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I'm interested in knowing all the possible grammatical (i.e. morphosyntactic) ways to express the perfect construction "The door opened" in Latin. It seems to me that, in this case, a natural expression is Porta se aperuit but what about the English-like variant without the reflexive pronoun (Porta aperuit) and the "mediopassive" variant (Porta aperta est)? Are these alternative perfective forms possible as well to express "The door opened"? If there are also additional analytic variants to express it (e.g. "The door became open", "The door went open" (cf. Germ. "Die Tür ging auf")), please let me know as well. Thanks!

NB I: here I'm specifically interested in "The door opened" (not in the verbal passive construction "The door {has been/was} opened" nor in the adjectival one "The door was open"). Typically, passive constructions are said to behave differently from mediopassive/anticausative ones. Passives do involve an agent/external cause even when this is not present: "The door was opened (sc. by someone/something)"; "The door was opened deliberately"; "The door was opened in order to..."), i.a. In contrast, mediopassives/anticausatives do not involve such an external argument (hence the term "anticausative"). Hence the strong ungrammaticality of "*The door opened by Peter", "*The door opened deliberately", "*The door opened in order to...", etc. One of the typical modifiers that is used in the linguistic literature to identify anticausatives is "by itself" (see examples of it from various languages in this paper).

NB II: here I'm interested in getting examples of the perfective form ("The door opened"), not of its imperfective counterparts: examples like Porta se aperit, Porta aperit or the mediopassive Porta aperitur are all attested (e.g. see How things change in Latin). According to some authors, a mediopassive/anticausative construction with a verb like aperire is possible in the infectum (Porta aperitur 'The door opens') but not in the perfectum (see pages 5 & 6 of this downloadable work). I do NOT understand why they exclude the perfective form of the mediopassive: for me, Porta aperta est, on one of its 3 possible readings, can also express "The door opened" but perhaps I'm wrong. Hence my question. (NB: the first author of that downloadable paper, Michela Cennamo, is regarded as a worldwide expert on this topic).

NB III: this question is related to the following ones: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (i.a.?).


d_e has provided two very interesting examples in his answer that, in my opinion, show that mediopassives in the perfective form can indeed be considered as another anticausativization strategy (pace Cennamo et al. 2015: 5-6):

Ianus geminus sua sponte apertus est, et Anubis simulacrum marmoreum moveri visum est. (HA Comm. 16.4) 'The twin gates of the temple of Janus opened of their own accord, and a marble image of Anubis was seen to move.' (Loeb).

neque ieiuno neque cenato uomendum est, neque mouenda aluus; atque etiam, si per se mota est, conprimenda est. (Cels. 1, 10) 'Neither on an empty stomach nor after a meal should he provoke a vomit, or set up a motion; indeed if the bowels tend to be loose, they are to be restrained.' (Transl. by W. G. Spencer, 1971, Perseus)

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    To clarify, are you only looking for constructions using porta and aperire? There might be other words that behave differently, but I get the feeling that hunting for alternative vocabulary is not what you are after here.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 11, 2023 at 16:50
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Here I'm interested in a morphosyntactic issue, rather than in a lexical one: please feel free to replace porta by another noun or aperire by another verb (NB: typically, non-agentive change of state verbs enter into this construction: cf. ok"The door opened" & "*The cart pushed"). Importantly, here I'm interested in the perfective forms of "The door opened", not in their imperfective counterparts: e.g. Porta se aperit, Porta aperit or the mediopassive Porta aperitur are all attested (cf. latin.stackexchange.com/questions/9421/… ).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 11, 2023 at 17:10
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    @JoonasIlmavirta According to some authors, a mediopassive construction with a verb like aperire is possible in the infectum (Porta aperitur 'The door opens') but not in the perfectum (see pages 5 & 6 of this work researchgate.net/publication/…). I do NOT understand why they exclude the perfective form of the mediopassive: for me, Porta aperta est, on one of its 3 possible readings, can also express "The door opened" but perhaps I'm wrong. Hence my question.
    – Mitomino
    Jul 11, 2023 at 18:11
  • Actually, in one of the attached posts, you bring an example of a perfect medio-passive (If I get this right!): prius circumactus est annus quam ...
    – d_e
    Jul 14, 2023 at 0:26
  • @d_e Yes, in my opinion, this is another good example of a perfect medio-passive. Hence, again, it seems logical to conclude that Cennamo et al. (2015: pages 5-6 researchgate.net/publication/… ) are wrong when saying that mediopassives, when expressing anticausativization, are only to be found in the infectum. Why did these authors conclude this? I don't know (and I'd like to know it, since, as noted, Cennamo is regarded as a worldwide expert on this topic).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 14, 2023 at 15:49

