My question is whether constructions similar to the following English one can exist in Latin, i.e., constructions where (i) the subject is formed by a plural noun plus an obligatory/"dominant" predicative participle but (ii) the verb is in singular form. Notice that it is not the two old men themselves that are funny, but the fact that they are dealing with an inappropriate theme. Hence singular agreement (seems) is justified.

[Two old men dealing with such a young theme] seems funny to me.

Next consider the two following examples of so-called "dominant" participle constructions, taken from Sallust and Livy, respectively:

(Dixit) se missum a M. Crasso qui Catilinae nuntiaret ne eum Lentulus et Cethegus aliique ex coniuratione deprehensi terrerent. (Sall. Cat. 48,4)


Bello Graeci persequendi Publilio evenerunt. (Livy 8, 22, 9)

Although the subject is plural, could also the verb be singular in these two examples (i.e., terreret and evenit)? My intuition is that it couldn’t but perhaps I’m wrong (NB: as for the first Latin example above, it is not a plurality of individuals but the event/fact that these individuals were arrested what would frighten Catilina. As for the second example, again it is not the Greeks but rather their having to be persecuted through a war (considered as as a future event to be accomplished, e.g., as a duty) what fell/"came" to the consul Publilius). Anyway, I would like to know whether examples like the English one above could also exist in Classical Latin.

  • FWIW, my intuition agrees with yours -- singular seems impossible here. – TKR Jan 8 '19 at 22:18
  • To talk about 'the fact that' some plural noun does something, and to have that fact be the subject of a singular verb, you'd have to, e.g., use a finite verb instead of a participle, and then use quod or ut at the beginning of the clause to render it a noun clause; or use an infinitive instead a participle, putting the subject into the accusative. In short, you can have either the participle or the singular verb, but not both. – cnread Jan 9 '19 at 22:22
  • In fact, it seems to me that, properly speaking, your English example with the singular verb doesn't involve a participle at all but a gerund. That is, it should really say 'Two old men's dealing with such a young theme....' However, colloquial English uses a participle instead of a gerund. In that case, the correct Latin equivalent would follow the 'more proper' English version and would likely use an accusative+infinitive instead of a participle. – cnread Jan 9 '19 at 22:29
  • The English example (without 's) is taken from Jespersen (1909-1949). I found it in books.google.es/… – Mitomino Jan 9 '19 at 23:21
  • I used an English example but the same phenomenon can be exemplified, perhaps even more intriguingly, with the so-called "pseudo-relative" construction in Italian. According to Jan Casalicchio, an Italian linguist (see his work below), in an It. example like I bambini che giocano agli anziani mi {fanno/fa} ridere (lit. 'The children that play at the elder {make/makes} me laugh'), the verb can be plural (fanno) or singular (fa). Why is Latin different in the dominant participle constructions above? Cf. academia.edu/34840592/… – Mitomino Jan 10 '19 at 0:22

It seems to me that the subject here is more the participle than anything, which could indeed take a singular verb.

  • 2
    I agree with you in the first part of your answer ("It seems to me that the subject here is more the participle than anything"). Yes, that's why the construction at issue is often referred to in many textbooks of Latin syntax as "dominant participle construction". However, what you say in the second part of your answer ("which could indeed take a singular verb") is controversial, I think. One could expect it (given that the subject is a participial clause) but my intuition is that the main verb cannot be singular if the nominal within the dominant participle clause is plural. – Mitomino Jan 9 '19 at 23:43
  • I suppose you are right there... – Bryan Lockett Jan 12 '19 at 20:22

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