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Grammar: Deponent Verbs

Most Latin verbs have both an active voice and a passive voice:

Active: Claudius Messalinam amat. Claudius loves Messalina.
Passive: Messalina a Claudio amatur. Messalina is loved by Claudius.

But deponent verbs are different. Deponent verbs do not have an active and a passive form. Instead, deponent verbs have only passive forms. So, deponent verbs look like they are passive verbs, but they are not passive. They have passive forms, but they are not passive verbs: they are deponents!

Why is this important? This is important because a true passive verb in Latin can not take an object. Passive verbs in Latin are intransitive; they do not take objects.

Deponent verbs, on the other hand, can take objects. Some deponent verbs are transitive, and this means that they can take objects. That can get kind of confusing: they look like they are passive verbs, which would mean that they cannot take objects -- but looks can be deceiving! Deponent verbs may look passive, but they can, and do, take objects.

Here are some examples of transitive deponent verbs:

Imperatorem sequimur.
We follow the commander!

Somnium interpretatus est.
He interpreted the dream.

Omnia verba recordamur.
We remember all the words.

So, when you are dealing with deponents you have to recognize the passive ending for what it is, but without concluding that this is a passive verb: you need to recognize the passive ending, but you also need to be ready to find that the verb has a direct object.

The active forms in Latin are much more common than the passive forms, so when dealing with deponents you need to review the passive forms of the four conjugations. It is especially important to recognize the passive infinitive forms:

  • ari. Dictionary form: epulor. Infinitive: epulari. to dine, feast
  • eri. Dictionary form: confiteor. Infinitive: confiteri. to confess
  • i. Dictionary form: nascor. Infinitive: nasci. to be born
  • iri. Dictionary form: mentior. Infinitive: mentiri. to lie

In the present, future, and imperfect the passive is expressed by endings on the stem of the verb. In the perfect tenses, the passive is formed with the perfect passive participle:

  • epulatur: she feasts. epulata est: she feasted.
  • confitentur: they confess. confessi sunt: they confessed.
  • nascitur: he is born. natus est: he was born.
  • mentior: I lie. mentita sum: I lied.

Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit http://www.ou.edu/online/ for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003.  laura-gibbs@ou.edu. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM