I was wondering if Gerundives, the verbal adjectives referred to as "future passive participles" by Latin grammarians, can appear as predicates of Ablative Absolute constructions.

As is well-known, the predicates of Ablative Absolutes can be passive perfect participles (e.g., Cicerone occiso), present participles (e.g., Cicerone loquente), nouns (e.g., Cicerone consule), and adjectives (e.g., Cicerone vivo). Interestingly, as pointed out by Lavency (1985: 196) in his excellent descriptive grammar of Latin (VSVS. Grammaire latine. Description du latin classique en vue de la lecture des auteurs. Paris: Duculot), future active participles are also found as predicates of Ablative Absolutes, as in the following example from Livy:

Carthaginienses prima luce oppugnaturis hostibus castra saxis augent vallum. (Liv. 28, 15)

In contrast, Gerundives, which, as noted above, have sometimes been (wrongly) referred to as "future passive participles", seem to be prevented from appearing as predicates in (true) Ablative Absolutes. But perhaps such a prohibition is not well-grounded and examples similar to the following one are also attested/possible. Any thoughts?

Carthaginienses prima luce oppugnandis castris saxis augent vallum.

NB I: true Ablative Absolutes (AAs) involve functioning on sentence level. Accordingly, examples like Insectandis patribus tribunatum gessit (Livy 3, 65,4) 'He spent his tribunate in attacking the patricians' are not to be regarded as true AAs but rather as dominant participle-like constructions that involve lower syntactic embedding (e.g., in this case, Verbal Phrase (VP)-embedding rather than sentential one). As a result, the agent of insectari must be the same as that of the main verb. Importantly, such a restriction does not necessarily apply to (true) AAs. Accordingly, true AAs are those AAs that satisfy the following two conditions: (i) they function as adverbial subordinate clauses AND (ii) they do not necessarily involve an obligatory sharing of participants/arguments with the ones of the main clause. This said, it is worth pointing out that for other people only one condition (or even other conditions) must be satisfied.

NB II: the present post is also related to Joonas's insightful point on what a predicate of an Ablative Absolute can be: see his specific question on the (im)possibilitify of finding locative Prepositional Phrases (PPs) acting as predicates of Ablative Absolutes. As pointed out in my answer to his intriguing question, my intuition is that locative/PP phrases cannot be predicates in Ablative Absolutes either.

  • Gratified that yourself is not subscribing to the oft-spoke notion that the gerundive is a passive future participle. "Last Wednesday he said that it ought to be done, so they did it." = "dicit proximo die Mercurii faciendum esse, itaque id fecisse." All of this in the past. "Insectandis Patribus" = "with the Senators it-ought-to-have-been-pursued-with-hostile-intent"; so, the gerundive providing obligation within the framework of an AA. If a gerundive is not a (future) participle then it is disqualified from inclusion in an AA (grammatical rule)? How about "Patres insectati" using
    – tony
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 12:08
  • Continuing: the perfect participle passive? For an AA, the components must not be used to refer to any noun or pronoun grammatically connected to the verb in the main clause. Therefore, linking "the agent of insectari", with the agent of "gessit" violates the AA? Why did Livy use this? Perhaps he was experimenting with his language, causing a stir to see what would happen.
    – tony
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 12:16
  • @tony Thanks for your comments. There is debate in the literature on what a (true) AA is. For example, it is said that a typical trait of true AAs is that these can be claimed to function as true subordinate clauses that are directly adjoined to the main clause/sentence. So true AAs cannot be embedded at a lower syntactic level, e.g., true AA don't adjoin to the verbal phrase, as in Livy's example above nor to any other non-sentential constituent (like the alleged AA discussed in latin.stackexchange.com/questions/409/… ).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 17:15
  • It is easy to understand how an AA could be a subordinate clause; but, these, latter, are usually associated with indirect speech--a problem? What exactly is meant by "Verbal Phrase-embedding rather than sentential one"? Something sentential is between two full-stops or equivalent pauses; between the AA and the end of the sentence? How does the student differentiate between a "dominant particle construction" and an AA?
    – tony
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 11:03
  • @tony As pointed out by Joonas, "it is a matter of taste how things are categorized, so one's AA is not always another's AA". In fact, (true) participial AAs have been defined as those dominant participle constructions that function as adverbial subordinate clauses that adjoin at a sentential level. In contrast, the "fake"/apparent AAs that are adjoined below the sentential level necessarily involve that the agent of the participle and the agent of the clause are the same. This is so because the agent of the main clause has scope over (i.e., is structurally higher than) the fake AA.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


Yes, the predicate of an ablative absolute can be a gerundive.

