How deponent (and semi-deponent) verbs appeared in Latin, and why?

How did they evolve in descend languages? They seem extincts in descend languages (why?) but there are probably specific structured inherited of this atypical grammar.

I've read in Wikipedia:

Latin also has some verbs that are active in form but passive in meaning. fit (it is made, done) was used as the passive of facit (to do, to make). In the perfect forms (perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect), this was a compound verb just like the passive voice of regular verbs (factum est, it has been done).

Why they have no name (at least the name is not mentioned in the article, and I've only heard people talking about deponent verbs.
Is it the same for them?


Specifically about the origin (and not the other facts), I've found these related thread, with some answers about the origin:
How accurate is the typical definition of a deponent verb? (this one, being too difficult to understand for me)

Are Deponent Verbs a feature of the Latin Language or Means of Translation?

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    An important distinction made in the first link above (the one between non-agentive deponent verbs like mori or nasci and agentive ones like loqui and hortari) is crucial to understand why only the former deponent verbs, but not the latter, evolved into Romance: e.g., cf. the obvious parallelism between Lat. Marcus natus est and It. Marco è nato. Unfortunately, as pointed out in the 1st link above, the typical definition of deponent verbs is a bit confusing since it does not make a distinction between nasci/mori-verbs and loqui/hortari-verbs.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:30
  • I noticed this also è nato/est né (French), and it was the reason of my question. I think that è nato/est né evolved from the deponent structure, so there is maybe other case. It seems a remainder of the deponent structure. I would be interested to know more residual structures like this. Hence also my question about the origin.
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:39
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    Deponent verbs of the loqui/hortari-type didn't survive in Romance because of their meaning-form mismatch (agentive but passive in form). So no surprise that a deponent verb like loqui was replaced by an active verb parabolare in Late Latin (cf. It. parlare, Fr. parler, Cat. parlar) and that tr. verbs like hortari were regularized/converted into non-deponent form: hortare. I hope that now the contents of the first link above are a bit clearer for you... but please note that the topic is not easy (see 1st link above for some relevant references that illustrate the debate).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:12

2 Answers 2


Most of the time, deponent verbs in Latin come from the Indo-European middle voice, which had pretty much completely died out by Classical Latin times. But in other Indo-European languages, such as Ancient Greek and Hittite, the middle voice is well-attested: it's a third voice next to active and passive, which usually links the subject back to itself in some way.

In Latin, as opposed to those other languages, the middle voice as a distinct thing died out fairly early. After that, the passive voice (descended from the PIE medio-passive) was almost always a true passive, and middle meanings were expressed by adding extra words.

However, there were some words which were only ever commonly used in the middle voice, never in the active. For example, *s-kʷ- "follow" seems to be this way all the way back to PIE: compare Ancient Greek ἕπομαι (hépomai) and Old Irish seichithir, which never appear in the active voice. So in Latin, you end up with sequor, a form with passive morphology, but non-passive semantics. It can even take a direct object, which true passives can't do!

In Romance, this little irregularity got smoothed out: sequor gave way to *sequiō, a normal verb with normal active morphology. Most other deponents changed in the same way, or died out and were replaced by non-deponents. They were an irregularity in the system, and like most irregularities, the constant and unceasing process of language evolution ironed them out over the centuries.

On the flipside:

Latin also has some verbs that are active in form but passive in meaning.

To me, this seems just plain misleading. Fiō means "become", and it's not inherently passive any more than English "become" is.

Instead, faciō was a suppletive verb, just like ferō, feriō, sum, and others—that is, some of its forms fell out of use, and other verbs were used in their stead. In this case, it was specifically the present-system passives: instead of *clarus facier, "I am made famous", clarus fiō, "I become famous".

  • As for your statement above that in the passage to Romance, deponent verbs "were an irregularity in the system", please see the difference discussed in comments above between nasci-verbs and loqui-verbs. In particular, note that the fate of locutus/secutus est should not be mixed with the "regular" evolution of natus/mortus est (NB: the latter fall under the set of so-called "unaccusative" verbs. Cf. It. "Marco è nato" vs. "Marco ha parlato". See above for the replacement of deponent loqui by unergative parabolare in Late Latin).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:41
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    @Mitomino Good point! Feel free to post another answer with more details if you want. Otherwise I'll update this later.
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:44
  • As for your strong statement that "Fiō means 'become', nothing passive about it", I disagree. In my opinion, this verb does have "passive meaning" in the sense that its argument subject is a patient. Note the parallelism between unaccusative verbs and passive constructions: both of them have patient subjects. This said, let me clarify that I understand what you mean but I also think that you should recognize that your statement above is "too strong" and can be misinterpreted. Cf. also It. "Gianni è diventato matto" ('G. became crazy'). It. BE-verbs select patient subjects.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:08
  • @Mitomino Fair enough; I'll rephrase that. Mostly I mean that it's not unambiguously non-active the way deponents are unambiguously non-passive.
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:42
  • I'd say the notion about English is entirely misplaced. I will gladly chat about it, but that's up to you.
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 21:21

Consentius (Keil 1855-1880v: 368.3-5): “On the other hand vapulo, ardeo, and veneo … do not have the active, but rather the passive force: for no one performs, but rather experiences who ‘gets a beating’ (vapulat) or who ‘is on fire’ (ardet) or who ‘is sold’ (venit).”

Phocas (Keil v: 430.29-32): “[The classes of verbs can be identified by means of easy reckoning. They are either …] or neuter, which signify a performance (actum), have an active form, and certainly do not change into passives; or supina, which are declined just as the activa, but have an experiential meaning, as vapulo, pendeo, and veneo.”

Victorinus (Keil vi: 198.8-10): “What is a neuter? (A verb) which ends in the letter ‘o’ and cannot take the letter ‘r’, as curro, vigilo, and domino. How many are their meanings? Two: either it has the force of performing (active) as sedeo and curro, or of experiencing (passive) as algeo and vapulo.”

Audax (Keil vii: 346.8-11): “What is a neuter? (A verb) which ends in the letter ‘o and does not receive the letter ‘r’, as curro and vigilo. Their meanings are two: either it has the force of performing (active) as sedeo and curro, or of experiencing (passive) as algeo and vapulo.”

Sergius (Keil iv: 502.8-10): “In the neuter itself you find the meaning either of performing (active) or experiencing (passive): of performing as curro, of experiencing as vapulo."

  • 4
    Could you make it more explicit what you're trying to say here? How does this answer the question?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Jan 10 at 8:39

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