I was wondering why the "active meaning" and the transitivity of deponent perfect participles like cohortatus in (1) are not naturally preserved in the Ablative Absolute in (2). Why is it the case that the "active" use of the coniunctum participle in (1) sounds much more natural than in the absolute one in (2)? The construction in (2) was perhaps even ungrammatical for two great classical authors like Caesar and Cicero. As pointed out below in my first comment to TKR's answer, it seems that Sallust was the first author to venture expressions like Sulla omnia pollicito 'Sulla having promised everything' (B. Iug. 103.7)).

In any case, assuming the defining linguistic properties of deponent verbs, why should one expect that there is an acceptability contrast between the well-formedness of the participium coniunctum structure in (1) and the unnaturalness of the ablative absolute construction in (2)? In striking contrast, note that the present participle construction sounds natural in both syntactic contexts, coniunctum and absolute: Caesar, cohortans suos, ... and Caesare cohortante suos, .... Note also that the unnaturalness of (2), compared to the naturalness of (1), cannot be due to reasons of information structure.

(1) Caesar, cohortatus suos, proelium commisit (Caes. BG. I, 25).

(2) *Caesare cohortato suos, magnus timor hostes invasit.

When dealing with deponent verbs in Ablative Absolutes (AAs), the ones with passive lexical meaning like mori are, unsurprisingly, the prototypical/more frequent ones that enter into AAs (e.g., Caesare mortuo). Still, as pointed out to me by Joonas, deponent verbs with allegedly agentive lexical meaning like loqui can also be found in AA as well (e.g., locuto Caesare).

Furthermore, according to Oniga (2014: 308), "transitive deponent verbs, e.g., hortor 'to exhort' and arbitror 'to decide' (...) rarely appear in this kind of structure [sc. Ablative Absolute], cf. *hortatis militibus, *sententia arbitrata [* = ungrammatical: Mitomino])". I think that the "rarely" adverb in Oniga's quote is probably due to the attested non-deponent usage of these verbs (i.e., hortare and arbitrare).

  • 2
    On what are you basing the statement that 2 is ungrammatical? I've never seen it stated that transitive deponents can't take an object in an AA (though on the other hand I also don't know that I've ever encountered such a construction).
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


I don't think such a constraint exists; your sentence 2 seems well-formed. Here are two similar examples I found by searching for secuto on PHI.

Suetonius, Vita Claudii 16.11:

Notauitque multos, et quosdam inopinantis et ex causa noui generis, quod se
inscio ac sine commeatu Italia excessissent; quendam uero et quod comes regis in prouincia fuisset, referens, maiorum temporibus Rabirio Postumo Ptolemaeum Alexandriam crediti seruandi causa secuto crimen maiestatis apud iudices motum.

"And he degraded many, some contrary to their expectation and on the novel charge that they had left Italy without consulting him and obtaining leave of absence; one man merely because he had been companion to a king in his province, citing the case of Rabirius Postumus, who in bygone days had been tried for treason because he had followed Ptolemy to Alexandria, to recover a loan." (tr. J.C. Rolfe)

Tacitus, Annales 11.26.1:

Orationem principis secuto patrum consulto primi Aedui senatorum in urbe ius adepti sunt.

"The emperor's speech was followed by a resolution of the Fathers, and the Aedui became the first to acquire senatorial rights in the capital" (tr. J. Jackson)

The construction may be uncommon, but that's probably to be expected given that most deponents don't take accusative objects.

  • I've just consulted Hoffman & Szantyr and it seems that Sallust was the first author to venture expressions like Sulla omnia pollicito 'Sulla having promised everything' (B. Iug. 103.7)). NB: it is perhaps worth pointing out that in this first usage the direct object was a neuter object (cf. the example in (2)). They say he was followed by others (Livy, Valerius Maximus, the Elder Pliny, Tacitus,...). So it seems that the construction became somewhat commoner (i.e. more "entrenched") quite after Sallust. Quite probably, examples like (2) are not found in Cicero nor in Caesar...
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 0:04
  • The reason that constructions like (2) in my post are not common (or can sound unnatural for some authors/speakers) cannot just be attributed to the reason you mention at the end of your post: “most deponents don't take accusative objects”. On the one hand, note that (1) (Caesar,) cohortatus suos can be claimed to be more natural compared to (2) Caesare cohortato suos. On the other, note that AAs like Caesare pauca loquente, unlike the one in (2), are probably perfect/attested in Ciceronian/Caesarian Latin (and quite before!).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 0:06
  • So when you say “your sentence (2) seems well-formed”, my reply is “well-formed for whom?” What if the sentence in (2) was (cf. "became" above) grammatical for some authors but it was not for others? What’s the problem with accepting the existence of different grammars? What's the problem with accepting that for some authors/speakers examples like (1) are by far more natural (more grammatical?) than examples like (2)? –
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 0:11
  • @Mitomino Who said there was a problem with any of that? If the data show that for some Latin authors cohortatus suos is grammatical but cohortato suos is not, of course that's an interesting finding that needs accounting for. I have no idea whether or not that's the case. My answer was simply intended to show that describing the construction as "ill-formed" without qualification is incorrect.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 0:45
  • Thanks for the clarification & your examples. My point above was to make it clear that the statement at the beginning of your post ("I don't think such a constraint exists. Your sentence 2 seems well-formed") must also be qualified. E.g. the absence of examples like (2) in Cicero/Caesar can be claimed to point to the conclusion that (2) could be ill-formed for these authors. To say (not you!) that both (1) and (2) seem (equally) well-formed in Latin can be interpreted incorrectly. NB: (1) is ok across all periods/authors, unlike (2). This non-trivial difference must also be accounted for.
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 1:38

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