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I'm a Latin beginner and I'm using a book called "so you really want to learn Latin", and they give a Latin sentence as below: Puella per portās urbis ducta est.

My question is I don't understand why 'est' is added to the end — 'est' should be the 3rd person singular form of the verb "to be", but isn't the verb here just 'ducta'? If I translated the sentence without 'est', it would be "The girl was led through the gates of the city", right? Thus I don't see how "est" can possibly change this sentence.

Apologies if I am being wordy here.

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    Welcome to the site! Does it make more sense to you if you use the passive participle form of ducere?
    – Adam
    Aug 30 at 14:25
  • Is that the P.P.P form? Ok I think I get what you mean with the help of an example on my book, but is there a reason the form of the verb "to be" has to be added? Or is it just something that goes with the perfect passive tense? Aug 30 at 14:31
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    This is the first question in the history of this site to be answered by all four moderators and nobody else.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 30 at 18:28
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    @sheepscholar If your question is solved, don't forget to upvote and mark as ✓ the one you feel answered it best.
    – cmw
    Aug 31 at 0:33
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    I've just seen that the author of the textbook you mention (So you really want to learn Latin) has some interesting material in youtube for learners of Latin. The particular sentence you're interested in is discussed at 11:06 in this videoclip: youtube.com/watch?v=DrG1DWrM5Xg Don't miss his funny song at 4:49!
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 1:39
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Just to put succinctly what the other answers have explained in more detail:

"The girl was led through the gates of the city."
Puella per portās urbis ducta est.

In both languages the verb is composed of two parts. You can't drop the "was" from the English version; "led" alone is not enough. You can't drop the est from the Latin version; ducta alone is not enough. The reason for adding est is the same as the one for adding "was".

In this instance Latin and English work similarly, but in many other situations the similarity disappears entirely. This happens, for example, if you transform the story to the present tense: "is led" corresponds to ducitur.

The est can be left implicit in some cases. Even if not written, it is still thought to be there. This is a peculiarity of Latin not present in English; including forms of "to be" is not optional. But in a simple passive clause like this one the verb est is included virtually without exception, so it arguably belongs in your sentence.

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    Genuinely curious: do you know of any examples where the est is left implicit in a passive construction like this? The "est" stops me from reading it as a participial phrase. If I saw, "frater ab hoste occisus," I can't help reading it as incomplete: "My brother, who was killed by the enemy, ...."
    – brianpck
    Aug 30 at 20:11
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    @brianpck Good question! That has been extremely rare in my experience, limited to uses where succinctness is a stylistic choice. I gave the wrong impression in the answer; I'll try to retone it.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 30 at 21:07
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    @brianpck These examples are not typical but can sometimes be found. Cf. the first sentence in latin.packhum.org/loc/684/2/82#82 As for subordination contexts, the omission of the copula in passive constructions is probably even less typical but can also be found: e.g., cf. latin.packhum.org/loc/690/3/0/23956-23972#0
    – Mitomino
    Aug 30 at 22:23
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    Given the different copulas you've put in bold (Engl. was / Lat. est), I imagine that some beginners could wonder about the reason of this difference. In fact, it is quite probable that this point is the source of OP's question (the OP does not seem to understand the role of est (PP) in a construction that is translated as was (PP)). As for your interesting comment/reply to brianpck above, it could also be a good idea to advise the learners of Latin that the copula is more frequently omitted in infinitival subordinate clauses (puellam per portās urbis ductam (esse)).
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 4:53
  • @Mitomino True, the difference in copulas can cause confusion. I interpreted the question here as asking why a copula is there in the first place, so I took a simple approach to just that. The way I see it, the difference in tense is due to the English led being effectively a present passive participle but ducta being a past passive participle. I can't make sense of English passive syntax unless I allow the passive participles to be of the present tense at times. Perhaps this is due to Finnish having both past and present participles for both active and passive voice.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 31 at 8:55
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If you speak languages other than English, it is even easier to see why est is necessary, when the translation can be exactly parallel:

verbum est ductum de... = "(het) woord is afgeleid van..." [Dutch]
verbum est ductum de... = "(le) mot est dérivé de..." [French]

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  • An orthogonal point on your "particularly chosen" examples (the ones in bold): in order to preserve the exact typological parallelism with the Dutch form afgeleid (cf. also the lexicalized form in Fr. dé-rivé), one would expect to find this prefix in Latin as well (deductum).
    – Mitomino
    Aug 30 at 23:47
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    @Mitomino: Indeed! Though then one no longer exactly has the participle duct- from the Question. To be quite honest, I mainly posted this answer because it was funny to have all moderators post somewhat equal answers.
    – Cerberus
    Aug 31 at 0:05
  • Yes, as noted/acknowledged, my comment above was orthogonal to the question at issue but, to tell you the truth, I couldn't help raising this point because of the very important typological parallelism between Latin and Germanic languages (cf. latin.stackexchange.com/questions/11083/… ).
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 0:46
  • @Mitomino: Noted, though I think that terminology is somewhat odd. I would rather say something like 'radical and extraradical directionality of verbs'? Then there is the matter of defining roots which is important...
    – Cerberus
    Aug 31 at 2:04
  • Yes, you're right. Talmy's (1991, 2000) famous terminology (verb-framed vs. satellite-framed languages) is not only, as you say, "somewhat odd" but, what is worse, can be quite misleading when dealing with Latin (or Slavic languages). However, his terminology is, nolens volens, the one that is by far (!) more widespread in the linguistic literature.
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 2:15
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If I translated the sentence without 'est', it would be "The girl was led through the gates of the city", right?

