Participles, Infinitives, and Aspect, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Welcome to the second of a series of posts about verbal aspect as it applies to non-finite verb forms. Coming up tomorrow, we’ll see an actual story; today, we’ll look at how we’ll go about introducing this important idea in the Tres Columnae system. First, though, a quick review for those who haven’t read Saturday’s post:

On Saturday, we looked at these examples:

  • Valerius, haec verba loquēns, ē sellā surrēxit.
  • Valerius, haec verba locūtus, ē sellā surrēxit.

Of course, there was also an example with a future participle, but I want to save a bit of space today! 🙂 I then made this claim:

In both sentences, Valerius did two things: he spoke and he stood. He even used the same verbs both times! In the first sentence, though, the actions were simultaneous: he stood while still speaking (or, in any case, the speaking isn’t marked as complete). In the second sentence, though, the speaking happened before Valerius stood. Rather than talk endlessly about “sequence of tenses of participles” or some such terminology, we prefer to make this simple distinction clear to our learners.

I also made this claim:

The same principle applies, of course, to infinitives, both by themselves and in ōrātiō oblīqua.

Our goal for today is to explore (and, I hope, prove) this claim Then we’ll begin to look at the ways that an aspect-oriented presentation of participles and infinitives will work in the Tres Columnae system. And yes, lectōrēs cārissimī, there will be stories! I’ve noticed that blog readership goes up on story days and down when more theoretical (or logistical) posts are published. Pretty soon, when we have some regular contributors, almost every day will be a story day! 🙂 And we’ll take a look at the process of editing and revising contributed stories later this week.

Today, though, let’s return to our topic of aspect as applied to infinitives, with this important point:

  • A “present” (that is, imperfective-aspect) infinitive is not marked for completion, so its action occurs at the same time as the main verb in its sentence or clause.
  • A “perfect” (that is, perfective-aspect) infinitive is marked for completion, so its action has occurred before the main verb in its sentence or clause.
  • A “future” infinitive is marked to indicate that its action has not yet started at the time of the main verb in its sentence or clause.

Suddenly the whole “sequence of tenses of the infinitive in indirect statement” lecture – the long one that Latin teachers repeat, multiple times, with tears 🙂 in intermediate and advanced classes – can be reduced to this simple concept. Again, let’s take a look at some examples, beginning with ōrātiō rēcta:

  • Cāius in ātriō sedet. (imperfective: he’s just sitting there)
  • mustēla mūrem cōnsūmpsit. (perfective: she’s finished her dinner)
  • Caelius Cnaeum mox vituperābit (future – but that happens a lot, doesn’t it? Wonder what he’s done, or will have done, this time!)

And now we’ll look at some examples with ōrātiō oblīqua:

  • hodiē Lollia videt Cāium in ātriō sedēre. (imperfective: the seeing and sitting happen at the same time)
  • heri Caelia vīdit Cāium in ātriō sedēre. (again, the imperfective infinitive shows that the sitting was happening when she saw it).
  • mox Valerius vidēbit Cāium in ātriō sedēre. (again, the imperfective infinitive shows that the sitting will be going on when Valerius sees it).
  • hodiē Lollia videt mustēlam mūrem cōnsūmpsisse. (perfective infinitive: the eating is over before Lollia sees the weasel. I guess she saw the bones?)
  • heri Caelia vīdit mustēlam mūrem cōnsūmpsisse. (again, the perfective infinitive shows that the eating had been completed before Lollia saw the weasel)
  • mox Valerius vidēbit mustēlam mūrem cōnsūmpsisse. (again, the perfective infinitive shows that the eating will be completed before Valerius sees the weasel)
  • Prīma Secundaque crēdunt Caelium Cnaeum mox vituperātūrum esse. (And, given Cnaeus’ character, they’re probably right. But the cursing has not yet begun when they believe this.)
  • omnēs servī dīcēbant Caelium Cnaeum mox vituperātūrum esse. (And, given Cnaeus’ character, they’re probably right. But the cursing had not yet begun when they were saying this.)
  • crās Prīma Secundae pollicēbitur Caelium Cnaeum mox vituperātūrum esse. (And, given Cnaeus’ character, she’s almost certainly right. But the cursing will not yet have begun when makes this promise.)

