaeus Fortūnātam bovem verberāvit.
  • Fortūnāta enim pedem Cnaeō trūserat, et Cnaeus valdē lacrimāverat.
  • hodiē Prīma et Secunda laetissimae ad theātrum contendunt.
  • heri, quandō Caelius Cnaeum vituperābat, Prīma Secundaque intentē audiēbant.
  • heri puellae, postquam Cnaeus Fortūnātam verberāvit, bovī māla et carōtās obtulērunt.
  • heri māne puellae in stabulō sē cēlāvērant et rem tōtam spectāverant.

If we can work out the logistics, I envision an animated timeline where the verbs will actually move into position so that we see the time relationships. Anyway, we’ll eventually proceed to this explanation:

quid novī?

You probably noticed the new verb forms like vīsitāverant, trūserat, lacrimāverat, cēlāverant, and spectāverant. They describe actions that were already completed at some point in the past; in other words, they’re perfective-aspect verbs that talk about the past.

  • vīsitāverant – there had been a period of three years when the actors didn’t visit the city. It ended, of course, when they came back … and that happened “yesterday.”
  • trūserat and lacrimāverat – Cnaeus got in trouble yesterday for beating the cow. Before that happened, she had already finished stepping on his foot, and he had already finished crying about it.
  • cēlāvērant and spectāverant – Cnaeus’ sisters fed Fortunata yesterday. Before they fed her, they had already hidden in the stable and watched Cnaeus mistreat her. And fortunately for Cnaeus, Fortūnāta’s mate Audāx the taurus was in the field at the time! 🙂

Romans called these verb forms verbum temporis praeteritī plusquamperfectī; English speakers usually refer to them as “pluperfect tense verbs” for short.

Then we’ll show – or build up – the chart I showed you above, and then we’ll pause for a brief self-assessment:

  • On our traditional scale from 1-5, how comfortable do you feel with the concept of verba temporis praeteritī plusquamperfectī?
  • How comfortable do you feel with recognizing these verbs?

And, as usual, you can either choose to do a self-checking exercise right away, or you can choose an explanation first. Here’s the explanation:

quid novī?

As we usually do, let’s take a closer look at the verba temporis praeteritī plusquamperfectī that we’ve seen.

  • trēs annōs hī āctōrēs urbem Herculāneum nōn vīsitāverant.
  • Fortūnāta pedem Cnaeō trūserat, et Cnaeus valdē lacrimāverat
  • heri māne puellae in stabulō sē cēlāvērant et rem tōtam spectāverant.

Compare them, for a moment, with the partēs prīncipālēs of the verbs:

  • vīsitāverant is a form of vīsitō, vīsitāre, vīsitāvī, vīsitātum
  • trūserat is a form of trūdō, trūdere, trūsī, trūsum
  • lacrimāverat is a form of lacrimō, lacrimāre, lacrimāvī, lacrimātum
  • cēlāvērant is a form of cēlō, cēlāre, cēlāvī, cēlātum
  • spectāverant is a form of spectō, spectāre, spectāvī, spectātum

Since these are perfective aspect verbs, they’re formed (as you would expect) from the perfective stem, the third principal part.

In all cases, the changed to –erat (for third-person singulars) and –erant (for third-person plurals).

I’m sure you can imagine the self-evaluation and the exercises that will follow! 🙂 And there will, of course, be an explanation of how the praeteritum plusquamperfectum might be represented in English. We’ll look at the story tomorrow, and – I promise! – we’ll finally find out why there’s so much bad blood between Cnaeus and that poor cow! 🙂

In the meantime, quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I’m particularly interested in your response to the chart. It’s rather similar, I realize, to a “sequence of tenses for the subjunctive” chart … but I think that’s because the principle is the same.
  • My hope is that subjunctives (and non-finite verb forms like participles and infinitives) will fall naturally into place if learners understand the concept of aspect. From what you’ve seen, do you think that will happen or not?
  • What do you think of the sentences themselves? Do they do enough to make the tense distinctions clear, or do we need something more … or something less?
  • And are you just dying to find out what happened between Cnaeus and Fortunata? You can always look here for the first story in which they come into conflict.

Tune in next time, when we’ll finally learn The Truth about The Cow. And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Never, ever think you shouldn’t write. You are a very, very good writer and have a lot to tell. Please, please don’t give it up. I will cross all my fingers, toes, eyes etc that you get it all back. But, if you don’t, maybe wait a while and then get back to re-writing the lost part.

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement!

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