In North & Hillard Ex. 193; Q1: the following sentence is to be translated into Latin: "While the consul was absent the danger was increasing."

The answer given: "dum consul aberat periculum augebatur."

The passive-imperfect "augebatur", means the danger was being increased"; I used "augebat", "it was increasing", which is what the English asks for. But both make sense; however, would one be more appropriate than the other?

  • I think they use the passive because the subject is receiving the verb (i.e. the danger was increasing), rather than the subject performing the verb (i.e. the kid plays music). Latin is probably much more subtle on these things, whereas English is more flexible. My educated guess. (changed the title, hopefully capturing the question better). – luchonacho Sep 9 at 14:15
  • See this discussion. It seems to have a different take to the one in the answer below. – luchonacho Sep 10 at 8:09

This is a tricky point! But short version, the book's answer is the correct one.

English has a class of verbs called "ergative verbs". "Increase" is one of them, along with "break", "turn", "shake", and several others.

When these verbs are used with a single noun, the thing being increased/broken/turned/shaken is the subject. But when used with two nouns, the thing being increased/broken/turned/shaken is the direct object. (Compare "the vase broke"/"he broke the vase".)

Latin doesn't do this. So when translating the one-noun versions of these verbs into Latin, they have to go into the passive voice.

In other words, augeō doesn't mean "increase" in the sense of "the danger increased", it means "increase" in the sense of "the general increased the rations for this week". The subject is always the cause of the increase, while the object is the thing that's getting bigger.


(Note that sometimes augeō was actually used to mean the subject getting bigger of its own accord. However, this wasn't common, and some grammarians considered it incorrect: a -sc- verb was generally preferred instead, such as augescō or crescō.)

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