Gerunds and Gerundives,
The origins of the gerund and
gerundive are not entirely clear. Their similarity in form may even
be to some extent coincidental, since they perhaps evolved separately.
The terms are derived from gero, gerere, gessi,
gestum 3, presumably in the sense “to do”. The enigmatic Virgilius
Maro Grammaticus suggests that “gerund(ive)s are so called because
they are forced to bear [gerere] a burden for which they are
not designed by nature”. This explanation is either a joke, the point
of which is now lost, or a wild guess; it is in any case quite useless.
The present participle in the Romance languages developed not only,
as one might assume, from the equivalent Latin form, but also from the
ablative of the gerund.
The gerund occurs only in the
oblique cases, i.e. not in the nominative (or vocative). (The casus
obliqui “the slanting cases” are the cases which decline from
the nominative, sometimes termed the casus rectus “the upright
case”.) The infinitive supplies the function of the gerund in the
nominative case, and also in the accusative except when a preposition
is used. It is conventional to refer to gerunds in the accusative case,
rather than the genitive; e.g. amandum is the gerund of amo
It is difficult to give a wholly
adequate translation for the gerundive without a wider context, since
most constructions with the gerundive are not closely matched in English.
“Being -ed” is not entirely satisfactory, since it suggests that
the gerundive is a present participle passive. The gerundive is sometimes
classified as a future participle passive; that usage, however, is largely
confined to late antiquity, and the notion of futurity is misleading
for most applications of the form. When the gerundive is used to express
obligation, “to be -ed” would be a better translation.
Whereas it is not surprising
that the gerund of deponent verbs is active in sense, like that of all
other verbs, it may seem to run somewhat counter to the nature of deponent
verbs that their gerundive is passive in sense, like that of all other
verbs; e.g. porcus meus omnibus mirandus est “My pig is to
be admired by everyone” = “Everyone should admire my pig”,
in cavernam lupus porcis non sequendus est “The wolf is not to
be followed into the cave by the pigs” = “The pigs should not follow
the wolf into the cave”.
Since gerundives are passive
in sense, the intransitive ire has only the impersonal neuter
eundum; see Chapter 28. For the irregular form of the gerund(ive)
of ire, compare the present participle, iens, euntis.
The gerundive developed later than the gerund, was never frequent, as far as we can tell, in colloquial Latin, and lost popularity in the post-classical period; even so, it has been calculated that Cicero, by far the most influential prose stylist, has 2048 gerundives to 1020 gerunds.
Greek has verb forms equivalent
to the Latin gerund and gerundive, but they are much less frequently
used, in part because the addition of the appropriate case of the neuter
singular of the fully declinable definite article allows the infinitive
to function much as a gerund does in Latin. Cicero playfully invents
a hybrid form of the gerund: φιλοσοφητέον (philosopheteon)
… et istos consulatus non flocci facteon “We must be philosophical,
and not care at all for those consulships” (Letters to Atticus
Describing a German uprising,
Tacitus wrote soluto iam castelli obsidio et
ad sua tutanda degressis rebellibus ‘When the rebels had
given up besieging the fort and had gone off to ensure the safety of
their own possessions’ (Annals 4.73). At Geography
2.11.12, in his account of Germany, Ptolemy corrupts ad sua tutanda
to the name of a non-existent place, Σιατουτάνδα (Siatoutanda).
In HIC IACET CORPVS PVERI NOMINANDI
Here lies the body of a child whose name is to be added (L’Année
Epigraphique  no. 112), the stonemason has carelessly copied
on to a tombstone the general rubric for such memorials, instead of
adding the dead child’s actual name. It is perhaps unduly charitable
to suppose that thought he was commemorating a child called Nominandus.
Cicero was murdered on December
7 43 BC in the proscriptions of the Second Triumvirate, his name having
been added to the proscription lists by Mark Antony, whom he had attacked
vehemently in his Philippic orations. He will, however, have
regretted the witty gerundives which he directed against Octavian. In
a letter dated May 24 43 BC, Decius Brutus, one of the assassins of
Julius Caesar, reports to Cicero that Octavian held nothing against
him except his remark that “the young fellow [i.e. the 19 year old
Octavian] should be praised, honored and extolled” laudandum adulescentem,
ornandum, tollendum (a play on two senses of tollo, tollere,
sustuli, sublatum 3, “to raise up [to glory]” and “remove”
[= “do away with”] (Letters to his Friends 11.20). Octavian
was only 19 at the time of Caesar’s assassination, and he was so sensitive
about his youth that the Senate decreed that he should not be addressed
as puer, lest the dignity (maiestas) of his great authority
be diminished (Servius’ commentary on Vergil Eclogues 1.42).
offers the largest concentration of gerunds, a simple but beautiful
1 omnia tempus habent, et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo:
2 tempus nascendi et tempus moriendi; tempus plantandi et tempus evellendi quod plantatum est;
3 tempus occidendi et tempus sanandi; tempus destruendi et tempus aedificandi;
4 tempus flendi et tempus ridendi; tempus plangendi et tempus saltandi;
5 tempus spargendi lapides et tempus colligendi; tempus amplexandi et tempus longe fieri a complexibus;
6 tempus acquirendi et tempus perdendi; tempus custodiendi et tempus abiciendi;
7 tempus scindendi et tempus consuendi; tempus tacendi et tempus loquendi.
