I was wondering about the logic of the usage of the verb utor in gerundive constructions. The following relevant quote is from Woodcock's (1959: 164) A New Latin Syntax: "one can say ad hanc rem utendam 'for using this thing' or hanc rem tibi utendam do 'I give you this thing to use', but NOT <author's emphasis> haec res utenda est. For the latter one must say hac re utendum est". Here are some relevant examples of the available uses of utor in gerundive constructions:

meos oculos habeo nec rogo utendos foris 'I have my own eyes and do not ask for eyes from someone else to use' (Plaut. Mil. 347).

ea quae utenda acceperis iubet reddere Hesiodus 'Hesiod bids one restore the things which one has received for use' (Cic. Off. 1, 48).

de quaerenda, de collocanda pecunia, vellem etiam de utenda, a quibusdam optimis viris disputatur 'Discussion is held by certain excellent fellows on the acquiring and investing the money, and I could have wished also on the employment of it' (Cic. Off. 2, 87).

est utendum consilio amicorum iisque tribuenda auctoritas 'The advice of friends is to be used and authority attributed to them' (Cic. Off. 1, 91).

Since the transitive use of utor is possible (although it is secondary, since, as is well-known, this verb is often intransitive and typically selects ablative case: e.g. see the last example above), I was wondering why the first examples in the list above are possible when used predicatively but are impossible (see Woodcock's emphatic negation above) when predicated with esse to form the periphrastic conjugation. Since the predicative examples above based on the transitive use of utor are possible, I'd ALSO expect that examples like haec res utenda est, although they are not attested, could in principle be possible but perhaps there is something of their different syntax I'm failing to notice here. In short, I do not understand Woodcock's emphatic NOT above.

  • 1
    "Since the predicative examples above based on the transitive use of utor are possible". How can you be so sure they are based on the transitive use of utor, and not merely treated as such. A&G : "In the gerundive construction the verbs ūtor, fruor, etc., are treated like transitive verbs governing the accusative, as they do in early Latin".In other words, I just wonder, why should the focus be on "why NOT" instead of "why this predicative use is even possible?" How to rephrase ad hanc rem utendam if it was invalid?
    – d_e
    May 3, 2021 at 20:54
  • @d_e Thanks for your interesting comment. Note that the issue here has to do precisely with Woodcock's emphatic (and wrong) statement (see my answer below).
    – Mitomino
    May 5, 2021 at 15:31
  • I would suggest different reading of the "emphatic NOT". It can be read as to further stress this is impossible though logic can't clearly understand why. i.e., we have "emphatic NOT" exactly because one would except, with good judgment on his side, to find haec res utenda est but he can't. (except very rare cases)
    – d_e
    May 5, 2021 at 17:03
  • @d_e Yes, if you put it this way, I agree with you. In any case, it seems clear that Woodcock did not bear Pinkster's examples below in mind. Otherwise, (I think) he would have mentioned them.
    – Mitomino
    May 5, 2021 at 17:21
  • Yes, I agree. And it was just a suggestion on my part (which I think is has good changes being wrong actually...) . It simply happened to me few times that someone writes to extra-explain something or to emphasize something, and I end-up being confused because this very deviation from the regular lines. I just saw it might be the case here also with this question :)
    – d_e
    May 5, 2021 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


I've just taken a look at Pinkster's (2015: 292) Oxford Latin Syntax and I've discovered that examples like the following ones are attested:

Promunt condita aut propterea quod sunt tuenda, aut quod utenda, aut quod vendunda. (Var. R. 1.62.1)

Sive enim ad sapientiam perveniri potest, non paranda nobis solum ea sed fruenda etiam est. (Cic. Fin. 1.1.3).

At first sight, the existence of these examples seems to militate against Woodcock's (1959: 164) emphatic statement quoted in my question, which I repeat below:

one can say ad hanc rem utendam 'for using this thing' or hanc rem tibi utendam do 'I give you this thing to use', but NOT haec res utenda est. For the latter one must say hac re utendum est.

However, the two examples above from Pinkster can be said to be somewhat special: e.g., in the first example the personal periphrastic conjugation of utor appears to be influenced by a syntactic parallelism with a transitive verb (e.g. tueor: cf. sunt tuenda), which triggers a sort of coercion. In any case, in my opinion, Woodcock was right in this respect: haec res utenda est is a very marked construction compared to the impersonal construction hac re utendum est. Woodcock was wrong in his negative emphasis (see his quote above) but was probably right in claiming that ad hanc rem utendam and hanc rem tibi utendam do sound better (or, to put it a bit more technically, are more entrenched) than Haec res utenda est.

  • In the forbidden, "haec res (nominative) utenda est" = "this thing it-ought-to-be-used" there is a form of "esse" ("est") indicating that it is a gerundive-of-obligation: "...it-must-be-used". That there is no person upon whom the obligation falls (given in the dative case) means that this is an independent clause e.g. "Carthago (nominative) delenda est" = "Carthage must be destroyed!". Woodcock's alternative: "hac re (ablative) utendum est" = "with this thing it-ought-to-be-used "; looks like an impersonal construction, and is not quite the same meaning because of the ablative.
    – tony
    May 8, 2021 at 8:58
  • The intransitive use of the verb shows that the ablative, here, is nothing to do with "utor" selecting the ablative in its direct objects. The forbidden and the allowed are different "this thing" & "with this thing" and/ or Woodcock did not like independent clauses, do you agree?
    – tony
    May 8, 2021 at 9:04
  • @tony As for the contrast betweeen the impersonal Hac re utendum est and the (non-im)personal one Haec res utenda est, I'd say that only the latter involves a more "affected" argument (compling.hss.ntu.edu.sg/events/2014-ws-affectedness/slides/…). Transitivity has been said to be a syntactic property that can be associated to the gradual semantic property of affectedness. Typically, utor selects a non-affected ablative argument and, less typically, selects a more affected accusative one. Only in the latter case a personal passive is expected to be possible.
    – Mitomino
    May 8, 2021 at 15:24

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