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In lines 137-138 of chapter XIII of Lingua latina per se illustrata. Familia Romana one can read:

Iam necesse est tē dormire.

I don't understand why the accusative pronoun is used in the above sentence, since I've always seen the construction necesse est used with dative. One can find an example in this post:

Spīrāre necesse est hominī,

where hominī is in dative case. Another example from the same book:

Mihi necesse nōn est scrībere posse

where we find the dative personal pronoun mihi.

In this question, I've find similar constructions with accusative pronouns. But I don't understand when do I have to use dative or accusative. Can anyone explain it?

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    How do you know it is the accusative and not the ablative? Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 18:14
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    @FlatAssembler It's not like the ablative would be any easier to make sense of – quite to the contrary … Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 20:32

1 Answer 1

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These two sentences involve different analyses, which can be shown by using the following test: replacement of the infinitive (clause) by the neuter pronoun hoc. In the first example the infinitival clause te dormire can be replaced by hoc, whereas in the second example it is only the infinitive spirare that can be replaced by this neuter pronoun.

Iam necesse est hoc (i.e. te dormire)

Hoc (i.e. spirare) necesse est homini.

So notice that in the first sentence the accusative pronoun te is an argument of dormire (te is the subject of this infinitive), whereas in the second one the dative noun homini is an argument of necesse est (homini is the indirect object of necesse est).


EDIT (motivated by the comments below):

I agree with gaufridus when saying:

Recast with a gerund, the sentences seem more obviously distinct: necesse est te dormire 'your sleeping is necessary' and necesse est tibi dormire 'sleeping is necessary for you' (even if the sense is somewhat changed, it makes the difference more obvious to an Anglophone).

Concerning the English translation of an Acc. cum Inf. construction like Necesse est te dormire as 'It is necessary for you to sleep', it is worth noting that some scholars have claimed that the assignment of the accusative case te in this Latin example is carried out by a null (prepositional-like?) complementizer similar to "for" in English constructions like For him to invite Mary would be stupid (please see page 25 of their paper downloadable at this link). Following gaufridus's relevant parallelism, cf. the latter sentence with His inviting Mary would be stupid.

It is then important to point out that in Latin the accusative case of the subject of the infinitive is not necessarily assigned by the main verb. E.g. see the discussion in this link concerning how the accusative case can be assigned in examples like Video te (dormire), Dico te dormire, and Necesse est te dormire. In particular, the discussion of the last example (where the main verb is not transitive) is mainly relevant for Charo's question.

As for tony's comment, it is important to realize that Iam necesse est te dormire and Iam necesse est tibi dormire involve different analyses: cf. above Iam hoc necesse est (hoc = te dormire) and Iam hoc necesse est tibi (hoc = dormire). As noted, the dative tibi is not the subject of the infinitive dormire but the indirect object of necesse est. Still, one (e.g. tony) can wonder why it is then the case that the sentence with the dative can have a translation that is similar to the one with the 'Accusativus cum Infinitivo'. The answer is that the dative (e.g. tibi above) is coreferent with the null subject of the infinitive: i.e. the "dative of interest" tibi, which grammatically depends on necesse est, is coreferent with the implicit agent of the infinitive dormire. Technically speaking, tibi is said to be the controller of the null/PRO subject of the infinitive.


Let me conclude this discussion with a comparison of the two following examples, which are very often treated as synonymous in many Latin grammars:

Iam necesse est tibi dormire.

Iam tibi est dormiendum.

One could say: "you, Mitomino, have just told us that in the former example tibi is not the agent of dormire. Assuming that both examples are synonymous, should/could one then conclude that tibi is not really an agent (cf. the traditional term "dative of agent") either in the latter sentence?"

Short answer: Yes, that's right! Despite appearances (and despite what grammatical tradition has told us), tibi is NOT the grammatical agent in Iam tibi est dormiendum. Those of you who are interested in knowing why tibi has not been grammatically construed as an agent in this construction, take a look at the two following references [NB: these two texts are quite readable since their authors don't use a technical vocabulary].

Suárez Martínez, P. M. (2001). "Le datif d’agent (datiuus auctoris). Un fantôme dans la syntaxe latine." In C. Moussy (Ed.). De Lingua Latina Novae Quaestiones. Actes du Xè Colloque International de Linguistique Latine (pp. 597-607). Louvain/Paris/Sterling,Virginia: Peeters. Downloadable at https://www.unioviedo.es/pmsuarez/Articulos_files/Le%20datif%20agent.pdf

Danesi, S., C. Johnson & J. Barðdal. (2017). "Between the Historical Languages and the Reconstructed Language: An Alternative Approach to the Gerundive + “Dative of Agent” Construction in Indo-European." Indogermanische Forschungen 122 (1): 143–188. Downloadable at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320958533_Between_the_Historical_Languages_and_the_Reconstructed_Language_An_Alternative_Approach_to_the_Gerundive_Dative_of_Agent_Construction_in_Indo-European

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    @JamesMartin Note that te is not the object of dormire but its subject (NB: in Latin subjects of infinitival clauses are often marked with the accusative case). Note also that te dormire is not the direct object but the subject of necesse est. For related discussion, see my previous question (please take a look at the last link provided by the OP): latin.stackexchange.com/questions/16256/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 11:46
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    @Mitomino: What if it had been written: "iam necesse est tibi dormire" = "now it is necessary for you to sleep"? Here's one from Cicero, "de Senectute 30): "nihil necesse est mihi de me ipso dicere," = "it is not necessary for me to say anything concerning myself,". Given the inclusion of both "mihi" & "me", why did Cicero feel the need to include the intensifier, "ipso"?
    – tony
    Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 13:40
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    @Mitomino thanks, that's illuminating. That does sound like it belongs in the answer to the question of why te is in the accusative case in this sentence (although indeed, thanks, now I see that the OP was definitely aware of more than I was). What is a good reference to learn more about these accusative + infinitive constructions? Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 15:13
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    This is a really good answer. A lot of the trickiness here is in English marking the subject of an infinitive with the preposition for, so that both te and tibi look the same in translation. Recast with a gerund, the sentences seem more obviously distinct: necesse est te dormire 'your sleeping is necessary' and necesse est tibi dormire 'sleeping is necessary for you' (even if the sense is somewhat changed, it makes the difference more obvious to an Anglophone).
    – gaufridus
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 0:58
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    @gaufridus Yes, I agree with you. Concerning the English translation of an Acc. cum Inf. construction like Necesse est te dormire as 'It is necessary for you to sleep', it is worth noting that some scholars have claimed that the assignment of the accusative case te in this sentence is carried out by a null (prepositional-like?) complementizer similar to "for" in English constructions like For him to invite Mary would be stupid: see page 25 of their paper academia.edu/3199346/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 1:33

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