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I am attempting to come to a elementary understanding any clauses in the Latin sentence

"Mārcus Quīntum ad terram cadere uidet"

on page 73 in the work entitled "Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Familia Romana".


Two boys Marcus and Quintus are searching for a nest in a tree. Quintus climbs a tree and a branch supporting him breaks and his brother Marcus sees him fall to the ground.

I reckon that their are two clauses in the Latin sentence given above. I question whether or not "...Quīntum ad terram cadere..." is a subordinate clause.


I welcome all answers brief and verbose if you will explain the syntax and structure of the Latin sentence above and the components of any of its clauses?

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  • In Latin, its all about what agrees with what. You can almost think of cadere not as a verb but almost as a noun that "agrees" with the accusative Quintum: "Quintus falling to the ground", so it is conceptually not a separate clause but more of what we would call a noun phrase in English. Nov 2, 2022 at 16:46
  • Unlike English Latin often has a multiple objects which can make things hard. For example, imagine it also said "caput percutere genu infringere", then it would be "falling to the ground, hitting his head, and bruising his knee". Nov 2, 2022 at 16:56

1 Answer 1

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This is called an accusative with infinitive construction, or accusativum cum infinitivo in Latin. We actually have them in English as well, though it's unclear how much of that is borrowed from Latin: "search your feelings, you know it to be true" (or less archaically, "she expected him to do that").

The way I usually think about them, the verb is taking two objects: a noun (the person being seen), and a verb phrase (the action being seen). The noun is put in the accusative, and the verb phrase is put in the infinitive, because that's the form things take when they're used as direct objects.

In other words, Marcus sees (Mārcus videt) Quintus (Quīntum) fall to the ground (ad terram cadere). The subordinate clause's verb goes into the infinitive so that it can act like a noun, which is the primary usage of the infinitive. And Quintus goes into the accusative because it's primarily the object of videt, even if it's also acting as the subject of cadere.

Notably, this can lead to ambiguity, since any object of the subordinate verb also takes the accusative case. This was used in a legendary prophecy from an oracle to Pyrrhus: "ajō tē, Aeacidā, Romānōs vincere posse". Since both the object of ajō "I declare" and the object of vincere "to conquer" are in the accusative, this can mean either "I declare that you, Aeacides, can conquer the Romans" or "I declare that the Romans can conquer you, Aeacides". If this ambiguity gets unacceptable, there are other ways to make subordinate clauses that avoid them. But they often require other verb forms that haven't been introduced yet at this point of LLPSI.

For more information, see here.

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    (As mentioned in that other answer and the links from it, the accusative might be coming from the infinitive itself, not from the matrix verb. But I find it easier to explain like this in general, and then get into the edge cases later.)
    – Draconis
    Nov 2, 2022 at 16:11
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    The explanation of the infinitival subject being in the accusative because it is the object of the main verb is incorrect. Infinitival subjects are still in the accusative even when the infinitival phrase occupies a non-object syntactical role. For instance, as the subject of an impersonal verb: filium bonum patri esse oportet (Plautus). Or the predicate of esse, which would usually be nominative: tempus est subducere hinc me. (Plautus) Nov 2, 2022 at 17:40
  • Oops, the subducere me example doesn't work (reflexive, not intransitive), but this sentence from Cicero has an infinitival phrase as the subject of a personal verb: iuvitque me tibi cum summam humanitatem tum etiam tuas litteras profuisse. Also several instances of constructions like tempus est me... And an infinitival phrase as the subject of esse: Non est igitur amici talem esse in eum, qualis ille in se est (Cicero). Nov 2, 2022 at 19:01
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    @Kingshorsey Yep, that's what I'm referring to in the comment. But I've found "it's the object of the main verb" is an easier way for newcomers to build an intuition for the most common usage of the construction (and of course is probably how the construction originated), even if it's not entirely correct.
    – Draconis
    Nov 2, 2022 at 20:35

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