Is there any diachronic reason whereby synthetic perfective passive forms like *amavitur (and similar ones) are not possible and analytic forms like amatus est (and similar ones) are selected instead? Since passive and perfect can each appear on their own (e.g., cf. amatur and amavit, respectively), why can't they be combined and give a form like amavitur and/or why should an analytic form like amatus est be used instead?

  • After all, amaveris has a place in fut.-perf. active; and perf. subjunctive, doesn't it?
    – Hugh
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 0:41
  • 1
    Here is another possible way of formulating my question above, now based on so-called "blocking" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blocking_(linguistics) ): why did the analytic form amatus est block the synthetic form amavitur?
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 3:12

1 Answer 1


Good question!

In Proto-Indo-European, there were multiple complete sets of person-number markings, used for different tenses of the same verb. You can see the relics of this most clearly in Ancient Greek, where the present tense conjugates -ō -eis -ei, the aorist tense conjugates -a -as -en, and the imperfect tense conjugates -on -es -en.

In Latin, one set of endings was used for the present tense, and a different set for the perfect. The cognates for these are the Greek present and aorist endings, respectively, though evolution has made them hard to recognize: the cognate to Greek's first-person singular aorist -a has been augmented with a particle -i and the -a-i then contracted to , for example, to give Latin amavī.

Ancient Greek has mediopassive equivalents to all the endings I listed, and it seems that PIE did too. But in Latin (and actually Italic in general), for whatever reason, the passive equivalents to the perfect endings didn't survive. Since those endings were fundamentally different from the present ones, though, it didn't make sense just to apply the present's passive forms. So they made do with the periphrasis you mention. We don't see *amāvitur for the same reason we don't see *amistī for "you love": even though the two sets of endings have some similarities, they're fundamentally different, and weren't seen as interchangeable.

  • Thanks for confirming that there must be a diachronic reason. Some formal linguists have argued for a merely synchronic explanation (e.g., vid. Embick's (2000) purely technical account of the ill-formedness of amavitur: a [Passive] feature on the functional category Asp(ect) blocks adjunction of Asp(ect) to T(ense), whereby Tense+Agreement are pronounced as the copula and AspP as the participle (for more details, see Embick, D. (2000). "Features, Syntax, and Categories in the Latin Perfect", LI 31: 185-230). I found his technical "explanation" a bit stipulative. Where's diachrony?).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jun 15, 2019 at 21:49
  • I'm precisely asking for the nature of your "whatever reason" in your text above: "in Latin (and actually Italic in general), for whatever reason, the passive equivalents to the perfect endings didn't survive". To the extent I've been able to understand the relevant literature on the topic, it is not true that my question is related to simple claims like "We don't see *amāvitur for the same reason we don't see *amistī for "you love"".
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 5:03
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    @Mitomino Indeed; I'm not sure what those reasons are, though they might be related to blocking. I'm just explaining why the present endings didn't get repurposed once the perfect ones were gone (for whatever reasons that might be).
    – Draconis
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 5:10
  • Yes, thanks for your clarification. I understand what you mean.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 5:12

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