In Exercitia Latina, part 1 in the exercises for this chapter there is the following sentence:

"Servi mali dominum timent neque a domino timentur."

I can not grasp its meaning. I can (hopefully correctly) translate the the first and the second parts separately:

"Servi mali dominum timent" - Bad slaves are afraid of the master,

"Servi mali a domino timentur" - Bad slaves are frightened by the master.

But what is the meaning, when these parts are connected with "neque", which means "and/but not"?

"Bad slaves are afraid of the master, but aren't frightened by him?"

Sounds like nonsense. So where does my understanding get wrong?

2 Answers 2


You went wrong by translating the Latin into another language (either Russian or English) in order to understand the translation, instead of trying to understand the Latin on its own terms. This introduced a mistranslation (the "passive" verb). Here's the correct course of action:

  1. Servī malī dominum timent // neque ā dominō timentur.
  2. // neque servī malī ā dominō timentur = neque dominus servōs malōs timet.
  3. Servī malī dominum timent // neque dominus servōs malōs timet.

The extra step you took is sometimes called transverbalisation and it's something you should try to avoid at any cost, as it's not only 100% certain to result in many more confusing mistranslations, but your brain isn't interpreting or internalising the target language when you do this; it's interpreting the English translation from which the grammar you're trying to learn is absent.

  • Thank you, now it is clear! Also I completely agree with the approach you described, therefore I've chosen this textbook. But one question still bothers me. It seems like sometimes the "wrong approach" gives a correct result: Iulius a servis portatur - Julius is transported by the slaves. Nummi a domino numerantur - Coins are counted by the master, etc. So in the case of timere, did this approach to passive voice fail because this verb falls into some kind of special group? If so, are there other verbs of this kind? Or it is a complete random with no underlying system? Apr 14, 2022 at 12:41
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    @АндрейКокорев I'll put this a bit differently than the other reply - the Latin is totally regular here, it's English and Russian that are irregular because they use formally passive verbs to be frightened, бояться as normal verbs; there's no active *боять at all, though there is to frighten, страшить. You'll see verbs like бояться in Latin further down the line, for example loquī 'to speak'.—Trying to understand how all these verbs match to each other between the languages can be fun, but you need to natively understand how they work from each language's POV. Apr 14, 2022 at 22:20

Simply put, timentur doesn't mean "are frightened," but instead "are feared." The verb in English to frighten (the Latin terreo, terrere) is to cause something to fear, whereas timere is "to fear something."

I would also caution against using the English "to be afraid" to translate timere, simply because "to be afraid" is not a transitive construction and cannot be made passive. But the Latin is different. "To fear" will produce a more accurate translation.

timent = they fear
timentur = they are feared

Also, remember that the agent in a passive construction would be the subject if the verb were made active:

servi a domino non timentur = dominus servos non timent
"the slaves are not feared by the master" = "the master does not fear the slaves"

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    The comment box placeholder warns me against it, but still, thanks:) Your answer clarifies the question I stated in the comment to Unbrutal_Russian's answer. Apr 14, 2022 at 17:24

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