This is the second of a number of posts on the subject. As you may recall if you’ve seen our planned grammatical sequence, we meet present active infinitives, and the other principal parts of verbs, quite early, in Lectiōnēs V and VII. In keeping with our early introduction of deponent verbs, their present infinitives are introduced at about the same time, and both types soon begin to appear as complementary infinitives (with verbs like dēbēre, posse, velle, and decet) and in phrases like decōrum est, necesse est, and commodum est. We’ll meet present passive infinitives when we meet passive verbs. Both present and perfect participles will appear, incidentally, as vocabulary items from early in Cursus Prīmus. But near the end of Cursus Prīmus, and going on into Cursus Secundus, we’ll begin to work with these forms (and the other infinitives) “for mastery” rather than just in passing. As we do, we’ll notice that these non-finite verb forms have a lot more connection with verbal aspect than with tense. Our focus on aspect should make what’s often called the “sequence of tenses of the infinitive in indirect statement” – and made to seem complicated and confusing – seem simple and straightforward.

We’ll meet ōrātiō oblīqua, as the Romans called it, in Lectiō XXV, near the end of Cursus Prīmus. The time is mid-August, A.D. 79, shortly before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis. Several years have passed since Lectiō XX, when Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus were still young boys. By now, they’re young men of 16; Lucius’ sister Valeria and her husband Vipsanius are settled in Naples with their children. Much to the surprise (and horror!) of Caius, his cousin M. Vipsanius has recently married Caius’ sister Lollia, and they have also settled in Naples. Recently, everyone has begun to notice earthquakes and other unusual things going on, but, sadly, no one has made the connection with the “extinct” Mount Vesuvius.

In this context, we’ll begin to explore ōrātiō oblīqua with present-tense infinitives with a sequence like this:

  • hodiē Valerius in tablīnō sedet.
  • servus dīcit Valerium in tablīnō sedēre.
  • heri terra tremēbat.
  • Lūcius sentiēbat terram tremere.
  • duōs diēs fūmus in āera ascendēbat.
  • Lollius vidēbat fumum in āera ascendere.
  • hodiē aquilae ā monte volant.
  • cīvēs vident aquilās ā monte volāre.

quid novī?

You probably noticed that the second sentence in each pair summarized or restated the first one, but the forms changed a bit.

  • The nōmen cāsūs nōminātīvī in the first sentence became a nōmen cāsūs accūsātīvī.
  • The verbum in the first sentence became an infinītīvus.
  • Romans called this construction ōrātiō oblīqua; English speakers usually render this as “indirect statement.” The Romans called normal sentences ōrātiō rēcta or “direct statement.”

Self-assessment: On our usual scale from 1-5,

  • how comfortable do you feel with the concept of ōrātiō oblīqua?
  • how well do you think you could recognize ōrātiō oblīqua?
  • how well do you think you could make ōrātiō oblīqua out of ōrātiō rēcta?

You can probably imagine the exercises we’ll use to practice. Then, as usual, comes a brief explanation:

quid novī?

Did you notice that, in all these sentences, the action of the ōrātiō oblīqua took place at the same time as the other verb in the sentence? That’s why the “present” or “imperfective” infinitives were used. As you might suspect, there are also perfective-aspect infinitives, used when the action in the ōrātiō oblīqua is marked for completion at the time of the main verb. We’ll take a look at those in a bit.

And, of course, there’s the normal self-assessment.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Have I successfully “sold” you on the idea of aspect, rather than tense, as the governing factor for infinitives?
  • What about participles?
  • Whether or not you agree with the linguistics, do you think this approach will help learners? I’m especially interested to hear from people who do agree with the linguistics but don’t think the approach will be helpful!
  • And are you eager for more examples … such as a story or two?

If so, you’re in luck, because we’ll have a number of “story days” this week. Tomorrow we’ll look at a story that practices ōrātiō oblīqua with present infinitives. Then, starting on Wednesday, we’ll look at the revision process for stories that participants submit. Gratias maximas to our trial subscriber, David H, who graciously agreed to let his two stories be guinea pigs for this process! And if you’d like to become a trial subscriber too, just let us know with a comment here – or, better, go ahead and register for free at (so we’ll have your email address on file) and make a comment on the Trial Subscription page. Trial subscribers will get “premium” access (so they can submit unlimited content) until June 1, 2010, and they’ll be eligible for a discount after that.

Whether you choose a Trial Subscription or not, we’re so glad that you’re reading and participating in our Joyful Learning Community! grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! And please keep those comments and emails coming!

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