Normally, in English we treat the verb to cry as intransitive, however in Latin it seems to be used transitively. For example:

Amissum non flet cum sola est Gellia patrem

She cries "at" her father. However, her father does not really seem to be truly the "object" of the verb, in the sense that her father is not acted upon, but is merely the object towards which the action is directed. So, should it be understood that a transitive verb can either act on its object or towards its object. Or rather should this sentence be considered a special use of the accusative case? For example, if we write ad patrem, then patrem is not an object of fleo at all.

I see in L&S that the verb fleo has a notation "v. a. and n." and it is not clear what this means to me. Active?

  • 4
    Direct objects aren't necessarily "acted upon"—take amāre for example. If I love someone, is that affecting them directly?
    – Draconis
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 4:17
  • You might find this question about dictionary abbreviations helpful. In this case, these abbreviations are at the listed towards the end of this page.
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:14
  • (Though now that I look more closely, n(eutr). is unhelpfully listed as "neuter.")
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


v. a. and n. stands for "verb, active and neutral," and in modern parlance that means: used transitively and intransitively.

If you read on, you'll meet these two again under the two main sections of Lewis & Short's entry, labelled:

I. Neutr. A. Lit., to weep, cry, shed tears [...]
II. Act., to weep for, bewail, lament, a person or thing;

The fact that English cry is not transitive as such is of course irrelevant, but if you see a conceptual problem with the person or thing being cried over being an accusative object, note that English (like German) has a habit of making transitive verbs out of intransitive ones by adding the prefix be-, and so we have transitive verbs like beweep, bewail, becry (although these are relatively rare).

I do think, by the way, that "she cried at her father" would be a bit of a mistranslation. To cry at one's father is to shout at him, which is (a) rarely done when one is "alone," as is explicitly the case here, and (b) not what flere means. In any event, the next line should remove all doubt: Si quis adest, iussae prosiliunt lacrimae.

  • 1
    Bemoan, begrudge, besmirch, betroth, etc.
    – cmw
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 5:11
  • @cmw Multa talia, to quote the 45th president of the United States ;) Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 5:41
  • 1
    Everything really does sound more sophisticated when translated into Latin!
    – cmw
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:05
  • 1
    I'm interested to know if in Latin, which has been said to be a "weak satellite-framed language" similar to Slavic ones (global.oup.com/academic/product/… ), it would be possible to find a prefixed verb like Džon vyplakal svoi glaza (Russian), whose gloss is "John out-cried poss. eyes" and its translation is ‘John cried his eyes out’, i.e. 'He cried a lot'. Probably, you have a similar particle verb in German. BTW, in Eng. something like John outcried Mary means 'John surpassed Mary crying" or something similar, right?
    – Mitomino
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:19

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