I do not recall ever seeing esse in any form used with active present participles (like faciens). One could imagine something similar to the English distinction between "he does" and "he is doing" in Latin: facitfaciens est. I do not claim that one could use faciens est like "he is doing"; I just guess that if faciens est can be used at all, it might have a roughly similar meaning. Or perhaps it would simply be a synonymous alternative to facit.

Was esse ever used with active present participles in Latin? If yes, how did it differ from a plain indicative (eg. dicens sum vs. dico)? If you think such use never existed, please explain why you think so.

  • 7
    This is quite common in the Vulgate: "erat praedicans" < "ἦλθεν κηρύσσων", "erat docens" < "ἦν διδάσκων". The Latin is probably just imitating a Greek construction, which is talked about in this article
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 15:09
  • @brianpck That comment would work well as an answer, too.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:26
  • It worth to mention a frequent classical phrase: audiens esse dicto alicui. but it might be audiens is considered to be a substantive .
    – d_e
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 11:04

3 Answers 3


I think that the four examples from Ovid given by blagae are not quite relevant to the question raised by the OP: all of them can be argued to show a clearly adjectival behavior and are not infrequent at all in Classical Latin. It is not correct to say, as blagae does, that these examples "occur sporadically". One can apply the typical tests to them in order to show their adjectival status (e.g. their compatibility with comparative and superlative degrees, etc.). These examples are not so different from typical ones like the following one from Caesar, where the adjectival behavior of florens is obvious. Examples like semper appetentes gloriae fuistis are indeed very frequent in Classical Latin and their adjectival nature is indisputable.

Ubii, quorum fuit civitas ampla atque florens (Caes. BG 4,3,3).

I understand that the OP was not really asking for this well-known fact, i.e., the adjectival usage of Latin present participles and their expected compatibility with esse. At least, Joonas's invented examples of copular constructions with verbal present participles like faciens est or dicens sum, which, in my opinion, are ungrammatical in Classical Latin (but see brianpck's comment above on the Latin of the Vulgate) seem to point to a different phenomenon, to a more interesting one or to a less obvious one. More relevant to this issue is the existence of examples like the following one from Cicero, where verbal behavior is indeed involved (cf. the presence of a direct object (aliquid), the participles here cannot be used in their comparative and superlative forms, etc.).

Videtis ut senectus sit operosa et semper agens aliquid et moliens (Cic. Sen. 26)

This example is commented on by Woodcock (1959: 79) in his A New Latin Syntax as follows:

"A participle can be predicated with part of esse without losing its verbal characteristics. It then forms with esse what is almost equivalent to a compound tense of the verb: Cic. de Sen. 26 videtis ut senectus sit operosa et semper agens aliquid et moliens 'You see how old age is laborious and always doing and contriving something.' Here agens and moliens, although they are parallel to the adjective operosa, describe senectus with reference to an activity in which it is engaged as well as to a quality it possesses. Therefore there is enough of the verbal notion present to justify the accusative object aliquid instead of an object genitive alicuius rei. This use of the present participle is not very common".

I think that Woodcock is wrong in claiming that in this case the participle "forms with esse what is almost equivalent to a compound tense of the verb". Given his statement (and his translation), this author seems to suggest that the verbal present participles agens and moliens are nominal predicates (on a par with the adjective operosa, which is indeed a nominal predicate, i.e. a "subject complement"). I disagree: these verbal present participles can (also) be analyzed as modifiers of the copular construction sit operosa.

So, to conclude, "Can esse be used with an adjectival present participle?" Yes, of course, but, as noted, I guess that this well-known fact is not the OP's question. Rather I understand that his question is: "Can esse be used with a verbal present participle (e.g. faciens est / dicens sum)? My (preliminary) answer is negative, at least wrt Classical Latin (but see brianpck's comment above on the Vulgate).

  • Firstly, interesting that "nocens" ("nostra nocens anima est") = "hurting" is synonymous with adjective, "guilty", in Latin. Secondly, if the parts of "esse", in all of the examples, had been omitted, wouldn't they simply have been understood e.g. "puella matrem in horto (quae erat) ambulantem spectabat.", in which "quae erat" is understood?
    – tony
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 10:40
  • 1
    @tony I think that your example does not necessarily involve omission of "quae erat". Perception verbs can take the participle construction directly, i.e. without having to posit these empty elements. Furthermore, note that the construction esse + a verbal present participle like ambulans is very rare in Classical Latin (but cf. brianpck's comment on its use in the Vulgate). As noted, this construction is only typical when the present participle is adjectival like nostra nocens anima est (you're right, the copula can be omitted in these cases).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 21:33

My first instinct was that this is, at the very least, not common in classical Latin, and should only happen with participles that are basically adjectives and have lost some of their verbal semantics, like sapiens or patiens. The reason I think that, is that a present participle is perfectly capable of standing on its own in Latin, it doesn't need an actual conjugated form to accompany it and signal its verbal status.

Anyway, I'm a corpus guy, and I'd love to be able to just query for this kind of thing. But since I'm not exactly there yet with my scanning engine, I have looked for nominative participles + esse in raw data by just going over part of my verse corpus manually for a minute or two.

The first two results seem to corroborate my intuitive hypothesis (which are fancy words for "hunch"). The last ones, if properly read, seem to be examples of what you're looking for. So yes, it does occur sporadically, but the question remains how much of the verbal meaning is left over. Are these adjectivized verbs, or adjectives derived from verbs ?

nostra nocens anima est. ego te, miseranda, peremi, (Ov. Met. IV, 110)

verticibusque frequens erat atque inpervius amnis. (Ov. Met. IX, 106)

non poteram, longi patiens erat ille laboris. (Ov. Met. V, 611)

conveniens Venus est annis temeraria nostris. (Ov. Met. IX, 553)


Esse could indeed be paired with a present participle, at least in Medieval Latin. Like Greek, this forms a periphrastic tense, which is pretty much the same as the English progressive, as far as I know. Similar to word order, its use was usually a matter of preference.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.