Triggered by this question.

What's the difference in meaning between:

Stantes erant pedes nostri, in atriis tuis, Jerusalem.


Stabant pedes nostri, in atriis tuis, Jerusalem.

and does this apply broadly throughout the language?


2 Answers 2


There is no difference in meaning, but it's rare to find a present participle used, as here, in a periphrastic conjugation : such usage is quite legitimate, but isn't normally recommended for prose composition. There is a perfectly good imperfect tense in Latin which supplies the need, as in your second version. Your example is from Ps. 121 in the Vulgate, where idiosyncratic grammar is not unusual.

To answer your general point : periphrastic conjugations in Latin are almost entirely restricted to two types.

  1. The active future participle with sum as auxiliary verb: using from your example the verb sto, sample forms are staturus sum, I am about to stand; staturi erant, they were about to stand. This is the active periphrastic conjugation.

  2. The gerundive is used in a similar way to form a passive periphrastic conjugation. Examples are monendus est, he ought to be advised, and monendi eratis, you ought to have been advised.

  • 5
    As a supplementary note, the idiosyncrasies of the Vulgate are more often a conscious effort to imitate the Semitic or Greek source material than a conscious emulation of Ciceronian prose.
    – brianpck
    May 1, 2017 at 12:02
  • 1
    I've given you a point for that, but I hardly think that anybody would mistake the language of the Vulgate for an attempt to emulate Cicero!
    – Tom Cotton
    May 1, 2017 at 18:42

The Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions of Ps. 121 (KJV: 122) all have a similar periphrastic construction.

121:2 ἑστῶτες ἦσαν οἱ πόδες ἡμῶν ἐν ταῖς αὐλαῖς σου ιερουσαλημ

עֹמְדֹות הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם׃  

121:2 Stantes erant pedes nostri in atriis tuis, Jerusalem.

  • 1
    Can you explain the construction's significance in Greek and Hebrew?
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 2, 2017 at 15:04
  • Both the Hebrew and the Greek use an active participle, like English "standing". @BenKovitz
    – fdb
    May 9, 2017 at 17:19

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