4 Answers 4

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I believe I've found one example from Ovid(correct me if I'm wrong) where se movet and movetur are attested in the perfect to mean "changed/moved"

“sunt, o fortissime, quorum
forma semel mota est et in hoc renovamine mansit;

“Some there are, bravest of heroes, whose form has been once changed and remained in its new state. (Loeb)

perque novem luces expers undaeque cibique
rore mero lacrimisque suis ieiunia pavit
nec se movit humo;

For nine whole days she sat, tasting neither drink nor food, her hunger fed by naught save pure dew and tears, and moved not from the ground (Loeb)


I believe that semel alone is a strong argument for mota est to be verbal (rather than adj.), but this counter-example where somehow bis is attached to an adjectival(?) p.p.p can be raised against this assertion:

Bis deinde post Numae regnum clausus fuit (Liv.AUC.1.19.3.1)

though I see this Livy example is somewhat different and also in Ovid it is followed by masit so I can't really see how mota est can be adjectival.


Given the discussion in comments on the ambiguity between a verbal passive reading and, a verbal mediopassive reading. The only way I see to resolve the ambiguity in favor of the mediopassive is to find (sua) sponte adverb. Not even per se would suffice. (c.f.: si per se mota est, conprimenda est)

Miraculously, given all the constrains, an example was able to be found where the reading is verbal and medio-passive. The draw-back that this from Historia Augusta:

Ianus geminus sua sponte apertus est, et Anubis simulacrum marmoreum moveri visum est

The twin gates of the temple of Janus opened of their own accord, and a marble image of Anubis was seen to move. (Loeb)

("Janus gemius" is a shrine.)


Now, as for the the third way, this seems to be much easier:

Utraque classis postero die luce prima, tamquam eo die pugnatura, e portu movit, (Liv.AUC.37.23.6.2)

At daybreak next day both fleets moved out of port as if to fight that day; (Loeb).

Note that it must be that the fleet themselves moved (not by any other agent) since utraque classis must be nominative singular.

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Perhaps Ov. Am. 3.8.7 would count as an example:

Cum bene laudavit, laudato ianua clausa est.
Even though she praises my text, the door has/is closed for the praised one.
(my quick translation)

There is no grammatical agent, although context makes it clear that she closes the door. To me laudato seems to be a dativus incommodi. The verse does not appear to connect syntactically to neighboring ones.

The adjectival reading of the participle clausa can't be excluded here. I am not sure in what context a distinction between a verbal and an adjectival reading of a past participle could possibly be clear enough, and I am frankly not yet convinced that the distinction is practically meaningful.

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  • You're right, here the adjectival reading of the participle is, unfortunately (for me!), not excluded, whereby I'm afraid this is not a good example of what I'm looking for... As for what you say at the end of your answer, some grammars do offer some relevant evidence for the different nature of verbal and adjectival readings of a perfect participle. E.g, if clausa has an adjectival reading, the perfective verbal form is fuit (e.g. cf. Livia aegrota fuit & Ianua clausa fuit, which correspond to the following present constructions L. aegrota est and Ianua clausa est, respectively).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:16
  • E.g. my highly recommended French textbook VSVS by Lavency (1985:165) says: “On notera la différence entre Mihi consilium captum est (présent correspondant à: Mihi consilium captum fuit) et A me (ab+Abl) consilium captum est (passé correspondant à: A me consilium capitur)". (bold mine).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:26
  • @Mitomino I agree that with fuit one is forced to an adjectival reading. But the question here should rather be: Is there a situation that is unambiguously verbal? With est you can conceivably read it as a present adjectival or a perfect verbal interpretation, and I can't see a way to tell them reliably apart. It might of course just be my failure to see! It would help if you could provide an artificial example where the adjectival reading is excluded.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:39
  • To be honest, my answer was partially supposed to be a counterquestion to gauge with a concrete example what a complete answer might look like. I find your question interesting but I'm not quite sure yet that it's answerable in principle.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:43
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    I guess with the right adverb the ambiguity can be resolved. (something like ter porta aperta est) and @Mitomino, if you can provide list of relevant p.p.p. like apertum*/*fractum, corpus search be done more efficiently.
    – d_e
    Jul 11, 2023 at 21:55
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The perfect tense can be used in the active voice or the passive voice. It can also be used in ablative absolute constructions. We can express the idea "the door opened" in the following ways:

  1. Porta (se) aperuit. The door opened. (Perfect active indicative.)
  2. Porta aperta est / Porta est aperta. The door was opened. (Perfect passive indicative.)
  3. Porta aperta, gavisus est. When the door (had been) opened, he rejoiced. (Ablative absolute.)

