The impersonal passive is a familiar construction:

Pugnatur. "There is fighting / people are fighting / etc."
Pugnatum est. "There was fighting / etc."

Here a finite passive verb is being used with an impersonal sense. To what extent can passive infinitives be used in the same way, for example in indirect speech constructions?

I think I've seen examples of the perfect passive infinitive:

Dicit pugnatum esse. "He says there was fighting."

But for some reason, I'm not sure I've ever seen present or future passive infinitives:

Dicit pugnari. "He says there is fighting."
Dicit pugnatum iri. "He says there will be fighting."

There's no particular a priori reason this construction should be limited to finite verbs or to only some tenses of the infinitive, but what does usage say? Are there examples of all tenses of the passive infinitive used impersonally?

2 Answers 2


Here is a relevant example where the present passive infinitive vivi is interpreted in an impersonal context after a verbum dicendi (negat) like in your examples above:

Negat Epicurus iucunde posse vivi, nisi cum virtute vivatur. (Cic. Tusc. 3, 49)

NB I: I've just found a nice variatio of this example in another work by Cicero, but this time with an indefinite subject: cf. the impersonal construction(s) above with At negat Epicurus -hoc enim vestrum lumen est- quemquam qui honeste non vivat iucunde posse vivere (Cic. Fin. 2.70).

Pinkster (2015: 270) gives some examples of your "non-problematic" type (i.e., with a perfect passive infinitive) in Section "5.21 The impersonal passive". E.g.:

Nunc tu, Cleostrata, / ne a me memores malitiose de hac re factum aut suspices, / tibi permitto: tute sorti (Pl. Cas. 393-5).

He also gives some examples of the future passive infinitive (supine + iri) in a subordinated impersonal context. E.g., cf. also 1(δ) in this link:

Ille respondit (...) ipsi vero nihil nocitum iri inque eam rem se suam fidem interponere (Caes. Gal. 5.36.2).

NB II: A similar example of subordinated impersonal construction with the present passive infinitive noceri is given by Pinkster (2015: 270): namque ea materies (...) reicitque eius (sc. ignis) vim nec patitur ab eo sibi cito noceri (Vitr. 2.9.14).

Finally, here is an interesting example of an impersonal construction with a present passive infinitive in a deeply subordinated context:

Dixerat aliquis leniorem sententiam, ut primo M. Marcellus, ingressus in eam orationem, non oportere ante de ea re ad senatum referri, quam dilectus tota Italia habiti et exercitus conscripti essent. (Caes. Civ. 1.7).

  • While attempting to translate: "quamquam Quirities, mihi, quidem ipsi nihil ab istis iam noceri potest.", from Q:latin.stackexchange.com/q/18518/1982, I tried to translate "noceri" as a passive infinitive, "to be harmed". Looking at the translation: "O Romans, no injury can be done by me to them." and recalling the impersonal passive infinitive--this Q. In this Q., above: (Cic. Tusc. 3,49): how is "posse" to be translated: "Epicurus denies that anyone is able/ can ("potest" not "posse") live pleasantly who does not live with/ by virtue."?
    – tony
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 9:42
  • Given that "vivi" is an impersonal passive infinitive: "it is to be lived", how does "posse" fit in, at all, when "to be" is in-the-verb, "vivi": "Epicurus denies it is to be able ("posse") to be lived ("vivi")", would be the translation?
    – tony
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 9:51
  • In (Vitr. 2.9.14) above, is it possible to translate "noceri" as a passive infinitive ("to be harmed")? Here, "...reicitque eius vim nec patitur ab eo sibi cito neceri," = "...and drove away the power of it, and not suffer from this (ab eo) to be quickly harmed (cito noceri) by itself ("sibi")? Does "it", from "power of it", link to "be harmed", providing the impersonal passive infinitive?
    – tony
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 10:03
  • A mistake: reversing, "O Romans, no injury can be done by them to me."
    – tony
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 10:07
  • @tony The translation given in your last comment seems perfect to me. It's a nice way to translate a kind of passive that is not possible in English (sc. "impersonal passive"). So don't expect a more direct translation to be possible in your language. As for the first ex. from (Cic. Tusc. 3, 49), I think that the use of an indefinite pronoun ("one") can also be very appropriate to translate the impersonal meaning of the Latin passive sentence (see also the ex. given in NB I above). As for Vitr.'s ex., NB: ab eo is the ablative of agent and sibi is the typical dative selected by the verb.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 16:10

The present passive tense of the infinitive e.g. "amari" = "to be loved"; "moneri" = "to be warned".

He says the enemy are being defeated = "dicit hostes superari".

In Mitomino's last two examples: the Romans understood "persuadeo" as "make sweet or agreeable to" (+ dative); therefore: "mihi numquam persuaderi potuit…" = "it was never possible to be made agreeable to me..."; "credo" as "be trusting to" (+ dative); "vult sibi quisque credi" = "everyone wants to be trusting to them (the people)".

The perfect passive tense of the infinitive e.g. "amatus esse" = "to have been loved"; "monitus esse" = "to have been warned":

He says the enemy have been defeated = "dicit hostes superatos esse".

The future: Latin does not really have a future infinitive passive, (present-tense "to be" already implies the future e.g. I want to be loved) so a hotch-potch future infinitive appears to have been created by adding "iri" to the supine of the verb. The word "iri" is the passive infinitive of "eo", being used impersonally (i.e. having a meaning such as "it is gone" or "there is a going"). Adding the supine of a verb (which after a verb of motion has the meaning "in order to...") and using it in an indirect statement e.g. "dicit urbem oppugnatum iri" = "he says that there is a going in order to attack the city". From this the translation rendered "he says that the city is going to be attacked".

Similarly: He says that the enemy will be defeated = "dicit hostes superatum iri."

Note: it is not "superatos" because of the impersonal use, cf. the neuter of the gerundive used in impersonal construction e.g. "Bibendum" = "it ought to be drunk" (again "to be" implies the future.)

Take a look at Q: Instances of the future passive infinitive and Q: Is 'volo' ever used with a future infinitive?.

  • 1
    Thanks for this answer, but my question was specifically about impersonal uses of the passive infinitive, not true passives as in Dicit hostes superari.
    – TKR
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 23:29
  • @TKR: I was astonished to read "To what extent can passive infinitives be used...in indirect-speech constructions..." and "I'm not sure I've ever seen present or future passive-infinitives". Looks like I've misunderstood. In the first of the two old Qs., cited above, Joonas gave some examples from "De Bello Gallico" e.g. (7.11.4): "...Vellaunoduni cum longius ductum iri existamarent…" = "...as they (Vellaunodini) thought it would be protracted/ lead (the siege) to a longer time...". Any use? Thank you for your help on Q: "Gone But Not Forgotten".
    – tony
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 10:55
  • @Mitomino: Clumsy me. I am beginning to see why TKR has had difficulty in finding examples in this genre.
    – tony
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 11:02
  • Another example from Seneca Epistulae Morales (Letter 30): succurri non potest navigio dehiscenti
    – d_e
    Commented Jan 15 at 21:33

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