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517. In the statement of a supposition impliedly false, the Imperfect and Pluperfect Subjunctive are used in both protasis and apodosis.1 The Imperfect refers to present time, the Pluperfect to past:
  1. vīveret, verba êius audīrētis (Rosc. Com. 42) , if he were living, you would hear his words. [Present.]
  2. nisi āmīsissēs, numquam recēpissem (Cat. M. 11), unless you had lost it, I should not have recovered it. [Past.]
  3. meum cōnsilium valuisset, hodiē egērēs, rēs pūblica nōn tot ducēs āmīsisset (Phil. 2.37) , if my judgment had prevailed [as it did not], you would this day be a beggar, and the republic would not have lost so many leaders. [Mixed Present and Past.]

a. In conditions contrary to fact the Imperfect often refers to past time, both in protasis and apodosis, especially when a repeated or continued action is denoted, or when the condition if true would still exist:

  1. nihil litterīs adiuvārentur, numquam ad eārum studium contulissent (Arch. 16) , if they had not been helped at all by literature, they never would have given their attention to the study of it. [Without the condition, adiuvābantur .]
  2. hīc mentis esset suae, ausus esset ēdūcere exercitum (Pison. 50) , if he were of sane mind, would he have dared to lead out the army? [Here esset denotes a continued state, past as well as present.]
  3. nōn concidissent, “nisi illud receptāculum classibus nostrīs patēret (Verr. 2.3) , [the power of Carthage] would not have fallen, unless that station had been [constantly] open to our fleets. [Without the condition, patēbat .]

b. In the apodosis of a condition contrary to fact the past tenses of the Indicative may be used to express what was intended, or likely, or already begun. In this use, the Imperfect Indicative corresponds in time to the Imperfect Subjunctive, and the Perfect or Pluperfect Indicative to the Pluperfect Subjunctive:—

  1. licitum esset, mātrēs veniēbant (Verr. 5.129) , the mothers were coming if it had been allowed.
  2. in amplexūs fīliae ruēbat, nisi līctōrēs obstitissent (Tac. Ann. 16.32) , he was about rushing into his daughter's arms, unless the lictors had opposed.
  3. iam tūta tenēbam, gēns crūdēlis ferrō invāsisset (Aen. 6.358) , I was just reaching a place of safety, had not the fierce people attacked me.

Note 1.--Here the apodosis may be regarded as elliptical. Thus,mātrēs venièbant ( et vēnissent ), the matrons were coming (and would have kept on) if, etc.

Note 2.--With paene (and sometimes prope ), almost, the Perfect Indicative is used in the apodosis of a past condition contrary to fact: as,—pōns iter paene hostibus dedit, “ ūnus vir fuisset(Liv. 2.10) , the bridge had almost given a passage to the foe, if it had not been for one hero.

c. Verbs and other expressions denoting necessity, propriety, possibility, duty, when used in the apodosis of a condition contrary to fact, may be put in the Imperfect or Perfect Indicative.

Such are oportet , decet , dēbeō , possum , necesse est , opus est , and the Second Periphrastic Conjugation:—2

  1. nōn potuit fierī sapiēns, nisi nātus esset (Fin. 2.103) , he could not have become a sage, if he had not been born.
  2. prīvātus esset hōc tempore, tamen is erat dēligendus (Manil. 50) , if he were at this time a private citizen, yet he ought to be appointed.
  3. quod esse caput dēbēbat, probārī posset (Fin. 4.23) , what ought to be the main point, if it could be proved.
  4. ita putāsset, certē optābilius Milōnī fuit (Mil. 31) , if he had thought so, surely it would have been preferable for Milo.

Note.--In Present conditions the Imperfect Subjunctive ( oportēret , possem , etc.) is the rule, the Indicative being rare; in Past conditions both the Subjunctive (usually Pluperfect) and the Indicative (usually Perfect) are common.

For pār erat , melius fuit , and the like, followed by the infinitive, see § 521. N.

Note 2.--The indicative construction is carried still further in poetry: as, nōn alium iactāret odōrem, “laurus erat(Georg. 2.133) , it were a laurel, but for giving out a different odor.

d. The participle in -ūrus with eram or fuī may take the place of an Imperfect or Pluperfect Subjunctive in the apodosis of a condition contrary to fact:—

  1. quid enim futūrum fuit [=fuisset], ... (Liv. 2.1) , what would have happened if, etc.
  2. relictūrī agrōs erant, nisi ad eōs Metellus litterās mīsisset (Verr. 3.121) , they would have abandoned their fields, if Metellus had not sent them a letter.
  3. neque ambigitur quīn ... id factūrus fuerit, ... (Liv. 2.1) , nor is there any question that he would have done it, if, etc. [Direct: fēcisset .]
  4. adeō parāta sēditiō fuit ut Othōnem raptūrī fuerint, incerta noctis timuissent (Tac. H. 1.26) , so far advanced was the conspiracy that they would have seized upon Otho, had they not feared the hazards of the night. [In a main clause: rapuissent , timuissent .]

e. The Present Subjunctive is sometimes used in poetry in the protasis and apodosis of conditions contrary to fact:—

  1. comes admoneat, inruat (Aen. 6.293) , had not his companion warned him, he would have rushed on. [Cf. hīc sīs, “aliter sentiās(Ter. And. 310) , if you were in my place, you would think differently.]

Note 1.--This is probably a remnant of an old construction (see next note).

Note 2.--In old Latin the Present Subjunctive (as well as the Imperfect) is used in present conditions contrary to fact and the Imperfect (more rarely the Pluperfect) in past conditions of the same kind. Thus it appears that the Imperfect Subjunctive, like the Imperfect Indicative, once denoted past time, even in conditional sentences. Gradually, however, in conditional sentences, the Present Subjunctive was restricted to the less vivid future and the Imperfect (in the main) to the present contrary to fact, while the Pluperfect was used in past conditions of this nature. The old construction, however, seems to have been retained as an archaism in poetry.

f. In Plautus and Terence absque ( , etc.) is sometimes used to introduce conditions contrary to fact:—

  1. absque esset, hodiē nusquam vīverem (Pl. Men. 1022) , if it were not for you, I should not be alive to-day.
  2. absque esset, rēctē ego mihi vīdissem (Ter. Ph. 188) , if it had not been for him, I should have looked out for myself.


1 The implication of falsity, in this construction, is not inherent in the subjunctive; but comes from the transfer of a future condition to past time. Thus the time for the happening of the condition has, at the moment of writing, already passed; so that, if the condition remains a condition, it must be contrary to fact. So past forms of the indicative implying a future frequently take the place of the subjunctive <*> apodosis in this construction (see c, d, below, and § 511).

2 Observe that all these expressions contain the idea of futurity (cf. p. 328, footnote). Thus, decet [ hodiē ] īre crās , means it is proper for me [to-day] to go to-morrow; and, decēbat [ herī ] īre hodiē, it was proper for me [yesterday] to go to-day, usually with the implication that I have not gone as I was bound to do.

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