I am translating the simple phrase 'I made this' into Latin, and had a question about the tense of the verb facio.

Should this be imperfect or pluperfect? My understand is the imperfect form would mean that hoc faciebam would mean something like 'I was making this', where as the pluperfect form feceram would mean that hoc feceram means 'I made this'.

Is this correct?

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    By the way, it is customary that artists sign their works by writing N fecit, where N is replaced with the artist's name, e.g. Adam fecit. The oldest known Latin inscription, the Fibula Praenestina, happens to be of a similar sort. It features the early Latin reduplication perfect fhefhaked instead of classical fecit. – Sebastian Koppehel Oct 2 '20 at 17:48
  • I'm somehow not surprised that the oldest known inscription is that. – Adam Oct 2 '20 at 18:03

Pluperfect refers to "the past of the past": an event that happened before another past event. The usual English translation is "I had made this", as in "I had made this before they stole it".

The perfect tense can have two different meanings in Classical Latin: it can either indicate that something's been completed and it's the aftereffects that are relevant ("I have made this, so now I can submit it to the art show"), or it can indicate that something happened in the past and the duration/completion/etc doesn't matter (just plain "I made this").

So that's what I would recommend here: hoc fēcī, "I made this" or "I have made this".


To take the Latin first: no. Hoc faciebam would mean "I was making this", as you say, but Hoc feceram would mean "I had made this" - that is, that the making is in the past with respect to a past time; the past time being specified elsewhere in your discourse. So in your particular case, that is going too far.

Beyond that, the answer depends a little on what language you are translating from. If you are translating from English, Latin is incapable of distinguishing "I made this" from "I have made this". Hoc feci has to do duty for both. If you are translating from American, your language is itself incapable of making that distinction, so "I made this" -> Hoc feci is fine.

(Footnote for non-English-speakers: the difference between "I have made" and "I made" is that the former says something about the present and the latter doesn't. If I cook lunch at 12, "I have made lunch" ceases to be true as soon as we have eaten it, while "I made lunch" remains true all day.)

  • "If you are translating from English... If you are translating from American..." -- say what? Are you talking about British English versus American English? American English certainly distinguishes simple past and perfect and uses both; are you referring to the fact that American English makes less use of the perfect? – nanoman Oct 4 '20 at 4:17

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