We all know that ut, when paired with a subjunctive, is translated as "in order to" (purpose), "to" (indirect command), and, with some words, "that" (result/fear). However, ut with an indicative means "(just) as". I can't figure out how subjunctive/indicative makes that transformation. After all, subjunctive just adds a sense of "maybe", right?

How does that change "just as" into three other apparently different things? What underlying concept ties them all together?

In short, why does ut mean such different things when all that changes is the mood of the verb?

NB: I can understand why adding some words changes the meaning. I'm confused about why the mood has such a drastic effect.

  • 2
    Cf. cum, which means different things based on whether it governs a subjective or an indicative. By the way, youre terminology is a bit mixed up: an ut clause with an indicative meaning "as" is still an ut clause.
    – Cerberus
    Feb 24, 2016 at 21:29

1 Answer 1


Well, I think the thing to do is to remember that, while ut has three different English meanings, it has only one Latin meaning and three uses.

A Latin speaker might just as easily ask, "Why does English to have such different meanings when it's used with the verb in a purpose clause and when it's used with a noun?" (I realize that the analogy isn't exact; if I can think of a better one I'll edit.)

The point is, I think that especially for function words like this, looking for a unifying meaning is doomed to fail unless you're examining language change through time. At some point in the development of Latin, the uses were close enough that they made sense.

By the time of the Latin we know, however . . . the answer is pretty much "just because."

(I realize this is a highly unsatisfactory answer, and I apologize!)

  • I realize that it's just one meaning -- that's why I asked what the connecting concept is. That was badly phrased. Aside from that, "we dunno" or "it's pointless to ask" is a good answer in my book, so +1!
    – anon
    Mar 17, 2016 at 0:24
  • Ha! Well, strictly speaking, this is "I dunno" or perhaps "most of us dunno." Find a historical linguist and you may get an answer! Mar 17, 2016 at 0:26

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