I've another question about Coniugatio periphrastica passiva. If I'm a girl and I wanted to say I need to read, would it be:

Mihi legendum est.


Mihi legenda est.

So, does the gerundivum stay in neuter or not?

3 Answers 3


The gerundive should be neuter if you just want to say "I need to read". Any other form than singular neuter should only be used when the gerundive modifies a noun. The modified noun can in principle be left implicit; consider:

Ubi est ista scriptio? Mihi legenda est!
Where is that writing? I have to read it!

The fact that the gerundive is not neuter in Latin corresponds here to adding the explicit object "it" in English (referring to the feminine scriptio). Hardly anyone would repeat scriptio in the second sentence, but it is easily understood and therefore supplying the feminine legenda makes sense.

The feminine gender is purely due to agreement with scriptio. It doesn't matter who is obliged (cf. suus), and it doesn't even have to be specified. Legendum est is impersonal like "reading must happen", although the latter is not very idiomatic English.

If there is no specific object, go with the singular neuter.


It's necessary to distinguish between gerund and gerundive. The former is an active verbal noun, declinable, but with no plural. The gerundive is a passive verbal adjective, declinable in both numbers.

Your first example translates to reading is for me, or even it's time for me to read. Think of Horace's 'Cleopatra Ode' (Odes 1, 37), beginning Nunc est bibendum, usually translated as something like 'Now's the time for drinking'. To my mind, this is unquestionably a gerund, though others see it differently.

Mihi is a dative pronoun of either gender and, if you want to make it clear that it's a girl that is doing the reading, you must indicate gender by some other device. It can't be done as you are trying to do it in your second example which, as it stands, is impossible. Legenda can only be gerundive and, being adjectival, ought to have an associated noun. Nodding to Joonas's suggestion, this might be scriptio, producing scriptio est mihi legenda.

Note that legenda cannot be defended as a plural gerund — see my opening paragraph — but, even were that possible, the verb would then have to be sunt, and not est.

If a verb is transitive, it is usual to prefer the gerundive (this is known as 'gerundive attraction'). It carries then a sense of obligation. The gerund is, even so, preferred in certain circumstances which, like all the other tricky exceptions and modifications of syntax possible with this pair of verbal parts, would be better understood by consulting a grammar.

  • 3
    I agree with you, Tom, in all you have said in your answer except in the following: are you sure that Nunc est bibendum is "unquestionably a gerund"? I would not use this adverb since there's been and there's still debate on this issue. If you don't mind, I would like to post it as a new question to see what people think about this issue.
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 16:11
  • @Mitomino By all means, post it as a new question. I'm convinced myself but, as you say, there have been differing opinions. My own is that meaning tends to get lost in all the attempts to rationalize what is, after all, a beautiful piece. Just look at the enormous variety among the translations, too!
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 16:28
  • 2
    @TomCotton Nunc bibendum est looks to me like a perfect example of an impersonal gerundive (A&G 500). I would expect a gerund to have an expressed object. Commented May 19, 2019 at 17:10
  • @Kingshorsey In A&G's terms, you may well be right, but I'm afraid that I don't wholly buy into all the academic analysis of Latin syntax; in other words I'd rather take the language at face value, without having the reasons for its construction set out in fine detail to take away the enjoyment of reading something like the Cleopatra Ode. It's still possible to write decent Latin without all the apparatus that interests its analysts!
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 17:25
  • 1
    @Mitomino I've edited my answer to indicate doubt over the nature od bibendum. I have explained my point of view in an answer to your associated new question.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 16:18

The gerundive, again, makes indirect speech look like paradise! Here: "mihi legenda est" giving "by me it-ought-to-be-read". A gerundive with a part of sum is the gerundive-of-obligation. The person upon whom the obligation falls goes into the dative; here, "mihi"; but, the gender of the gerundive refers to the "it" in "it-ought-to-be...", not to the gender of the person upon whom the obligation is falling!

The neuter form, without a noun, provides an impersonal expression e.g. faciendum est = it-ought-to-be-done. North & Hillard Ex. 210: Blosius refuses to condemn his late friend, Gracchus, before the Senate; thereby, inviting his own execution. "si moriendum erit, moriar amicis fidelis." "If I am to die (if it-will-have-to-be-death), let me die loyal to my friends."

  • 1
    I find your examples charmingly confusing. Is libella the missing subject of the first? ("The libel should be read to me"). And does the deponent verb in the second affect the grammar?
    – Hugh
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 12:09
  • @Hugh: "Book" (libella) is understood, in the gerundive, "it (the book)-ought-to-be-read". Blosius: "morior"; if you have an alternative translation, please proceed.
    – tony
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 9:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.