I've recently discussed with Sumelic the intriguing example of a passive construction of a transitive (allegedly) deponent verb: Ab amīcīs hortārētur (Did Latin have any ergative verbs? ). The cautious parentheses are added because of the existence of the non-deponent forms horto, -are: e.g., vid. http://micmap.org/dicfro/search/gaffiot/hortor

As a follow-up from this discussion, it is worth pointing out that impersonal passives of intransitive deponent verbs like *Mortuum est beate ‘{One/people} died happily’ are ill-formed, compared to ok Pugnatum est acriter. The explanation of this contrast has been argued to be related to the fact that the former is an unaccusative verb, whereas the latter is an unergative one (vid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impersonal_passive_voice ; for the well-known distinction between unaccusative vs. unergative verbs, vid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unaccusative_verb ).

This distinction notwithstanding, I was wondering WHY the previous impersonal passive construction with the deponent verb mori (*Mortuum est beate) is ill-formed whereas Moriendum est omnibus is well-formed. Any thoughts on this contrast?

  • I don't think you misanalyzed the construction/the example from Pliny. Notice that my example above of impossible impersonal passive is that of the unaccusative verb mori. Impersonal passivization has been said to be a good diagnostic to divide unergatives (e.g., to fight) from unaccusatives (e.g., to die). See "test of unergative verbs" in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impersonal_passive_voice – Mitomino Mar 31 '19 at 3:30
  • 1
    (I deleted my previous comment because I checked L&S and saw that it lists the passive use of "testatum" under the collateral form "testo"). – Asteroides Mar 31 '19 at 8:16
  • Your example from Pliny was very interesting. Anyway, besides the typical (but perhaps not systematic; see above) absence of passives of transitive deponent verbs, I'm also quite interested, as noted above, in why Mortuum est beate (on the impersonal reading!) is ill-formed compared to the well-formedness of Moriendum est nobis, which is also an impersonal construction. – Mitomino Apr 3 '19 at 19:42

Impersonal passive deponents are rare, but not unknown. See Pinkster, Oxford Latin Syntax, 1.5.34.

As forms that occur more than once, he lists morabitur, sortiri, and medeatur. He refers to a fuller list in Flobert, Pierre (1975). Les verbes déponents latins: Des origines à Charlemagne. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

  • Thanks! It is indeed interesting to compare Pinkster's (2015: 284) quote that "Impersonal passive deponent forms are rare" with the one he also makes immediately below: "Gerundive forms of deponent verbs with a passive interpretation are found throughout Latinity". So WHY is there a contrast of productivity here, i.e., between impersonal passives made out of alleged deponent verbs (e.g., cf. medeor AND medeo) and impersonal constructions made out of Gerundive forms of deponent verbs? – Mitomino May 19 '19 at 20:51
  • Assuming that Pinkster’s admittedly rare examples of passive deponent forms cannot be reduced to false cases (e.g., cf. medeor and medeo), probably there is an agent involved in these rare cases, like in non-deponent unergatives (Pugnatum est) and unlike in deponent unaccusatives (*Mortuum est beate). In that case the contrast could have to do with unergatives (deponents or not) and deponent unaccusatives. – Mitomino May 19 '19 at 21:00

'Mortuum est beate' can both be translated as he, she or it. So it can mean: 'It has died happily', which doesn't refer to a person, but is semantically equivalent to an animal in English.

If you mean why it can't refer to an inanimate object, then that's something which depends on the meaning of the verb, as inanimate objects obviously can't die. So the answer primarily lies in the meaning of deponent verbs.

It also isn't true that there are no deponent verbs which are impersonal, considering 'conatum est' for example means: 'It has been tried/attemped', which refers to the thing which has been attempted and not the person. Same with the sentence 'pugnatum est', which is a non-deponent verb but is used similarly.

  • 2
    Do you know of any quotes that could be used as an example of impersonal "conatum est"? – Asteroides Mar 31 '19 at 8:25
  • Stallmp, I'm afraid that there is a confusion here. Of course, I'm not saying that Mortuum est is impossible when its (elliptical) subject is a neuter nominative (an animal, a plant or whatever). I'm referring to the IMPERSONAL construction (see the wikipedia link above). Besides this, I'm wondering why impersonal Moriendum est nobis is well-formed, compared to Mortuum est beate, which is ill-formed. – Mitomino Apr 3 '19 at 15:55
  • Well, have you read the next paragraph? – Stallmp Apr 3 '19 at 16:02
  • My objection to your final paragraph is essentially the same raised by sumelic above. Regarding conatum est, are you sure it can be considered an example of an impersonal passive construction or ... rather an example of a passive construction with an elided nominative Hoc? In any case notice it is not the same as impersonal pugnatum est It is well-known that unergative verbs like "to fight" do enter into the impersonal passive construction: see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impersonal_passive_voice. Note that (Hoc (bellum)) pugnatum est is a different (not impersonal!) construction. – Mitomino Apr 3 '19 at 16:21
  • 1
    Ok, so we disagree. I don't think that the question of why the impersonal passive of a deponent verb like mori (mortuum est beate) is ill-formed (compared to the well-formedness of an impersonal passive of a non-deponent verb like pugnare: pugnatum est) is like the question of why this or that word is masculine. This said, if your potentially interesting example conatum est used as passive ('it has been tried/attempted') is actually found in (Classical?) Latin texts, I'll be happy to take a look at them. Thanks! – Mitomino Apr 3 '19 at 17:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.