I was wondering, in a sentence where you have the following structure: As he came, Julius deftly stepped aside

Would you express this with dum, or with a participle, or with cum/postquam, while preserving the original meaning?

I'm thinking on the lines of participle, but not quite sure.


1 Answer 1


It is up to you whether you use a subordinate clause or a participle construction in Latin. Both is possible!


How you use the participle depends a bit on how you word the Latin sentence. I would translate “stepping aside” as alicui decedere, “to give way to someone.” If we do that, it means the subject of the subordinate clause (X came) occurs also in the main clause (gave way to X), and so an ablativus absolutus is uncalled for. The construction becomes very simple:

Venienti Iulius decessit.
As he came, Julius gave way to him.

But if you prefer, you can construct the predicate of the main clause without referring to X again, as in English. In that case the subject of the subordinate clause does not occur in the main clause and you need an ablativus absolutus:

Eo veniente Iulius via decessit.
As he came, Julius gave way.

Subordinate clause

As for which conjunction to use, cum seems the best fit. The English “as” in this case means exact simultaneity. Julius stepped aside exactly when the other person came, perhaps even slightly before, but definitely not a second later. Therefore postquam seems inappropriate. Dum simply does not apply, as far as I can see.

If it were a coincidence that X just happened to be coming along as Y was engaged in some asidestepping business of his own, then this would be a case for the cum temporale (subordinate clause in the indicative). But it stands to reason that X's arrival was in fact what prompted the stepping aside—that is, the two actions are almost (if not in fact) causally linked. Therefore the situation calls for a cum narrativum (vel historicum). In practice this means that the subordinate clause is in the subjunctive:

Cum veniret, Iulius ei decessit.

  • 1
    Do you think think 'ut' and 'ubi' wouldn't apply for the same reason 'postquam' doesn't?
    – Jasper May
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 18:38
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    @JasperMay These, and simul ut, simul atque etc., essentially mean “as soon as,” so in my mind they imply a sequence: first one, then the other. But they all stress the temporal proximity, so it is admittedly a gray zone. I would be absolutely fine with: Ubi me venire vidit, via decessit. Commented May 28, 2020 at 21:31
  • Sebastian Koppehel: In the first example, is "venienti" being used as an adjective (the-one-who-is-coming) as opposed to a present participle? Is that why the person (in the ablative) is omitted?
    – tony
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 9:26
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    @tony I believe the technical term for this construction is participium coniunctum (I am actually unaware of a non-Latin term). The subject of the participle clause could very well be mentioned, but it would be in the same case as the participle, in this case the dative, e.g. ei venienti or perhaps Amaliae venienti etc.; in fact, leaving it out is probably untypical, but we were given a rather fragmentary English sentence to start from here. Commented May 30, 2020 at 18:13
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Thanks. I thought it was person-in-ablative; but, it's dative. Allen & Greenough p.488 (participles): "As an adjective it limits substantives and agrees with them in gender, number and case. As a verb, it has distinctions of time and often takes an object." The implication of "often" is that the inclusion of the person is not mandatory. Continuing p.494: "Participles often become complete adjectives, and may be compared or used as nouns e.g. "sibi indulgentes et corpori servientes (Legg. I 39) = "The self-indulgent and slaves to the body
    – tony
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 10:07

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