Every beginning Latin-learner is familiar with the idea of deponent verbs: verbs that have passive forms but active meanings.

I am curious about a small subset of Latin verbs that aren't just intransitive, but have unmistakably passive meanings. I can think of two important examples now, though I am sure there are more:

(Actually, the second example appears to be easily explicable: vaeneo = venum eo: to go to sale)

A few clarifications:

  1. Are these verbs really distinctive at all? Would they have struck a Roman as being passive, or is this just a case where we lack an English translation that is not passive? A remark from a (post-)classical grammarian regarding vapulare would be helpful here.
  2. Assuming they are sui generis, what are some other verbs (if any) that belong to this category?
  3. Are there any distinctive grammatical features of verbs like this? For instance, could "I am beaten by him" be translated vapulo ab eo?
  • 2
    The second conjugation iacēre is kind of a passive of the third conjugation iacĕre. It's more like "to be in a thrown state, to have been thrown" than "to be thrown". Would you count this as a passive meaning? Second conjugation verbs seem to describe states rather than actions.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 30, 2016 at 13:46
  • 1
    @JoonasIlmavirta That might work, though I guess "lie" is a pretty good English translation in most cases. Your remark about the 2nd conjugation is interesting--I remember noticing the same thing about French (blanchir, rougir, blêmir). It's not universal, though: we certainly have verbs like moneo and video that are transitive.
    – brianpck
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:06

2 Answers 2


In linguistic parlance these verbs are usually called “stative”, not “passive”. From a Latin standpoint they differ from passive verbs in that they cannot (apparently) be construed with an agent (Latin ab + ablative).

Ancient Indo-European is believed to have had an active and a middle voice, but no passive. But it did have the facility to form stative stems using the suffix *-yo-. In Sanskrit these verbs are conjugated with middle-voice endings, but in Latin they take active endings. iacere vs. iacēre is a classic example.

  • 2
    I just found an interesting quote from Quintilian: (Inst. Orat. "...tum augendi criminis gratia, ut testis in reum, rogatus an ab reo fustibus uapulasset, 'innocens', inquit..."
    – brianpck
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:55
  • Interresting...
    – fdb
    Aug 30, 2016 at 20:53

I think the notion of "passive meaning" is quite elusive. Nevertheless, if neuter nouns can be the subject of intransitive verbs (like quid si nunc caelum ruat), which makes them, in my opinion, susceptible of having "a passive meaning" in actuality: reality-base view, why couldn't them, at least theoretically, receive the ablative of agent?

L&S in cado suggests it can be coupled with ablative of agent with or without preposition(*):

torqueor, infesto ne vir ab hoste cadat (Lest my man will fall by the aggressive enemy)

barbarae postquam cecidere turmae Thessalo victore (troops fell by Thessalus)

(*) As Mitomono notes, Thessalo victore is understood by some commentators as an ablative absolute.

According to A&G:

The Ablative of the Agent with ab is sometimes used after intransitive verbs that have a passive sense. perīre ab hoste (to be slain by an enemy)

  • It is worth pointing out that your second example is from Horace (NB: in prose the proper/so-called "ablative of the agent" without a preposition is not (usually) admissible). In fact, it is not obvious (at least to me) that Thessalo victore must be analyzed here as a proper "ablative of agent". According to some commentators, it is an "ablative absolute": e.g., cf. the section of "notes" on the right of perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/…
    – Mitomino
    May 28, 2021 at 17:44
  • Those examples of "intransitive verbs that have a passive sense" (e.g. cado, pereo, etc.) can be claimed to coincide with (a subset of) the ones that involve a Theme/Patient subject (rather than an Agent subject). In the linguistic literature they are often referred to as "unaccusative verbs": cf. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unaccusative_verb
    – Mitomino
    May 28, 2021 at 18:04

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