My question is whether constructions similar to the following English one, which is drawn from Jespersen (1909-1949, vol. V: 138), 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 and gerundive 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, I was wondering whether the verb could also 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. Furthermore, note that Lentulus and Cethegus were accomplices/friends of Catilina: so it is clear that what could frighten Catilina was not them (as individuals), of course, but their arrest (i.e., a situation). As for the second example with a dominant gerundive, 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.

Rethinking on this question, an invented Latin example similar to the attested English one above with the verb "seems" could be the following one:

Cum legati occisi aliis pessimum, aliis pulcherrimum facinus videretur.

(cf. the attested example in Tacitus, who, as is well-known, uses many dominant participle constructions: Cum occisus dictator Caesar aliis pessimum, aliis pulcherrimum facinus videretur (Tac. Ann. 1.8). Note that, semantically speaking, the nominal predicate facinus ‘crime’ requires its subject to be a situation ('the murder of Caesar'), rather than an individual ('dictator Caesar')).

My intuition is that viderentur (3rd plural) would be the expected form in my invented example above but I don't know if videretur (3rd singular) would also be possible (perhaps, in this case, due to a possible attraction by facinus).

For a similar construction in Romance, cf. the Italian pseudorelative construction, drawn from Casalicchio (2016): I bambini che giocano agli anziani mi {fanno/fa} ridere; lit. 'The children that play at the elder {make/makes} me laugh'. According to this Italian linguist, both verbal forms fanno 'make.3pl' and fa 'make.3sg" are possible here.

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    FWIW, my intuition agrees with yours -- singular seems impossible here.
    – TKR
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 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
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 22:22
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    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
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 22:29
  • The English example (without 's) is taken from Jespersen (1909-1949). I found it in books.google.es/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 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
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 0:22

1 Answer 1


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

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    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
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 23:43
  • I suppose you are right there... Commented Jan 12, 2019 at 20:22
  • @Mitomino: The first example: (he said) "he was sent by Marcus Crassus to assure Cataline that the apprehension of Lentulus, Cethegus & the others, from the conspiracy, ought not to alarm him....". This translation treats "arrest" as singular requiring singular verb "alarm" (terreret). Therefore the arrestees would have to be treated as one group (of individuals) requiring "deprehensum". This means changing the original version, how else could it work? The second ex., Graeci (plural) demands "evenerunt". How to get around this--Graecia--Greece (singular);
    – tony
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 13:12
  • @Mitomino: Continuing: but the country will not come out to Publius. Interesting theory; but, the strict demands of Latin grammar appear to undermine it.
    – tony
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 13:13
  • Consider the (simplified) example: occisus dictator Caesar pessimum facinus videbatur. Crucially, if you eliminate the participle occisus, the sentence becomes ill-formed. That's why occisus can be considered a "dominant" participle: i.e., it is obligatory. Now even if the "semantic subject" of facinus is an event, i.e., a murder/killing, and not an individual (dictator Caesar), the agreement is always consistent with this individual and not with the event. So Latin seems to lack examples like the English one above taken from Jespersen. I'm wondering why...
    – Mitomino
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 20:56

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