I think I understand most Latin grammatical terms in relation to what seems to be their etymology in Latin: cases from nominare, accusare, genus, dare, auferre; tempora from praesens, perfectum; verbal forms from finire, particeps, gerere; numbers from singuli, plus. These are just examples; I have surely forgotten many things from my list.

I have trouble understanding why the supine is called supinum. It seems to be related to the adjective supinus, meaning "backwards", "retrograde", "sloping", and similar things. There is also a related verb supinare. Why did the form of the verb get its name from this adjective? What is "backwards" about the supine?

If there is an explanation from ancient or modern grammarians, I would be happy to hear.

  • 2
    The Lewis & Short entry for supinus has some relevant info under II.B.
    – brianpck
    Apr 26, 2017 at 1:42
  • @brianpck So it seems. Looking at those passages should give a good starting point for an answer, if anyone feels like it. (I might give it a shot myself, but not too soon, so I'll be happy if someone beats me to it.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Apr 26, 2017 at 1:54

1 Answer 1


Supine means flat on your back, lying down, It is the final 'oblique' form; it is the extremely inflected (leaning) part of the Verb and is usually in the last column of the principal parts,

In later Grammars (that certainly includes medieval Grammars) 'oblique cases' and 'declension' are only used to describe the Voc., Acc., Gen., Dat., Abl., Loc., (X Singular, Dual and Plural) forms of nouns and adjectives. So this is a survival from old Grammatical thinking, and from old-fashioned Grammars like Quintilian, although the word 'supine' does not appear in the earliest Grammars.

In conjunction with Lewis and Short on Supine - comment by brianpck vide supra; the second half of the solution is Lewis and Short on declino.

declino, II B
1. In the older grammarians, of every kind of inflection (declension, conjugation, comparison, derivation, etc.), Varr. L. L. 8, § 2 sq.; 10, § 11 sq.; cf. also Quint. 1, 4, 22; 1, 5, 63 al. —

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