The rarely observed imperfect-subjunctive-passive creates a knotty problem.

North & Hillard, Ex215: "Had we only kept to the main road, we should already be approaching the city."

This is an example of impossible (mixed) conditions: first part is in the past, requiring pluperf. subj. (tenuissemus); second part--present, requiring imperf. subj. (appropinquaremus).

Answer Book: "si modo certum iter tenuissemus, iam ad urbem appropinquaretur."

Despite the English simply requiring "appropinquaremus"--we-would-be-approaching; the imperf. pass. subj is deployed, in the singular--so it's not "we" anything! The city must be the singular element giving: now to the city it-would-be-being-approached. How clumsy is this? How is this to be written, in English, while retaining the purity of the imperf. subj. pass?

1 Answer 1


A general warning: A literal translation of a natural Latin expression is not always fluent English, and vice versa. Beware of drawing conclusions on naturality by comparing two languages.

It would be perfectly valid to replace appropinquaretur by appropinquaremus. Making such a replacement would indeed take the sentence closer to the English original. The translation tells the same story, but it is not very literal — and there is nothing wrong with such translations.

What the answer key suggests is an impersonal passive; ad urbem appropinquaretur means more or less "the city would be approached". The active version with appropinquaremus would mean "we would approach the city". Notice that the city is not a subject and would not be the object in the corresponding active clause ad urbem appropinquaremus. The passive clause is impersonal, but it is implicitly clear that a "we" should be understood.

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