Actually, this part isn't correct. Without the est, it's missing the verb and you are left only with an adjective:

"the girl, having been led through the gates of the city..."

The whole form is ducta est. The perfect passive tenses have a form of sum in their conjugation.

  • I was led -> ductus sum
  • He was led -> ductus est
  • She was led -> ducta est

Etc.

The same is true for the passives of the pluperfect (ductus eram) and future perfect (ductus ero) tenses.

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    It can be helpful to think of ductus as 'having-been-led' in English, so 'I am having-been-led' for 'I was led'.
    – dbmag9
    Aug 30 at 18:35
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cmw
    Aug 31 at 15:03
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    @dbmag9 I often find that it's very helpful to "rationalize" concepts from other languages in the way you just described. It helps me bridge the mental gap between how I express ideas and how a native speaker might express similar ideas. Sep 1 at 1:02
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Remember that ducta, on its own, is a participle. It comes from ducere, but it acts as an adjective "led", not as a verb "lead".

In Latin, there are no finite verb forms for the perfect tense passive. The language just doesn't have them. So to indicate this meaning, Latin-speakers used periphrastic or compound forms: they had a perfect passive participle, so they combined that with forms of sum to get a finite perfect passive meaning. "Led" as an adjective is ducta, and so "she was led" as a verb is ducta est.

English, in fact, does the same thing for all of its passives. English doesn't have any finite verb forms for the passive voice, but does have a passive participle, so we just combine that participle with forms of "be" to get passive finite meaning: "is led", "was led", "will be led". The difference is that English has to do this for all its passives, while Latin only needs it in the perfect (and pluperfect and future perfect).

At its core, though, ducta still acts like an adjective. That's why it marks gender and case, which finite verbs don't: she ducta est but he ductus est and it ductum est. Very literally, "she is (est) in a state of having been led (ducta)".

…and, just because this wasn't confusing enough, Latin actually adds one more complication on here. In Latin in general, forms of sum can generally be dropped if they're clear from the context. Which means you could actually form this sentence without the est! But it's important to remember that the est should be there, even if it's just implied and not spoken: the sentence needs a finite verb, and ducta is a participle, not a finite form.

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  • A minor comment on your following statement, which, I think, is correct but can be qualified: "you could actually form this sentence (sc. Puella per portās urbis ducta est) without the est". As pointed out in the comments in Joonas's answer, it seems that the omission of the copula in finite forms of passive constructions is not as typical as one could expect. Philologically speaking, it may also have some interest to study why this omission in this particular context is more typical in Varro, Vergil, Livy or Tacitus but much less so in Cicero.
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 2:05
  • @Mitomino: A simple answer might be: highly stylised, and metrically influenced, language tends to take more liberties with standard syntax?
    – Cerberus
    Aug 31 at 2:06
  • @Cerberus Yes, I tend to agree with you. However, concerning this phenomenon, the notion of "highly stylised" should be made more precise. It seems that the omission of finite forms of auxiliary esse becomes more frequent from Livy onwards. I'm not sure if that change is just a matter of stylistics.
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 3:30
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    Draconis, it seems to me that your literal paraphrase of OP's example is very adequate: "she is (est) in a state of having been led (ducta)" (sc. by someone). This non-ambiguous example can be compared with the famous one Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, which is, in principle, ambiguous between two readings: 'all Gaul is divided...' ("adjectival passive" reading; the preferred one; cf. past: fuit divisa) & 'all Gaul {has been/was} divided...' ("verbal passive" reading; cf. present: dividitur). Would you then give different paraphrases/analyses for each of these two readings?
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 8:03
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    The informal semantic paraphrases aren't intended to sound natural (nor even grammatical) but to capture the abstract meanings involved. Adjectival passive = Gallia DIVISA est, where the state of 'divided' does not contain the agentivity layer. In contrast, verbal passive = Gallia DIVISA est, where the state of 'divided' does include causativity/agentivity. Crucially, a state 'divided' is involved in both cases, i.e. in both cases we have a participle (as you say, an "adjective") but the "verbal passive" one is more complex. NB: the category of Aspect can be understood as a stativizer.
    – Mitomino
    Aug 31 at 17:03

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