The song "The Longest Time" by Billy Joel begins with:

If you said goodbye to me tonight,
there would still be music left to write.

How would you say that in Latin? What kind of infinitive is "to write"? My attempt would be:

Si valedicis mihi hoc vespere,
musica etiamnunc remaneat ut scribatur.

But I am almost certain that is incorrect.

  • Maybe something like esse scribens? I'm not sure if that's grammatical or idiomatic, though.
    – Adam
    Nov 23, 2023 at 16:06
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    I'm not native in English, but this, I think, is not just an infinitive. Here, `to' works alone as a preposition: music to be written. I think what you need is a gerundive. Perhaps something in the line of erit adhuc scribenda musica.
    – Rafael
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:56
  • @Rafael, it is interesting suggestion, but I'm not sure it is accurate. gerundives usually have the sense of obligation, and one could hence interpret this as "music that should/must be written"
    – d_e
    Nov 23, 2023 at 19:57
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    @Rafael: I'd do it much like that but using supererit instead of erit (cf. Lucan BC 2.656–8: sed Caesar in omnia praeceps, / nil actum credens cum quid superesset agendum, / instat atrox..., '...believing nothing done when something still remains to be done....'). The use of the compound of esse would make it clear that the construction isn't passive periphrastic.
    – cnread
    Nov 23, 2023 at 23:28
  • I think the answer will depend on how one interprets the lyrics. It could also be "I would still have music that I could write," and I'd lean towards that interpretation (even though the song goes on "what else could I do" 😉). In that case, maybe one could write "iam restet musica, quam scribam"? Not sure if that works. Nov 24, 2023 at 8:09

2 Answers 2


I second Sebastian Koppehel's remark (As I also alluded in my deleted-edited answer-comment) that the text can be understood in two different - however close - ways. I also take it in the sense of possibility as: "They ate everything, we have nothing left to eat" (and my answer will follow that meaning). As we see in English, I believe also in Latin same wording can be interpreted in both ways - However I suppose some constructions can be preferred given the meaning.

  • After trying to look for examples, I would prefer, if possible, to remove specific reference to music and leave it implied. Having etiamnunc restabit quod scribam (c.f., Seneca: Semper enim etiam sapienti restabit quod inveniat).

Also c.f. cum persuaseris istas fabulas esse nec quicquam defunctis superesse quod timeant, subit alius metus (SenPhil.Ep.82.16.12); A question if we can replace quicquam/nihil/aliquid with musica - grammatically is certainly possible, but I feel it would somewhat shift the meaning, because it would make the main part quod (or in this case with musica, quam) optional grammatically -- it is like a description for the music, and would render this as "music left that I'll write" instead of "[music] left to write" for whatever difference is there.

  • Otherwise, after that, I believe using "musica ad scribendum" - which was my first thought seeing the question (If my intuition worth noting) is a very good choice; In two translations of Numbers 33:14 ("... where there was no water for the people to drink."): Vulgate: "ubi aqua populo defuit ad bibendum"; Castellio:"ubi populus aquam ad bibendum non habeat". I think your suggested ut scribatur is pretty much equivalent to ad scribendum and also good, but for some reason I prefer the former.

  • With respect to the above mentioned, I'm not sure that the gerundive is a good fit for the meaning I suppose, as it really hints towards necessity or that the music worthy to be written.

  • The verb: there are several options for it: supersum, resto remaneo; maybe for my first suggestion it looks resto is better (only because I see examples for this constrictions that lack in others so far). But I think they are good as well.


In Latin, I would use the gerundive, literally "that needs to be written". In other words, there will still be potential music out there in the world that needs to be composed.

I'm not sure what verb Latin uses for musical composition, but if you want to use scribere, the gerundive would be scribendus, -a, -um.

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    Is something like scribenda supersunt attested? The gerundive sounds like the best option, but I don't recall seeing it with verbs like this.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 24, 2023 at 5:59
  • Draconis, I don't think you are right when saying that the gerundive literally means "that needs to be written". The deontic value is not associated to the verbal adjective and much less in these cases, i.e. when the gerundive is a predicative one (see Pinkster 2015: 298-300, 1st volume of his Oxford Latin Syntax). The deontic value is associated to the construction with sum (see Danesi et al 2017) and to some of its non-productive attributive uses (but not to its predicative uses, except with habere).
    – Mitomino
    Nov 25, 2023 at 12:56
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    For example, see Danesi et al (2017: 148): "The locus of deontic modality is not attributable to any specific lexical item or category found in the construction, but rather must be attributed to the construction as a whole. That is, the GER+(NOM+)DAT construction is semantically non-compositional" Cf. researchgate.net/publication/…
    – Mitomino
    Nov 25, 2023 at 13:04

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