Verbs are words that inflect for person, number, tense, mood, and voice.
A verb and its subject agree in person and number. AG 316
A participle, which is a verbal adjective, agrees with the noun it modifies
just as any other adjective does. AG 488
Infinitives and gerunds are verbal nouns. They are always
neuter singular. AG 452
The tense of a verb form indicates whether the action it describes takes place
in the past, the present, or the future. AG 464
Tenses of the present system
The present system includes the present, the imperfect, and the future. Often
the tenses of the present system are used for continuing or repeated action, as
opposed to action that happens once and is done with. This is, in particular, the
main difference between the imperfect and the present perfect. AG 465
- “Angustos se fines habere arbitrabantur. His rebus adducti, constituerunt ea quae ad proficiscendum pertinerent comparare.” Caesar, BG 1.2-3 They (always, habitually) thought their territory was constricted. Prompted by these considerations, they (at one time) decided to prepare what they would need for the expedition.
Each of us writing lines would (repeatedly, over the course of the afternoon) play with this meter and that, sharing wine and laughter. I left (once) excited by your charm.
“Scribens versiculos uterque nostrum
ludebat numero modo hoc modo illoc,
reddens mutua per iocum atque vinum.
Atque illinc abii tuo lepore
- “Corripuere viam interea, iamque ascendebant collem.” Virgil, Aen. 1.418-419 They (once, at a single point in time) started on their way and were going up the hill (which took a little while).
- “Prima pars fuit illa quae me minus movebat.” Cicero, Cael. 26 The first part (of the speech the prosecutor has just finished making) was what (during that speech) bothered me least.
Tenses of the perfect system
The perfect system includes the present perfect (often just called "perfect"), the
past perfect or pluperfect, and the future perfect. These tenses generally indicate
completed action. It is convenient to think of these tenses as the present, past,
and future of the perfect system. AG 473
- “Necare eandem voluit; quaesivit venenum, sollicitavit servos, potionem paravit, locum constituit, clam attulit.” Cicero, Cael. 31 Here the perfect is used to narrate a series of actions that have happened and are now complete.
- “Ubi ea dies quam constituerat cum legatis venit, ...” Caesar, BG 1.8 When the day came that he had arranged with his lieutenants....
After chance gives the Achaeans the power.... Polyxena's tomb will become wet. The action of the subordinate clause will be complete when the action of the main clause happens, so the subordinate clause uses a tense from the perfect system; as that time is in the future, the appropriate tense is the future perfect.
“Nam simul ac fessis dederit fors copiam Achivis
urbis Dardaniae Neptunia solvere vincla,
alta Polyxenia madefient caede sepulcra.
Tenses of infinitives and participles
Infinitives and participles also have tenses, though not all possible tenses. These
tenses show the relationship of the infinitive or participle to the time of the main
verb of the clause. AG 486
Tenses of the subjunctive; sequence of tenses
The tense of a verb in the subjunctive in a subordinate clause depends on its relationship to the
time of the main clause. When the main verb refers to the present or the future (a "primary" tense), the
subjunctive is a present tense. When the main verb refers to the past (a "secondary" tense), the subjunctive
is in a past tehse. If the action described by the subjunctive verb comes before the action of the main
verb (that is, it is completed action at the time of the main verb), the subjunctive comes from the perfect
system. If the subjunctive desribes an action at the same time as that of the main verb, or an action that comes
after that of the main verb (that is, action that is not completed), the subjunctive comes from the present system. So:
|Main verb primary||Main verb secondary|
|Subjunctive happens before (complete)||Perfect subjunctive||Pluperfect subjunctive|
|Subjunctive happens after (incomplete)||Present subjunctive||Imperfect subjunctive|
- “His rebus fiebat ut minus facile finitimis bellum inferre possent.” Caesar, BG 1.2. The Gauls' difficulty in making war is contemporary with the reasons the main clause refers to; contemporary action in secondary sequence calls for the imperfect subjunctive.
The sufficiency of kisses would come after the question; subsequent action in primary sequence calls for the present subjunctive.
“Quaeris quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
- “Multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem.” Virgil, Aen. 1.5 The main verbs in this sentence (which extents over the first seven lines of the Aeneid) are all in the past, including “passus [est]” here. The founding of the city is subsequent to Aeneas's sufferings. Subsequent action in secondary sequence calls for the imperfect subjunctive.
- “Accusatio crimen desiderat rem ut definiat, hominem notet, argumento probet, teste confirmet.” Cicero, Cael. 6 This general description of the legal system is in the present tense. The purpose clauses describe actions subsequent to the main verb, as purpose clauses often do. Subsequent action in primary sequence calls for the present subjunctive.
Latin has three finite moods: the indicative, the subjunctive, and the imperative.
The verbal nouns and adjectives are non-finite moods: the infinitives, participles,
gerund, gerundive, and supine. AG 154-155
The indicative is the usual mood of ordinary statement. Most independent clauses
are in the indicative. AG 437
Clauses with “cum
” take the indicative when the
”clause says when
the main clause happens or happened. AG 545
Simple conditional sentences take the indicative in both protasis and apodosis. These
include the "future more vivid." AG 514
- “Si pacem populus Romanus cum Helvetiis faciet, in eam partem ibunt atque ibi erunt Helvetii.” Caesar, BG 1.13.
“Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si di te favent diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
- “Non iubeo, sed, si me consulis, suadeo.” Cicero, Catil. 1.13
“Equidem per litora certos
dimittam et Libyae lustrare extrema iubebo,
si quibus eiectus silvis aut urbibus errat.
Relative clauses normally take the indicative. AG 304
Causal clauses with “quia
” or “quod
normally take the indicative. AG 540
The subjunctive is the mood of subordination. AG 438
See also sequence of tenses, above.
Clauses with “cum
” take the subjunctive when the
”clause tells something about the circumstances
around the main action. AG 546
- “Cum civitas ob eam rem incitata armis ius suum exsequi conaretur, Orgetorix mortuus est, neque abest suspicio quin ipse sibi mortem consciverit.” Caesar, BG 1.4. Here Caesar's use of the subjunctive means that Orgetorix died not just while the Helvetians were preparing to fight him, but because they'd turned against him — as the next clause makes clear.
- “Quid facient crines, cum ferro talia cedant?” Catullus 66.47
- “At studuit Catilinae, cum iam aliquot annos esset in foro, Caelius.” Cicero, Cael. 12 If Cicero had said “fuit”, he would simply have been indicating the time when Caelius took up with Catiline. “Esset” means that Caelius's several years of experience in the Forum are relevant: Caelius had already begun to establish himself as a competent, steady young man.
Concessive and causal “cum-
”clauses also take the subjunctive. AG 549
Subordinate clauses in indirect discourse take the subjunctive, though clauses that are
not actually part of the quotation take the same mood as they would in direct discourse. AG 580
Indirect questions take the subjunctive. AG 574
Conditional sentences take the subjunctive when the protasis is false; these are
"contrary to fact" conditionals. "Future less vivid" conditionals, where the protasis
gives a supposition or hypothesis that might or might not be true, also use the subjunctive.
Sometimes general or "whenever" conditionals take the subjunctive, but these may also be
treated as simple conditionals. AG 514
- “Nostri, si ab illis initium transeundi fieret, parati in armis erant.” Caesar, BG 2.9 Our troops were ready in case theirs might begin to cross. The protasis is a hypothesis and the apodosis a fact; the protasis uses the imperfect subjunctive for subsequent action in secondary sequence.
- “Si nostri oblita taceret, sana esset.” Catullus 83.3-4 If Lesbia will forget about us and be quiet (which is not what she is doing), she will be OK (but instead she's going to fall in love). The protasis and apodosis are both contrary to fact; the imperfect subjunctive is used for continuing action, because the entire poem is cast in the present tense (cf. “dicit”, line 1).
Purpose clauses, sometimes called "final" clauses, take the subjunctive. AG 531
Result clauses, sometimes called "consecutive" clauses, take the subjunctive. AG 537
Relative clauses "of characteristic" also take the subjunctive; these give
a general rule characterizing the antecedent. AG 534-535
Relative clauses can take the subjunctive when they are equivalent to purpose clauses; here “qui
” is equivalent to “ut is
”. AG 531
The subjunctive can also be used in independent clauses, though this
is relatively rare. Independent clauses with the subjunctive include commands
("hortatory" or "jussive" subjunctive, AG 439-440
wishes ("optative" subjunctive, AG 441-442
doubtful questions ("deliberative" subjunctive, AG 444
Negative commands are also independent clauses with the subjunctive, except of course those that use “noli
” with the infinitive. AG 450
The imperative is the mood of command. AG 448
- “"Desilite," inquit, "milites, nisi vultis aquilam hostibus prodere."” Caesar, BG 4.25
- “Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque.” Catullus 3.1
- “Pauca nuntiate meae puellae non bona dicta.” Catullus 11.15-16
- “Musa, mihi causas memora.” Virgil, Aen. 1.8
- “Quod cum huius vobis adulescentiam proposueritis, constituitote ante oculos etiam huius miseri senectutem qui hoc unico filio nititur, in huius spe requiescit, huius unius casum pertimescit.” Cicero, Cael. 79
Commands or requests can also be expressed with the subjunctive. Negative
commands often take the subjunctive; positive requests may. AG 450
Voice indicates whether the grammatical subject is the agent. AG 156
In the active voice, the grammatical subject does the action of the verb.
In the passive voice, the grammatical subject receives or suffers the
action of the verb.
The agent of a passive verb appears in a prepositional phrase using the
”. AG 405
The infinitive is most often used for indirect statement. AG 580
Some verbs require a complementary infinitive. AG 456
The infinitive is also a verbal noun that can be the subject or object of another verb. AG 452-455
Participles are verbal adjectives. AG 488
The perfect passive participle forms the perfect passives as compound
tenses: the (present) perfect indicative and subjunctive passive, the
pluperfect indicative and subjunctive passive, and the future perfect indicative
passive. In these tenses the participle agrees with the subject.
The gerundive forms the passive periphrastic as a compound tense. The
gerundive agrees with the subject, and is neuter singular when the subject is impersonal. AG 500