In English, we can communicate progressiveness of an action by combining a form of "to be" with a participle. For instance, "I am acting" is progressive, whereas "I act" is not.

I am wondering about whether this is possible in Latin. What if, in Latin, I say "ago" vs. "agens sum". Is "agens sum" grammatical (or rather, was it grammatical when spoken). If so, does using the participle in this way communicate progressiveness?

  • Your question was migrated to the Latin site where it fits better. Please consider creating an account here (you should be able to just click "Join this community") so that you get better access to your question here.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


In Latin, like in many languages, the usual present tense can be progressive. For example, "I am acting" would be simply ago.

If you want to make a distinction between "I act" and "I am acting", you need to use other words to convey the nature of the action. Usually the context alone is enough, but you can add words like "suddenly" or "continuously".

Latin allows a more similar distinction for past events. The imperfect tense is progressive while the perfect tense is not. (This may be overly simplified, but does give a good big picture.) For example, "I was acting" would be agebam while "I acted" would be egi.

I agree with Arnaud that agens sum does not mean what you want it to. It is grammatical but is not comparable to the English "I am acting". The closest interpretation is "I am someone who acts" which comes pretty close to "I am an agent" where the participle has turned into a noun. There is rarely need for such constructions, and the Latin present participle behaves mostly like Arnaud explains.

As LjL commented, modern Romance languages use different constructions for this purpose. At least Italian and Spanish use stare + the modern gerund, but this construction is not used in classical Latin. Therefore agens sum was unlikely to be the correct choice in vulgar Latin either, so I doubt it has ever had much use in any form of Latin.

  • I believe Late Latin/Medieval Latin uses the stare + gerund construction, or at least treated the ablative gerund as the general continuous tense, replacing the Latin present participle Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 5:21

In my opinion, the answer to your question is no.

Something like agens sum means "while acting, I am". In Latin, participles function a bit like subordinate micro-clauses.

incensus irato, pura mente, ovem agens, sum
burning with anger, with a pure mind, leading a sheep, I exist / am.

To be and a participle does not create a predicate as in English. The participle is autonomous within the clause.

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.