In English, when a person who is deceased is being discussed, specifically when ascribing an attribute, concept, thing, etc. to them with a copulative verb, the simple past is typically used. E.g:

Julius Caesar was a conqueror.

LLPSI was written by Hans Ørberg

Whereas when discussing a person who is still living, the simple present is typically used (unless the attribute, concept, thing, etc. being ascribed is something that the subject no longer is).

Does Latin make this same distinction?

1 Answer 1


As a native English speaker, I would use a past tense to describe something that was once true but no longer is, and the present to describe something that is still true. Barack Obama was the president; Donald Trump is the president (as of the time of writing). Similarly, Julius Caesar was a conqueror, because he hasn't conquered anything for a few thousand years now.

I would do the same in Latin: Obama erat praesidens, but Trump est praesidens. The choice of perfect versus imperfect depends on whether I'm describing a state or an event; since being president lasts for a significant period of time, the imperfect feels more natural. On the other hand, Caesar perivit, not perebat, since I consider it a single event rather than a state of being.

The second example is a bit misleading: the full verb in English is "was written", since most passives in English are formed with a form of "be" with the passive participle. Latin sometimes does the same, but uses the tenses a bit differently: the direct equivalent would be scriptus est, with a present-tense form of esse. But the compound verb is still in the perfect tense, since the writing is over and done with now.

  • Gratulor, quod iam decem milia punctorum tulisti!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 17:41
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Gratias! :D
    – Draconis
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 17:47

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