Say my friend is supposed to meet me, but she's late, and I think it's because she was reading, I might say, "She must have been reading."

Is there a way to express this in Latin other than something like Veri similiter legebat or Eam puto legisse? If so, what is it? Surely not Legisse debet?

1 Answer 1


Actually, verbs translatable as "must", such as debet, necesse est and particularly oportet, do often express this type of epistemic (as opposed to deontic) meaning in Latin.

This book chapter on "Mood and Modality" by Elisabetta Magni contains a large number of examples, as well as some statistics on the frequency of such usages for different verbs. Some examples:

  • hasce aedis esse oportet, Demaenetus ubi dicitur habitare "This must be the house where D. is said to live" (Plaut. Asin. 381-2)
  • hic nescio quid boni debet esse "There must be something good here" (Petron. 33.8.3)
  • quando quidem totis mortalibus adsimulata ipsa quoque ex aliis debent constare elementis "since they resemble all mankind, they too must consist of other elements" (Lucr. 2.980-1)
  • sed magnum nescioquid necessest evenisse "but something of consequence must have happened" (Ter. Hec. 304)
  • haud longe abesse oportet "he must not be far away" (Plaut. Amph. 322)
  • prodigum te fuisse oportet in adulescentia "you must have been a spendthrift in your youth" (Plaut. Amph. 1031)
  • 3
    +1. Should note that even in English, "ought" and "should" care often epistemic, so it isn't necessary to translate them in Latin as "must" every time.
    – cmw
    Jan 10, 2017 at 5:30
  • 1
    I'm curious about Joel's example sentence: would you write eam legisse opportet or legere debebat, or something else?
    – brianpck
    Jan 10, 2017 at 18:28
  • @brianpck, the former seems more likely as, in all these examples at least, the main verb is in the present tense while the time of the event itself is expressed by the tense of the infinitive.
    – TKR
    Jan 10, 2017 at 18:59

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