The quote below is from the Instituta Patrum de modo psallendi, an anonymous Carolingian or more likely High Medieval document on singing psalms in Gregorian chant. (I've seen one commenter on this document date it to the 12th century, because of identical wording found in documents of Bernard of Clairvaux.)

In the fourth paragraph beginning "Ammonemus", the author admonishes cantors to stay in synch with each other. He enumerates a list of 'sins', the last two of which trouble me:

Nullus ante alios aut post, incipere in Versu vel cantu, verba cantata reiterare, vel nimis discorditer festinare, praesumptiori vel altiori, remissiori an graviori, id est, sursum vel iusum, tardiori vel velociori voce, aut post alios diutius protrahere, vel punctum tenere praesumat.

I can't tell if the phrases "post alius" and "diutius" apply to both verbs "protrahere" and "tenere", or to only the first one. If they both apply to "protrahere" only:

No one may presume ... to protract (the notes) longer after the others, or to hold the cadence.

then the second 'sin' doesn't make sense to me, because "holding the cadence" ("punctum tenere") isn't bad in itself ... at least how I am reading it. So then am I misunderstanding the meaning of "tenere" in this musical context?

But, if they both apply to "protrahere" and "punctum tenere":

No one may presume ... to protract (the notes) or hold the cadence longer after the others.

then the translation makes sense to me, and the comma between the two Latin phrases is a mistake on the part of the editor. And so my questions are:

  1. Do both "post alios" and "diutius" apply to both verbs or to only the first?
  2. In general, how to tell whether an adverb phrase applies to one or both disjoined verbs?

EDIT: I noticed a few sentences later, the author says

Si morose cantamus, longior pausa fiat; si propere, brevior: semper in Psalmodia punctus et pausa teneantur.

So it could also be that "tenere punctum" is a musical figure of speech I'm not yet acquainted with.

  • Can you give a link to a source? Someone might want to take a look at the broader context of the passage.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:30
  • If you saw an author date it to the 12th century, you must be very old. Perhaps you meant "editor"?
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 1:50
  • @CMonsour "Commenter". I've reworded it. It was dated to circa 12th century by S. A. van Dijk, "Saint Bernard and the Instituta Patrum of Saint Gall," Musica disciplina 4 (1950): 99-109, 109.; by virtue of parts of the text being found in another document from St. Bernard. I've seen websites like the Dutch Wikipedia date it to the 9th or 10th century, but without citation.
    – Coemgenus
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 13:14

3 Answers 3


Revisiting this question several years later, "punctum tenere", indeed has a specific meaning. According to a footnote in Peter Wagner's 1921 Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien, volume 3, page 271, the "Cistercian psalter expressly warned":

Punctum, hoc est, ultimam syllabam seu notam medietatis et finis versus, nullus teneat, sed cito dimittat.

Let no one hold the point, that is, the last syllable or neum of the middle or end of the verse, but let him demit quickly.

Now it makes sense. "Holding the point" is holding the last note. The admonition, then, is to not hold the last note longer than your fellow singers.


I am not sure if this is the right reading, but at least it seems to be an option you have overlooked. Without context, it's also possible I'm misinterpreting the overall syntactical structure of the passage. Something has been left out (in the middle and before the quote), and that makes a difference.

What if it's the adverb tenerē instead of the infinitive tenēre? That would lead to something like this:

Nullus [potest?] post alios diutius protrahere, vel punctum tenere praesumat.
= No one can prolong longer than others (= longer after others), or he should softly take the cadence in advance.
≈ If you sing longer than others, you should start softly a little earlier.

The part starting at vel is a comment on the last sin, not part of the list itself. One reason I suspect this is that the list contains infinitives and vel part does not (in this reading!). It seems unlikely that praesumat would govern all the infinitives on the list, but that is hard to judge without seeing more of the text. I guessed the verb potest to my reading to make it sensible, and a verb like it may also be carried over from the previous sentence(s).

To answer your numbered questions in this reading:

  1. Tenere is not a verb at all, and the phrase post alios diutius ("longer than others") goes as a single entity.
  2. There is no general way. Context is your only hope.

If my reading is wrong, the first answer can be wrong, but the second one stands.

  • Thanks! Your first reading might be a good clue if only there was another verb here, but there isn't. The sentence before isn't connect at all. Plus this author is not shy to run-ons, as is clear from the document's first two sentences. I added a link to the full text, in case you want to add to your answer.
    – Coemgenus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 22:37
  • pūnctum refers to a written musical note (see DMLBS: 2.a), thus the expression means "hold the note", as you yourself have correctly determined. It's different from tonus in referring to time measure and not pitch;
  • both adverbs refer to both verbs;
  • the main determining factor in this case is the use of vel, which is an inclusive "or" that coordinates synonymous expressions at a single syntactic level (two noun or verb phrases, two adjectives or prepositions). Here it coordinates the predicates prōtrahere (intransitive) and pūnctum tenēre (transitive verb phrase);
  • in order for the adverbs to apply to only one of the predicates, you need the two predicates to be in two separate clauses and the adverbs to be in only one of them. vel isn't normally used to join clauses - this is the function of aut;
    • but even if aut was used here the syntax would remain the same, since an exclusive "or" can coordinate phrases inside a clause: post aliōs incipere aut dēsinere;
  • the pattern for the end of this sentence is exemplified at its very beginning, and the use of vel throughout: 'Nullus ante alios aut post incipere in versu vel cantu...praesumat';
    • praesūmere here means "venture, undertake", not "presume" as a mental action;
  • punctuation supplied by the editors of pre-modern Latin texts is often highly questionable and is best overlooked. In the last example the comma that I omitted incorrectly separates the prepositional phrase in versu vel cantu from the verb incipere, implying these are separate clauses. I suspect it's precisely the punctuation in 'protrahere, vel punctum tenere' that's responsible for throwing you off. In modern languages, commas aren't used before a conjunction coordinating two phrases (as is the case here), but only before a conjunction connecting two separate clauses;
  • the same concerns 'reiterare_ vel nimis discorditer festinare', only here the adverb modifies the last predicate since it comes after the conjunction, which fixes the interpretation.

I guess you can generalise by saying that if a conjunction coordinates two predicates, the adverbial that comes before the conjunction modifies both predicates, and the one that comes after modifies the last one.

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