From LLPSI Fabellae Latinae, the 67th story, "Infans Repertus":

Dum haec sēcum cōgitat, subitō mulier in viam exit multīs cum lacrimīs clāmāns: “Nūlla fēmina mē miserior vīvit! Melius erat mē mortuam esse quam sine īnfante meō vīvere!”

For context: Syra has just found an infant abandoned in the middle of the road and is considering bringing the infant to a nursemaid. The story uses the present tense throughout it.

Is there a reason why the woman uses "erat" instead of "est" in the last sentence? I saw from this helpful post - Change of tense from present to imperfect - that it is quite common in Latin to switch tenses. However, I'm not quite sure what nuances the tense-switching here induces.

Thanks in advance!

  • 5
    Welcome, and good question! Just a quick comment: that question doesn't actually pertain to your problem. You see the historical present (and switching to past tense verbs) in historical narrative, but this is dialogue, so it's a different problem.
    – cmw
    Commented Apr 2 at 0:51
  • 1
    By the way, fabellae, instead of fabullae. I fixed it. Commented Apr 5 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


Sometimes, the imperfect (and perhaps even the perfect) indicative can be used for a subjunctive. It can then express an irrealis, like here: "it would be better that I died than to live without my baby" (but I have not died, that is not real).

The most standard way would be to use the imperfect subjunctive here: esset.

Compare English: "if I was rich..." (indicative) can be seen instead of "if I were rich" (subjunctive).

  • Thank you for your reply. I think that is indeed the most likely case here. In the next story, the book uses the imperfect tense to describe the scenarios of a character's dream in an otherwise completely present-tense story, which also confuses me, but can be explained by this same logic. Thanks again for your help - I appreciate it!
    – Aries332
    Commented Apr 2 at 5:54
  • 1
    @Aries332: Hmm I don't know the text, but a dream can be said to take place in the past?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 10 at 2:44

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