As is often the case, I found this while looking for something else: the Wiki entry for deponent verb, "nitor" = "bear; lean on; supported by; I am based on". Note the passive translations, "supported by" & "I am based on". Alternatively, "lean or rest (on); endeavour; exert oneself; fig. rely (on)" [Oxford].

(This, "nitor", is a delightful little verb, already studied by Joonas: Niti and straining for a stool)).

Wiki provided the following example:

"quorum consilio atque auctoritate niatur." (Cicero, de Officiis 1.122) =

"[so as to be] supported by their advice and their reputation."

Deponent verb, "niatur", has been translated as a passive infinitive, "to be supported". This is a third-person present-subjunctive so it might be better as, "it is (may be) supported". Nevertheless, according to Wiki, this deponent verb has returned to its passive root, violating the current understanding.

Lewis-&-Short give examples of the use of this verb of the predictable (active) kind e.g.

"fetus nixibus edunt" (Vergil. Georgics 4.199) = "they bring forth the young with travails".

Oxford, above, also did not yield any passive meanings for, "nitor". Nevertheless, such conservative approaches should not be allowed to preclude initiative. Are we now permitted to translate deponent verbs, in the passive sense, when it suits, citing "precedent" (Wiki); citing Cicero?

Any thoughts?

  • 7
    But the fact that it may be possible to translate the Latin verb into idiomatic English as a passive doesn't mean that the Latin verb is passive.
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 16:23
  • @cnread: I expected this Q. to be shot-down in flames. Nevertheless, the opportunity to challenge the established orthodoxy surrounding deponent verbs was too good to pass-up. Both Cicero & Julius Caesar violated grammatical rules (ablative absolutes) when it suited. The essay, linked by Kingshorsey, includes examples of "nitor" used, in the passive sense. These from Quintillian and, inevitably, Cicero. For all his brilliance, was Cicero a grammatical-iconoclast, when it suited him?
    – tony
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:41

2 Answers 2


I don't think this is passive at all. Rather, it is tropological here. It is the duty of a young man to revere his elders, on whose counsel and authority he should rely. [or, "by means of whose counsel and authority he should make his way."]

On this point, I agree with Herbert Nutting in his essay "On the Syntax of Nitor."

  • Thanks for the essay. The section on the passive uses of "nitor", with exs. from Cicero & Quintillian, and some explanations: do these exs. affect the debate?
    – tony
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:34

Don't get too wedded to the "passive forms with active meanings" definition. Active and passive are categories that really only apply to forms, not meanings. For deponent verbs a suitable English translation will most often be active in form, but sometimes a passive form might better reflect the Latin meaning, as is arguably true of your Cicero example; when that's the case one should obviously prefer the passive translation, since the point of a translation is to convey the meaning clearly.

So yes, we are and always have been permitted to translate deponent verbs passively, though not citing Cicero since the question would have made no sense to him (you might cite the translator quoted by Wiki, if such authority were needed).

  • Thanks. Part of the motivation for asking this Q., was the struggle contributors have had with attempts to say "(something) has been/ will be forgotten". The only verb, "to forget" is, of course, deponent, "obliviscor", which cannot be translated passively. It was yourself who circumvented this in Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/12836/1982, astutely, with "memoria excidet" = "will fall out of memory". Still, it would have been useful to translate "obliviscor" in the passive sense.
    – tony
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:26
  • 1
    @tony That case is different though because "forget" and "be forgotten" are different meanings, while "rely on" and "be supported by" are just different ways of expressing the same meaning. You definitely shouldn't conclude from this nitor example that obliviscor can mean "be forgotten". (BTW to your other comment, Cicero isn't breaking any rule here; to the extent that "Latin deponents have active meanings in English" is a rule, it's a rule about translating Latin into English, not about Latin usage itself -- there's nothing unusual about his use of niatur.)
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 18:07

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