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I was wondering to what extent the agreement pattern exemplified with the following sentences drawn from Cicero's De Amicitia can be regarded as the most natural one. I'm asking this question since, for example, in my native language (Catalan), one would expect singular agreement here (cf. constituendum est), the indirect interrogative subordinate clause being its neuter singular subject. However, it seems that the attraction pattern exemplified below could be claimed to be the most natural one here. Is this true?

Constituendi autem sunt qui sint in amicitia fines et quasi termini diligendi (Cic. Amic. 56)

Quidam saepe in parva pecunia perspiciuntur quam sint leves; quidam, quos parva movere non potuit, cognoscuntur in magna. (Cic. Amic. 63).


EDIT I

Ben Kovitz's example Perspicio te, Miles Gloriose, quam levis sis, which involves an instantiation of the so-called proleptic accusative, is really illuminating. This construction could well be at the basis of the passive construction of the example above Quidam saepe in parva pecunia perspiciuntur quam sint leves: i.e., its nominative subject quidam could correspond to a subjacent proleptic accusative object in the active voice. Cf. also these interesting examples from Cicero & Terentius, respectively: nosti uirum quam tectus (Cic. Att. 14.21.2); patrem nouisti ad has res quam sit perspicax (Ter. Haut. 370).


EDIT II

Informally speaking, it seems that the two sentences above involve a sort of blending of two different syntactic structures:

(1) Constituendi sunt fines & (2) constituendum est qui sint in amicitia fines;

(1) Quidam saepe in parva pecunia perspiciuntur & (2) Perspicitur quam (quidam) sint leves.

Is there any other alternative to this blending? (see Ben Kovitz's skeptical comment below: there is "no need for unusual blending").

Cf. also the following parallelisms:

Constituendi autem sunt (...) in amicitia fines (Cic. Amic. 56) // Alius igitur finis verae amicitiae constituendus est (Cic. Amic. 59).

Quidam saepe in parva pecunia perspiciuntur (...) // quidam (...) cognoscuntur in magna. (Cic. Amic. 63).

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As I understand the first sentence, its subject is qui (together with the phrase after et), which is plural, referring to fines; constituendi is an adjective agreeing with that. Cutting out most of the sentence leaves:

Constituendi sunt fines.

In English, putting the subject first, we might say:

What in friendship are the limits, are to be established, and, in a way, the boundaries of affection.

In more natural English:

We must now establish the limits of friendship and the boundaries of affection.


As I understand the second sentence (before the semicolon), its subject is plural quidam, agreeing with perspiciuntur. How does quam sint leves relate to perspiciuntur? A naïve literal translation into (ungrammatical) English might go:

Some people, often involved with a small amount of money, are seen what lightweights they are.

That does sound to me like syntax I've seen from non-native speakers, especially those from Romance languages.

Note 2 of §395 in A&G seems to have the answer: quam sint leves is a secondary object:

The secondary object may be retained with a passive verb.

Belgae Rhēnum trāductī sunt. (B.G. 2.4)
The Belgians were led over the Rhine.

Could we reconstruct the sentence in the active voice?

Perspicio te, Miles Gloriose, quam levis sis.

If perspicio can take a secondary object like that, then this might be your answer.

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  • I agree with you that if we “cut out most of the sentence”, the main idea that remains is Constituendi sunt fines. I’m not sure what you mean when saying “As I understand the first sentence, its subject is qui.” I could be wrong but it seems to me that the sentence in the title involves a sort of blending of two different syntactic structures: (i) constituendi sunt fines & (ii) constituendum est qui sint fines. – Mitomino Dec 11 '20 at 2:13
  • Your example Perspicio te, Miles Gloriose, quam levis sis is very interesting. In my opinion, this example would also involve a blending of two different structures: (i) Perspicio te & (ii) Perspicio quam levis (tu) sis. – Mitomino Dec 11 '20 at 2:51
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    Your example Perspicio te, Miles Gloriose, quam levis sis, which involves an instantiation of the so-called proleptic accusative, is really illuminating. This construction could well be at the basis of the passive construction of the example Quidam saepe in parva pecunia perspiciuntur quam sint leves: i.e., its nominative subject quidam could correspond to a subjacent proleptic accusative object in the active voice. Cf. this interesting example from Cicero: nosti uirum, quam tectus (Cic. Att. 14.21.2) 'You know how cryptic the man is'. NB: virum is a proleptic accusative. – Mitomino Dec 11 '20 at 4:12
  • @Mitomino Funny thing: I'm usually the one saying, against objections from linguists, that language sometimes works by simultaneously evoking multiple senses of words or multiple grammatical structures and blending them in some ad hoc way (e.g. this answer on ELL). But the two sentences in this question seem to me to have an unambiguous grammatical structure, no need for unusual blending. I'll add a diagram to the answer—and google to find out what a proleptic accusative is. – Ben Kovitz Dec 11 '20 at 4:40
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    Many thanks, Ben! I've just added a link to the notion of "proleptic accusative" (on the first page of the article you'll see a brief definition & a typical example). – Mitomino Dec 11 '20 at 4:50

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