But the matter is complicated by the question what a real ablative absolute is and what separates it from other constructions. You have specified your own, somewhat formal criteria. Others draw a distinction between the various functions of the ablative, the absolute being distinct from the instrumental, and so on.

For example, Hofmann and Szantyr (sorry, I found no English equivalent) contend that the following may be accepted as an ablativus absolutus, but is a “borderline case,” where one should “rather speak of” an ablativus causae or respectus (Cic. Brut. 144):

Antonius coniectura movenda aut sedanda suspicione aut excitanda incredibilem vim habebat

Antonius had an incredible ability to suggest a conjecture, to dispel or arouse a suspicion

You would presumably reject this because it “necessarily involves an obligatory sharing of participants with the main clause” (Antonius having the power, Antonius having his way with the audience's ideas and suspicions).

On the other hand, they also put the following example in the same category (Cic. Att. 4, 1, 6):

quo senatus consulto recitato cum [populus] more hoc insulso et novo plausum meo nomine recitando dedisset, habui contionem.

When this senatus consultum had been read out, as the people had given applause in this tasteless and new manner when my name was read out, I spoke to the assembly.

(As a side note, the real star of this sentence is plausum dare more hoc insulso et novo – imagine Cicero being the sleepy business traveller sitting on an airplane full of tourists.)

This should meet your criteria: It is an adverbial subordinate clause, and it does not share anything with the main clause.

In any event, Hofmann and Szantyr accept these examples only grudgingly as ablatives absolutes, but then go on to aver that ablatives absolutes with gerundives are often and freely used in late Latin, the gerundive taking on the role of a future passive participle. They give the following examples:

Pauca itaque super [benivolo omnium flumine] Nilo, quem Aegyptum Homerus appellat, praestringi conveniet, mox ostendendis aliis, quae sunt in his regionibus admiranda. (Amm. 22, 15, 3)

And so it is hopefully appropriate to touch a little on the matter of the Nile, the most benevolent of rivers, which Homer called Aegyptus, before covering the other things that are remarkable in these lands.

You might cavil this example because (while grammatically the clauses are clearly disjunct) logically the actor is in both cases the narrator who does the praestringere before turning to the ostendere. But even then you should have no complaint with the next example:

at in Galliis bellorum tenore gliscente, diffusis per nostra Germanis, iamque Alpibus ad vastandam Italiam perrumpendis nihil, multa et nefanda perpessis hominibus, praeter lacrimas supererat et terrores. (Amm. 25, 4, 25)

And, with the progression of wars increasing in Gaul, and Germans sweeping our lands, the Alps already about to be crossed in order to lay waste to Italy, the people, wo had suffered so many and so abominable injuries, had nothing left but tears and dread.

They also give as a third example Hilarius, Tractatus Mysteriorum 2, 10, 2 (ipso mundo […] resolvendo).

  • Many thanks for your detailed answer! I fully agree with Hofmann and Szantyr's insightful remark that these gerundives from Cicero's works can better be interpreted as other kinds of ablatives (e.g., as Ablatives of Respect in the first example; see my comments below for some arguments for their remark). In contrast, the examples from Late Latin (Ammianus' example is very clear) do show that gerundives can be predicates of AAs, probably because, as pointed out by Pinkster and others, they were reanalyzed in this stage (but not in Classical Latin!) as true 'future passive participles'.
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 3:35
  • As for the first example, more context should be provided in order to analyze/understand it properly. Note the following structural and semantic parallelism between the gerundive and gerund constructions, which shows that the alleged AAs cannot be analyzed as such but rather as Ablatives of Respect: cf. "[144] Nam ut Antonius coniectura movenda aut sedanda suspicione aut excitanda incredibilem vim habebat: sic in interpretando in definiendo in explicanda aequitate nihil erat Crasso copiosius." These adjuncts are syntactically lower than typical AAs (please see my NB I above).
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 3:48
  • As for the second example, I must say that I got surprised when I read it. So I decided to find more information on this example and guess what... There is an interesting philological debate on the interpretation of the text. Please see footnote 24 in this link: books.google.es/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 3:52
  • Given the empirical evidence, MY interpretation of your statement in the first line of your post ("Yes, the predicate of an ablative absolute can be a gerundive") is rather the following one: "Yes, the predicate of an ablative absolute can be a gerundive in Late Latin but not in Classical Latin".
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 3:58
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: In the second example gerundive "recitando" is used in an AA for the past tense. What benefit has this over an ordinary AA : "meo nomine recitato" = "with my name (having been) read out"?
    – tony
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 9:49

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