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Encountered the word nescibat in a text where other version of the same text reads nesciebat. I'm not sure if nescibat is a valid spelling variant [there are legitimate different spellings between those versions like negocium and negotium] or simply a typo.

I saw that for the first person nescibam is valid for nesciebam, but could not verify for the 3rd person.

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  • Where did you see that the first person version is valid? I don't see why the same wouldn't hold for all persons.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 3, 2020 at 15:33
  • @JoonasIlmavirta, I've edited the post with link to Perseus: "verb 1st sg imperf ind act poetic", but they don't accept this poetic(?) structure for the 3rd person. But without the -ne, they do. So it is due to nescibat not being attested.
    – d_e
    Dec 3, 2020 at 16:12
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    I think that is reading too much into attestations as I alluded to in my answer. Given the attestations around that specific form, I don't have any proper grounds to reject it just because of lack of attestation.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 3, 2020 at 16:52

1 Answer 1

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A corpus search shows 18 hits for scibam including four with ne- and 4 hits for scibat with none with ne-. The variants sciebam and sciebat have 79 and 145 hits (15 and 22 with ne-), respectively.

Overall, it seems that the imperfect endings without the -e- are rare. For example, I found only one occurrence of audibat but 36 for audiebat.

Based on this, I would say that nescibat is a valid variant but just happens not to be attested. Dropping the -e- is possible but so rare that it does not occur for all words in all forms in the attested literature. I expect different authors to have different spelling preferences, but I have not looked into this aspect further, as it is beyond the scope of your question. And it is certainly possible that different editors have their own preferences too, but based on the numbers I found, I see no reason to argue nescibat to be invalid. I think declaring nescibat invalid is reading too much into the attestations.

However, it should be noted — as C. M. Weimer pointed out in a comment — that most if not all of the attestations appear to be from poetry. Therefore the transformation sciebat > scibat may be taken as metric flexibility rather than a feature of normal speech. But being as common as the phenomenon is, I find it hard to believe that it would sound very alien to a Roman ear. A more careful formulation of the answer is that nescibat is certainly valid in poetry, but its status is less clear in prose.

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    You missed something major in your examples: every single attestation you found comes from poetry.
    – cmw
    Jan 26, 2021 at 20:55
  • @cmw Excellent point! I added a paragraph on that.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 26, 2021 at 21:31

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