The normal way of forming the perfect passive system is: perfect passive participle + a form from the present system of sum, e.g. amatus est, amatus erat, amatus sit, amatus esset.

But one occasionally comes across forms which use the perfect system of sum instead, e.g. amatus fuit, amatus fuisset. Many grammars and textbooks don't even mention these forms, or mention them briefly only as synonymous alternatives to the usual, present-system forms.

My guess would be that the latter forms serve to emphasize completion of the action, or to avoid ambiguity with a present-perfective meaning, but I've never seen this topic discussed. Can anyone point me to a description, grounded in actual examples, of the semantic difference between these sets of forms?

  • 1
    I have only seen these forms when the participle is taken as an adjective. perditus, for instance, is the past participle of perdo but also has come to be used as an adjective. Have you ever actually seen the more clear cut, participles like amatus in your example, used in this way?
    – brianpck
    Mar 26, 2016 at 1:14
  • @brianpck I can't give specific examples, but yes, participles are sometimes used in this way. Here is a link to a grammar that mentions this usage.
    – TKR
    Mar 26, 2016 at 2:10

2 Answers 2


(this is just a prelim. answer)

Pinkster 2015 writes that

“[t]he use of the perfect passive as a present state in in fact part of an entire paradigm of forms of the perfectum stem of sum with participles denoting a resulting state” (p. 446).

Bis deinde post Numae regnum clausus fuit … . (Liv. 1.19.3)

Itaque in iis scriptum litteris Punicis fuit regem Massinissam imprudentem accepisse … . (Cic. Ver.4.103)

Gerd Haverling (Haverling 2008) notes that

"In Cicero positum fuit indicates a situation anterior to the action expressed by positum est, i.e. 'was deposited' as opposed to 'was erected'"

simulacrum e marmore in sepulchro positum fuit: hoc quidam homo nobilis deportavit... in eo monumento quod positum est ut esset indicium oppressi senatus (Cic. dom. 111-112)

It is discussed in LHS Lateinische Syntax und Stilistik (para 179:b or p. 322), Die Verschiebung des Perf. Pass. - so they call it "verschobene Perfekt." They argue that "Die altlateinische Gesetzes- und Verwaltungssprache unterscheidet gleichfalls noch genau zwischen praesentischen und Vergangenheitsperfektum" ["Likewise, Old Latin legislative and administrative language still makes a distinction between present tense and perfect expressing anteriority" - translation mine].

LHS also refer to Neue and Wagner Formenlehre der lateinischen Sprache, volume III (pp. 135-151), who wrote "Indessen lesen wir oefters fui und fuerim neben dem Particip. Perfect. so, dass es sich von dem in gleicher Verbindung gebrauchten sum und sim nicht unterscheiden laesst" (p. 139) ["However, we often read/find fui and fuerim next to Particip. Perfect., so it is not possible to distinguish them from constructions with sum and sim" - translation mine]. You may want to take a look at NW III.

Borovskii and Boldyrev 1975 (p. 95) mention that such perfect forms were rather common in poetry (for metrical reasons).

I'm sure Haverling 2010 provides a more recent analysis of such forms but I don't have it at hand now.

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    B: The answer from cnread to Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/5315/1982 is worth looking at: "The perfect passive can be formed by using either the present tense of "esse", or when one wants to stress the completedness of the action, the perfect tense.
    – tony
    Jan 25, 2021 at 13:25

Also in PLINY, Letters X.34 ~line 5, ...contractī fuerint..."they will have been brought together". I don't know how to translate this. I have seen these alternative passive forms too and no one explains them. Maybe like above, the participle is taken as an adjective.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site and thank you for the answer!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 25, 2021 at 6:40

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