Some conjunctive forms end in -im (and -is, -it, -imus, -itis, -int), but this is rare. The examples I recall are sim, possim, velim, nolim, malim, and duim (alternative to dem). These forms are sometimes explained to derive from an optative mood which Latin has lost and whose functions were absorbed into the conjunctive. The grammars I have seen do not discuss the optative, perhaps because it seems not to have survived in classical Latin. By this I mean that no classical Latin word seems to contrast optative and conjunctive morphologically.

I would like know more about the optative.

  • Did all verbs have optative forms? Were the endings always the ones I listed above?
  • Did optative and conjunctive coexist and have distinct roles and forms?
  • Do we know how the optative endings were attached to regular verbs like amare, videre, trahere, capere, and audire?
  • How was the optative used? I assume that it was used to express positive and negative wishes, but I am not sure.

In short, the question is: What was the old optative like in Latin (if there was one)? (If there never was an optative in Latin and it has to be traced back to PIE, then — but only then — I am interested in the PIE optative.) Answers don't need to be overly detailed; I can ask for further details in follow-up questions. I am looking for a big picture here.

Wikipedia gives a short description of the Latin optative with no citations:

Likewise in Latin, the newer subjunctive is based on the Indo-European optative. With this change in Latin, several old subjunctive forms became future forms. Accordingly, the prohibitive (negative desire and prohibition) was formed with the combination of ne + verb form in the optative present.

Note that I mean optative forms, not the optative function of the conjunctive (coniunctivus optativus).

  • 2
    Interesting question. I'm assuming you mean the optative in Latin? Or are you also interested in the optative in Proto-Indo-European? I have to admit I know very little about the optative as a Latin mood, not even whether it still existed by the time Latin began to be written.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 0:06
  • 1
    @Cerberus, yes, in Latin. I added a note: If it never existed in Latin, I'm interested in tracing it back to PIE. If possible, I want to stay with Latin.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 6:57
  • 4
    You won't get an answer about the optative in Latin because there never was one -- the PIE optative became the Latin subjunctive before the earliest recorded Latin. (The PIE subjunctive, on the other hand, turned into the 3rd/4th conjugation future.)
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 17:44
  • 2
    Related: people.fas.harvard.edu/~jasanoff/pdf/…
    – Luc
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 17:50
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    Rix writes that in Proto-Italic "the optative and subjunctive were in principle still different moods" and "the total syncretism of optative and subjunctive, present in Latin and in Sabellian, is Post-PIt."
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


Latin as we know it never had an optative mood as distinct from the subjunctive, so this answer will be largely about Proto-Indo-European (PIE), which did.

PIE had both a subjunctive mood and an optative mood, with different forms and functions. The optative was formed with the suffix *-yeh₁- ~ *-ih₁-. (The sound written as *h₁ was probably either a glottal stop or [h]. The reason there are two forms is the PIE ablaut system, in which most morphemes had more than one variant showing different vowel grades.) Judging from languages that preserve a distinct optative, such as Greek and Vedic Sanskrit, the meaning of the optative seems to have had to do with potentiality and wishes: in these languages, the optative is used in meanings like "may it happen!" and "it would (potentially) happen" (often used in conditions, counterfactuals, and similar constructions).

Formally, the optative is thought to underlie, partly or wholly, the Latin present subjunctive. The forms in -im which you cite (sim etc., to which can be added faxim, dixim) come from PIE *-ih₁-. Also, in the first conjugation, the subjunctive suffix -ē- may come from PIE *-yeh₁-. The -ā- of the other conjugations is a longstanding unsolved problem, but some have thought it too ultimately comes from the PIE optative suffix. This may be why the Latin subjunctive has, among others, the functions of the PIE optative (viz. optative subjunctive, potential subjunctive, subjunctive in conditions).

As for the PIE subjunctive, it was formed with the suffix *-e/o- and is thought to be continued in the -ē- that marks the future of the Latin 3rd-4th conjugations.

At what stage between PIE and Latin was the optative/subjunctive distinction lost? Certainly before the oldest Latin, since such a distinction is not attested in any Latin text or inscription. The other Italic languages -- or at least Oscan and Umbrian, the ones about which we know the most -- also do not, to my knowledge, preserve the distinction. This would suggest that the loss may predate Proto-Italic. However, @AlexB in a comment quotes Rix as thinking that Proto-Italic still had a distinct subjunctive and optative; I assume Rix had good reasons to think so, but I don't know what they are.

  • Rix 2002 was published here jies.org/docs/monojpgs/Mon47.html
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 4:24
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    This is a nice answer. I have little knowledge of how Latin became what it was in the classical period, so I enjoy reading this. // Are faxim and dixim alternative to faciam and dicam? I have never seen them before. // It would be nice to see Rix's point of view, if @AlexB. or anyone can turn it into an answer. I don't expect there to be a single correct truth in this matter (due to lack of prehistoric written material), only different views, arguments and evidence.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 9:13
  • @JoonasIlmavirta, faxim, dixim are Old Latin present subjunctive forms, found in Plautus.
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:15
  • There's what seems to be an abstract of Rix 2002 here: pies.ucla.edu/WeCIEC/Rix_H_2002.pdf. It doesn't go into much detail on the Proto-Italic optative-subjunctive question, though.
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:38

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