After having provided an answer to Draconis’ question ( Did Latin have any ergative verbs? ), I was wondering about the subtle meaning differences involved in triads like {aperit/se aperit/aperitur}, {movet/se movet/movetur}, {mutat/se mutat/mutatur}, etc. I’m basically interested in how this grammatical triad, which is mainly found with some verbs of change, was interpreted in Early & Classical Latin (comments on Late Latin are also welcome).

Beyond the particular preferences involved in different authors/registers/… and beyond the particular lexical encyclopedic-like differences (e.g., in terra movet an earthquake is involved), are there any semantic generalizations associated to the abovementioned grammatical triad {labile / reflexive / middle}? When is each of them used? Is it a case of full synonymy?

Some examples follow:

Foris aperit (Pl. Pers. 300) ‘The door is opening’.

Valvae se ipsae aperuerunt (Cic. Div. 1, 74) ‘The doors opened by themselves’.

Ecce autem commodum aperitur foris (Pl. Mil. 1198) ‘and look, at this very moment the door is opening'.

Flos numquam se aperit nisi vento spirante (Plin. Nat. 21.94.165) ‘the flower never opens unless the wind blows’).

Tum sumus incauti, studioque aperimur in ipso, / nudaque per lusus pectora nostra patent (Ov. A.A. 3 371-372) (‘…we reveal ourselves in our very zest…’).

Ubi aliud os amnis aperitur (Curt. 6,4, 7) ‘Where another mouth of the river opens’.

At first sight, there appears to be no meaningful difference between the {labile / reflexive / middle} examples above. But is this intuition correct? For example, for those all of us who speak a Romance language natively, it is not surprising that subtle differences may sometimes emerge from using the reflexive or not: e.g., cf. Spanish Juan {se murió /murió} anoche 'Juan died last night'. Apparently, the meaning of this example with or without the pronoun is the same but, on a closer look, it is not the same in all contexts: cf. ok Juan murió anoche fusilado vs. *Juan se murió anoche fusilado. Cf. also the following contrast from French: Jean (*se) rougit vs. Il vit le mouchoir se rougir soudain. NB: the star * means ungrammaticality.

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    I'd suggest asking a new question rather than repurposing an existing one; it makes it harder for people to answer just one or the other, if someone comes along and knows exactly what you need.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 5:09
  • Ok, many thanks for your suggestion. Following your advice, I've just divided my previous big question into two different (but related) questions. By the way, did you, Draconis, find my answer to your question ('Did Latin have any ergative verbs?' See above) convincing? Thanks in advance!
    – Mitomino
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 5:49
  • By the way, could foris aperit not be read as, "he opens the doors"? The other examples are none of them truly intransitive.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 16:45
  • @Cerberus In this case/context the verb is used intransitively. By the way, I've just seen that Pinkster (2015: 281) gives this very same example as a case of "decausative use of active forms" (cf. his translation: 'The door is opening'). Interestingly, he compares it with the transitive/causative use involved in Ecquis has aperit fores? (Pl. Mos. 900). In fact, this verb is a good example of anticausative/ergative verb. For further related discussion, see latin.stackexchange.com/questions/21231/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 18:44


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