Does the sequence esse plus past participle (of a non-deponent Verb) occure in middle function in latin? Is the middle function restricted to the mediopassive r-form in the imperfective tenses (infectum) or does the middle function also occur in the perfective tenses (perfectum)?

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    Welcome to the site, interesting question! You might want to add an example, for what constitutes a middle voice is open for debate.
    – Cerberus
    Jan 8, 2020 at 22:23
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    see my comments below
    – Lisa
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:26
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    Does the sequence esse plus past participle (of a non-deponent verb) occur in middle function in Latin? YES. Is the middle function restricted to the mediopassive r-form in the imperfective tenses (infectum)? NO. Does the middle function also occur in the perfective tenses (perfectum)? YES. Please see my detailed answer below. NB: the real tricky question here is what one should understand by "middle voice" (if any!) in Latin (or what you refer to as "middle function"). As pointed out by Cerberus, you'll not find a clear consensus in the specialized literature on the topic.
    – Mitomino
    Jan 10, 2020 at 2:46

2 Answers 2


The "middle function" can also be claimed to occur in perfective tenses (of both non-deponent and deponent verbs). For example, it's one of the three readings an ambiguous sentence like Porta clausa est can have: please see the so-called anticausative reading (i.e., 'The door closed by itself') in this previous question .

Although it is not morphologically distinct from them (in the sense that the three of them involve 'be+participle'), note that the anticausative/"middle" reading (i.e., 'The door closed by itself') is different from the verbal eventive passive reading (i.e., 'The door {was/has been} closed (by someone/by something')) and from the adjectival resultative/stative passive reading (i.e., 'The door is closed').

For example, note that an agentive by-phrase is only possible with eventive passives but it is excluded from anticausatives/"middles" ('*The door closed by someone') and from statives ('*The door is closed-Adj by someone'). NB: the use of asterisk indicates ungrammaticality. Same in Latin: if you add an ablative phrase like a Gaio to the sentence Porta clausa est, the anticausative/"middle" and the stative readings become impossible. Similarly, if you add a subordinate final clause (e.g., introduced by the conjunction ut) or an adverb oriented to the agent (e.g., libenter), same happens again: the anticausative/"middle" and the stative readings become impossible. So an example like Porta libenter clausa est is not ambiguous (only the verbal passive reading is possible). Please see the link above for more discussion.

Here is another example where the "middle"/anticausative reading is possible:

Postquam omnis res mea Ianum ad medium fracta est, aliena negotia curo, excussus propriis. (Hor. Sat. II 3.18-20) ‘After all my business collapsed at the central arcade of Janus…’

Lisa's examples in her comment above, which are taken from the great grammar by Kühner & Stegmann (1955: 104f.), are indeed very relevant. Note that some of them become even more interesting if more context is provided. For example, a nice contrast ("middle" vs. passive) is provided by the following example from Livy, where circumactus est is interpreted as a "middle"/anticausative, whereas reducerentur (sc. 'by someone') is a verbal eventive passive.

prius circumactus est annus quam a Velitris reducerentur legiones (Liv. 6, 38, 1). 'A year rolled round before the legions could be brought back from Velitrae' (transl. Benjamin Oliver Foster, Ph.D., 1924)

Similarly, note that the next example from Livy contains a VERY nice pair between the "middle" (i.e., anticausative) reading of a non-deponent verb (suffusus (sc. est)) and that of a deponent verb (obortae (sc. sunt)):

Masinissae haec audienti non rubor solum suffusus, sed lacrimae etiam obortae. (Livy 30, 15, 1). 'On hearing these words not only did Masinissa blush, but tears also came' (Loeb transl.).

NOTA OPTIME: these two examples from Livy are very interesting since circumactus est and suffusus are NOT ambiguous: i.e., these forms (of non-deponent verbs) can ONLY be interpreted here as having a "middle"/anticausative reading.

  • I've deliberately used the informal term (middle) "reading" in my answer in order to simplify things/exposition. However, one should be aware that each (grammatically relevant) reading has been claimed to be associated with a different morphosyntactic structure in the specialized literature. For some useful references, please see Embick's (2000) work on the Latin perfect ling.upenn.edu/~embick/latin.pdf and his (even more famous!) triple classification of (English) perfect participles in Embick (2004): jstor.org/stable/4179282?seq=1
    – Mitomino
    Jan 10, 2020 at 4:03

In this paper (a book actually) it is claimed that the analytic perfect reflects an inactive structure (p. 85). You might find it interesting; the author, Laura Migliori, also explores the syntax of Latin –r forms.

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    For those of us who don't have time to read the paper, can you define "inactive" in this context?
    – C Monsour
    Jan 9, 2020 at 0:21
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    @C Monsour - it is worth reading the first three pages to get the answer; that's not just the quickest answer, it is (almost) the shortest. First three at the start of the book.
    – Hugh
    Jan 9, 2020 at 3:20
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    Thanks for this interesting paper. Kemmer (1993:152) describes the r-form as the Latin middle marker, Cennamo (2015:5) describes the mediopassive -r form in imperfective tenses as a maker for anticausativity (middle function), but I can't find any decription for the sequence esse plus past participle in middle function. But the sequence esse plus past participle does occur in middle function in my opinion. The following examples are taken from Kühner&Stegmann 1955:104-8:
    – Lisa
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:18
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    - Liv. 6,38,1 circumactus est annus - Caes. B. C. 2,5,3 ut ante simulacra proiecti victoriam ab dis exposcerent - Liv. 30,15,1 Massinissae haec loquenti rubor suffusus (sc. est) - Caes. B. G. 2,19,6 qui in silvis abditi latebant
    – Lisa
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:20
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    I agree with you, Shootforthemoon, that Migliori's Phd thesis is a good source. For another recent source see Pinzin's thesis on the middle voice in Latin: dspace.unive.it/bitstream/handle/10579/12877/… In particular, I think Pinzin brings some light to the problem of what a deponent verb is (for some discussion, see latin.stackexchange.com/questions/9064/… ).
    – Mitomino
    Jan 9, 2020 at 18:29

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