I'm a beginner and noticing "est" a present tense verb, being translated in dozens of resources as "was." Why?

et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est = and without him nothing was made that was made

2 Answers 2


It's because the verb in each clause of that sentence isn't really est: it's factum est, a compound verb form that combines a present tense of the verb 'to be' and the perfect (past) participle of the verb 'to do/make' (or 'to become/happen').

If it helps, think of an English clause such as 'the picture has fallen': it uses the present tense 'has' but this, in combination with the past/passive participle 'fallen,' is used to describe an action that was completed earlier in time.

In both English and Latin, you have to think about the timeframe denoted by whole verbal idea, not the individual elements that constitute it.

  • Thank you! So...I'm sorry to be dense - I keep expecting it to translate to "is made." I can't understand the "was." I'm familiar with the legal term non est factum which translates to "it is not my deed" - Is there a rule governing related to word order?
    – D.D.
    Jan 3, 2018 at 8:14
  • 1
    @D.D. I'm not familiar with that legal term, but factum can also be a noun meaning 'deed'; so it could very well be that est isn't meant to combine with factum in that instance and really does mean 'is'.
    – cnread
    Jan 3, 2018 at 8:44
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    @D.D., As follow-up, since I didn't address all the questions in your previous comment: Although it's tempting to translate something like factum est as 'is made,' because it uses a present tense form, that's just not how Latin works. Latin 'factum est' is no more present tense than English 'has fallen' is, even though that expression also uses a present tense form. In Latin 'nothing is made' is facitur (or fit), never factum est. Many students make this mistake at first. And word order makes no difference: factum est and est factum can both mean 'was made.'
    – cnread
    Jan 3, 2018 at 20:58
  • Why does this question have so few views? I find it to be a very common issue! Your answer solved this longstanding issue I had.
    – luchonacho
    May 10, 2018 at 16:56

This is actually a peculiar feature of English, not of Latin.

In most languages that I know, a form of be with a past participle indicates a past verbal phrase; it describes something in the past (or something that precedes something else).

Il est vu au cinéma avec un femme.

Er ist gesehen (worden) im Kino mit einer Frau.

Hij is gezien in de bioscoop met een vrouw.

Visus est in cinemate cum femina.

In all of these examples, the seeing usually happened in the past, it's not still going on or still awaiting repetition. This only makes sense, for the past participle includes a sense of past or preceding (in addition to a sense of passivity).

So we probably should not translate this literally as *he is seen at the cinema, which often implies some relation to the present in modern English, e.g. he is seen at the cinema every week (including this week and the next). The usual way to write a passive verb in the normal past in English is through a past form of be with a past participle:

He was seen at the cinema with a woman.

  • 1
    I should point out that Spanish is like English, in that you do not say "El es visto ..." but "El fue visto ...". This might be why I have such a trouble interpreting "est" as past, since in both English and Spanish, the only languages I fluently speak, use the past rather than the present "to be" particle.
    – luchonacho
    May 10, 2018 at 16:53
  • @luchonacho visus est is perfect tense, passive voice, hence ha sido visto (presente perfecto or pretérito perfecto compuesto). But the meaning of the perfect tense also matches with pretérito indefinido, a.k.a. pretérito perfecto simple partly, so fue visto. In turn, the passive voice of hacer in Spanish is weird: fue hecho doesn't sound right: you use the pronominal se hizo or se ha hecho instead. (48th meaning of hacer in the DLE.)
    – Rafael
    May 10, 2018 at 20:40
  • @luchonacho in turn, which sounds better, sin él nada se ha hecho, ... nada se hizo, ... nada ha sido hecho or nada fue hecho? I think it also depends on the dialect (acento/variante regional)
    – Rafael
    May 10, 2018 at 21:16

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