I think one of the main questions here is whether "Porta aperuit" is idiomatic in Latin, the way "The door opened" is idiomatic in English.

We can argue by analogy that the phrase "Porta aperuit" is no different in construction than the phrase "The door opened" — both consist of a noun followed by a verb in the active voice. [1] [2] [3]

But it would also help to find data on this subject. Is the phrase "Porta aperuit" attested in any ancient or modern texts? And how about the phrase "Porta se aperuit" (which includes the reflexive pronoun)?


[1] We find parallels in phrases like "He dressed" or "He showered" — the reflexive pronoun is omitted in these phrases just like it's omitted in the phrase "The door opened".

[2] Since there are examples in English where the reflexive pronoun is omitted (e.g. "The door opened" and "He dressed") there may also be examples of this in Latin.

[3] Phrases like "The door opened" and "He dressed" are suggestive of a middle voice. The middle voice is commonly used in Ancient Greek and has its own pattern of inflections. Perhaps English and Latin also have a middle voice. The question we are addressing might be equivalent to the following: How do we form middle voice constructions in Latin?

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    Thanks for your answer. I'd say that the reflexive construction Porta se aperuit is ok but I'm not so sure about its labile use (in the perfect form): porta aperuit. Do you have any preference for one of the two? You're right: the issue whether Latin has a middle voice is a bit tricky. For me one of the best recent works on this topic is this doctoral dissertation by Pinzin: dspace.unive.it/bitstream/handle/10579/12877/956151-1197504.pdf
    – Mitomino
    Jul 12, 2023 at 17:42
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    By the way, let me tell you that I found your example Porta aperta, gavisus est interesting from a syntactic point of view. With the comma, the Ablative Absolute can be claimed to have two possible readings, i.e. depending on the verbal or adjectival nature of the participle (cf. the verbal reading: 'once the door was opened' with the adjectival reading: 'with the door opened'). See this post for discussion: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/13356/…
    – Mitomino
    Jul 12, 2023 at 18:07
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    Without the comma, a third reading is also possible: i.e. to analyze porta aperta as a selected dominant participle construction ('he rejoiced from the fact that the door {has been/was} opened'). On this reading, this example would be similar to the attested one absoluto Scaevola gauderet 'he'd delighted by Scaevola’s acquittal' (Cic. Orat. 2.281)
    – Mitomino
    Jul 12, 2023 at 18:09
  • @Mitomino Hello! Thank you for your excellent question and for your comments to my response. I have done a little research and I have many things to add. Where to begin? First, let's start with the Spanish strategy. How do we say something in Spanish? After putting the sentence "The door opens" into Google Translate, we get a Spanish translation, "La puerta se abre." And if we use the past tense we get the translation, "La puerta se abrio". So perhaps there is a way of translating sentences like "The door opens" and "The door opened" into Latin, using the active voice and a reflexive pronoun.
    – ktm5124
    Jul 13, 2023 at 22:52
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    Yes, you're right. Assuming that, as we have seen, Porta aperta est, on one of its three readings (i.e. the anticausative/mediopassive), can be interpreted as The door opened, the remaining issue is to work out whether Porta aperta est (on the anticausative/mediopassive reading) and Porta (se) aperuit mean exactly the same or involve different (though subtle) nuances. See my previous question latin.stackexchange.com/questions/9421/…
    – Mitomino
    Jul 14, 2023 at 15:40
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Why not just Porta hiavit? Seems perfectly classical to me.

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  • Thanks for your answer. By the way, are you sure that porta is a good subject for this verb? What do you think about Porta aperuit? I'd say that the reflexive construction Porta se aperuit is ok but I'm not sure about its labile use (in the perfect form): porta aperuit (v. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labile_verb ).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 12, 2023 at 17:32
  • Bizarre choice of verb. Hio is almost exclusively stative, not fientive (medial or not), and it doesn't seem to occur classically in the literal general meaning "open" at all.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jul 14, 2023 at 10:40
  • @Cairnarvon : To be honest, I had hiasco in mind originally, but it doesn't exhibit a perfect stem. Perhaps Porta hiascebat would do.
    – MPW
    Jul 17, 2023 at 20:41

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