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a
time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (King James
Caesar’s Commentaries on
his exploits in Gaul are written with a craftily studied simplicity.
For all their simplicity, however, they cannot be read till one has
a thorough understanding of the gerundive; note, for example:
Caesari omnia uno tempore erant agenda: vexillum proponendum, quod erat insigne, cum ad arma concurri oporteret; signum tuba dandum; ab opere revocandi milites; qui paulo longius aggeris petendi causa processerant arcessendi; acies instruenda; milites cohortandi; signum dandum (Bellum Gallicum 2.20).
Caesar had to do everything
at the same time: set up the standard, which was the signal that the
soldiers should rush to arms; give the trumpet-call; call the soldiers
back from their duties; summon those who had gone farther off to collect
material for the rampart; draw up the battle-line; encourage the soldiers;
give the watchword
Although there would appear
to be a general preference for the gerundive construction, such heavy
phrasing as in hortum exii hórum duórum flórum meórum pulchrórum
carpendórum causa is not usual. “When they make too frequent
use of the same cases or tenses or rhythms or feet, I always advise
my students to vary the way they express their ideas, so that they can
avoid monotony” (Quintilian, Education of the Orator 9.1.11).
In his Gallic Wars, Caesar, a very careful writer, seems to follow
a gerundive with a gerund precisely in order to avoid such an unattractive
repetitive genitive gerundive construction: Germanis neque consilii
habendi neque arma capiendi (rather than armorum capiendorum)
spatium datum est “The Germans were not given a chance either
to devise a plan or to take up their weapons” (4.14). Ennius, Trag.
frg. 311 quicquam quisquam
+quemquam+ quemque quisque conueniat
neget is criticized at Rhetor ad Herennium 4.18 and repeatedly
by the grammarians, as is Annals frg. 498 flentes,
plorantes, lacrumantes, commiserantes, and Cicero, Carm.
frg. 8 Courtney o fortunatam natam me consule Romam! was
notorious not only for its arrogance but also for its assonance (cf.
esp. Quintilian, Education of the Orator 9.4.41, 11.1.24, Juvenal
10.122ff., Diomedes, Grammatica 1.465f.); at Marriage of Philology
and Mercury 5.518, Martianus Capella cites fortissimorum, proximorum
fidelissimorumque sociorum from an unknown source as an unfortunate
Despite such strictures, however,
apparently clumsy repetitions are found throughout Latin poetry; cf.
e.g. Ennius, Annals 260 haud quaquam quemquam semper fortuna
secuta est, Plautus, Pseudolus 134 quorum numquam quicquam
quoiquam uenit in mentem, Catullus 73.1 Desine de quoquam quicquam
bene uelle mereri, 99.15f. quam quoniam poenam misero proponis
amori,/numquam iam posthac basia surripiam, Lucretius 2.1148 (and
11 further instances) nequiquam quoniam, Ovid, Amores
2.2.52 nec quemquam, quamvis audiat illa, iuvat, Metamorphoses
1.185 nam quamquam ferus hostis erat.
Latin and Greek are distinctly
in the minority among IndoEuropean literatures in making so little use
of rhyme in poetry. It is not accidental that Vergil’s internally
rhyming line limus ut hic durescit, et haec ut cera liquescit
“As this mud hardens, and as this wax melts” (Eclogues 8.80)
occurs in a magic charm, since rhyme is typical of incantations; e.g.
the prayer terra pestem teneto, salus hic maneto “May the earth
keep the disease, may health remain here”, recorded by Varro. It would
be facetious and false to assume that the languages’ heavy use of
inflection made rhyming too easy to provide poets with a challenge to
their artistry. When Latin did turn to rhyme in Christian liturgy, it
had an undeniable power, as in the Dies irae, ascribed to Thomas
of Celano, a friend of St. Francis of Assisi:
Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
“Day of anger, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes, with David and the Sibyl as witnesses.
What great trembling there is going to be, when the judge comes to examine
everything minutely! The trumpet, spreading its wonderful sound through
the tombs in every region, will drive everyone in front of the throne.
Death and nature will be amazed, when all creation is resurrected to
answer the one judging them etc.”
John Coleridge, A Critical
Latin Grammar London (1772), p. 152: “Supines are so called from
supina, careless, idle, because they seldom come into Use, being
supplied by the other Parts of the Verb”. I have not found a better
The accusative of the supine
was originally an accusative of “motion towards”, like Romam
“to Rome”, domum “homewards”, rus “to the countryside”
(see Chapter 15).
The ablative of the supine
was a linguistic fossil by the classical period, confined largely to
a few set phrases. (Although it is conventional to describe the second
case of the supine as an ablative, there is some justification for considering
it a dative.) natu is frequently omitted with maior,
maximus, minor, minimus.