I found that the verb "Abesse" unlike "Esse" or "Adesse" has a present active participle. What makes "Abesse" different?

  • 2
    Isn't the present active participle of "esse" "essens"? Aug 11, 2023 at 14:59
  • 6
    @FlatAssembler Absolutely not. The expected participle is sōns (still preserved as an adjective with a different meaning), and ēns was coined in the classical period but never widely used.
    – Cairnarvon
    Aug 11, 2023 at 15:25
  • 8
    You also have praesens.
    – cmw
    Aug 11, 2023 at 17:59

2 Answers 2


Frequency of use, really!

Originally, esse had a perfectly regular present participle—or at least as regular as a verb like esse can be. This was sōns, sontis, inherited from PIE *h₁sonts.

However, Latin didn't really need a word for "being" as much as English does. English uses "being" to form passive participles, for example, but Latin doesn't; to express "the ones who are being seen" you can use an adjective, a perfect form, or a relative clause.

As a result, sōns wasn't used very much, and became a specialized technical term in law. Eventually it no longer meant "being" at all. Eventually, under the influences of Greek and Romance, new present participles were invented: *essēns and ēns. But in Classical Latin, there simply isn't a participle "being", and people did fine without one. Even in later forms of the language, ēns has never been anywhere near as widespread as English "being".

But, some prefixed forms of esse did use their participles all the time! "The ones who are here" and "the ones who aren't here" are very useful, for example, so praesēns and absēns (from sōns via vowel reduction) were quite popular, and thus didn't disappear from everyday use the way sōns itself did.

The result was a perception that esse didn't have a present participle, and thus none of its derived forms (adesse, deesse) did either…except the ones where that participle was useful enough that it remained popular in everyday use, absēns and praesēns.

  • 1
    Very thought-provoking statements about language evolution here (or should we say devolution); Do words disappear because they are "not needed"? maybe there is chicken-egg issue involved here. I say that if sons was used, then a "need" would have been "found" to "justify" its existence. (I know how odd this sounds, but the point is there are many words in every language that are "not needed" yet still with us). Other than that, one can see a usage for this participle is AA constructions that is simply being omitted; e.g. "caesare duce" .
    – d_e
    Aug 12, 2023 at 21:14
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    @d_e Well, if a word does get used, presumably its users found it useful! Since we can say from the surviving corpus that people didn't use sōns to mean "being" very often, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to say they weren't finding it very useful for that purpose.
    – Draconis
    Aug 12, 2023 at 21:36
  • right. The crux question then moves to "usage". For some reason sons was not used -- but is it because it was not useful? If we look at many of distinct words in English - there are clearly useful - I once encountered the dying word malapert in some old text (I think one Loeb translation :) ) and found that word useful and handy. then finding out it was marked as archaic by Wiktionary (and indeed many native speakers are not familiar with that word) - one step before "obsolete." why is that?
    – d_e
    Aug 12, 2023 at 21:48
  • @d_e If nobody will understand you when you say it, is it really useful?
    – Draconis
    Aug 12, 2023 at 22:22
  • 1
    I see Wiktionary gives the same explanation, but I don't think vowel reduction would actually result in sons/sont- changing to sens/sent- in a non-initial syllable. The usual reduction outcome of -o- in a closed medial or final syllable is -u-, as in the third-declension present 3rd person plural endings -unt, -untur or the old gerundive ending -undus. Sont- vs. -sent- look more like ablaut variants (I don't know the reason for that, but it could be as simple as analogy with other participles).
    – Asteroides
    Aug 12, 2023 at 23:14

It's perhaps a bit confusing, to compare English 'to be ' to Latin 'esse'. It's more clearly to interpret in Greek and high German languages where a participial construction like "I am being" translates to "I exist" and in low German dialects to "Ich bin am seien". The so called "Rheinische Verlaufsform" constuctions are still popular in the Ruhr area dialects.

The Romans and the Humanists after Luther discarded such philosophical terms of existentialism as pure linguistic jokes, mainly used by the Greek philosphers as house slaves to make their Latin speaking patrons feel humbled intellectually.

  • 3
    Can you explain how this answers the question?
    – cmw
    Aug 14, 2023 at 3:16
  • Difficult, similarly difficult as explaining how such a question is arising for Latin, a Language incapable to cope with philosophy at the classical level. Confer Shakespeare, Descartes or Heidegger for the reivival of all the ancient questions of "To be".
    – Roland F
    Aug 14, 2023 at 4:27

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