This is clear in meaning but I am confused with the ventum itself. It seems the ventum here is either supine or PPP. But either one does not really fit my understanding of them. Can someone tell me what is ventum here?

1 Answer 1


Here is the complete sentence from Tacitus:

Cum ventum in aciem, turpe principi virtute vinci, turpe comitatui virtutem principis non adaequare. (Tac. Germ. XIV, I). 'When come to war, it is a shame for the chief to be surpassed in strength, a shame for his followers not to equal the strength of the chief'.

This is an example of an impersonal passive construction, which is typical with agentive intransitive verbs, i.e intransitive verbs that express an action: please see the short but instructive information in this wiki link.

The complete verbal form (perfect passive form) is ventum est (NB: est is elliptical in the subordinate clause (ventum est) and also in the main clause (turpe est), which is very habitual in a generic context like the one above): ventum is a neuter perfect passive participle in the nominative case. As noted, the construction is impersonal, whereby there is no subject. I've just found an English translation that sounds fine to my non-native ears: 'when come to war' (see page 12 of this link). [NB: despite appearances, this is not the shortened expression of an impersonal passive construction. Unlike Latin, English lacks impersonal passives, whereby a sentence like Cum ventum est in aciem cannot be rendered as 'when it has been come to war'].

Consider also a typical example that is found in many textbooks of Latin syntax: Pugnatum est ab utrisque acriter (Caes. Gal. 4.26.1) literally ‘it was fought fiercely by both sides’ or ‘it has been fought fiercely by both sides'. A non-literal translation can be found in the Perseus site: 'The battle was maintained vigorously on both sides.' It is worth pointing out that the sequence Pugnatum est is ambiguous in Latin: (i) it can be a personal passive construction with an elliptical subject (e.g. proelium, in neuter singular nominative) and (ii) it can be an impersonal passive construction, i.e. without a subject. The example above from Caesar is more naturally interpreted as an impersonal passive. Note that the ambiguity of pugnatum est is possible in this case since the verb pugnare can be used (i) transitively (i.e. with a hyponymous/cognate object: pugnare proelium; cf. pugnare pugnam) or (ii) intransitively. In contrast, ventum est can only be an impersonal passive since venire, unlike pugnare, lacks a transitive use.

It is not always easy to translate impersonal passive constructions into English. In this regard, as far as I know, English is quite unique within the family of Germanic languages, since it lacks this kind of passive constructions (the rest of Germanic languages do typically have impersonal passive constructions: e.g. see this link for an interesting work on Dutch impersonal passives). Interestingly, most of the Romance languages lack them too (I say "interestingly" since, in this respect, Latin is quite different from its daughter languages and rather behaves like many Germanic languages (English excluded): So the impersonal passive construction can be taken as a good example/test to distinguish genetic from typological classifications of languages).

Finally, some related information on Latin impersonal passive constructions can be found in this site: e.g. see here, here, here, and here, i.a. For a couple of academic works on these constructions, see here and here, i.a.

  • 1
    Thank you very much!
    – Ken Yang
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:31

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