The infinitive is a verbal noun that is not limited by a specific person or number (in-, “not”; -finitive, from finīre, “to put a limit or boundary on”). You’ve already seen many infinitives as part of verbal dictionary entries: remember that the second principal part is the present active infinitive, often translated with the preposition “to” and the verb’s meaning.
Infinitives do not have a person, number, or mood, but they do have tense and voice. There are six types of infinitives; you need only worry about the four discussed below for now. The two that we will learn about in the second semester are the future active infinitive and the future passive infinitive.
As stated above, you get the present active infinitive directly from the second principal part of the verb’s dictionary entry. For example, in the verb moneō, monēre, monuī, monitus, “to warn”, the present active infinitive is monēre, and it can be translated as “to warn.”
The present passive infinitive is similarly translated with the preposition “to”, but the action of the verb is passive, rather than active. So, the passive form of the example above is “to be warned.”
To form the present passive infinitive in 1st, 2nd, and 4th conjugation verbs, you take the present active infinitive and replace the final -e with an -ī. So, for example:
To form the present passive infinitive in the 3rd and 3rd -iō conjugations, you must replace the entire -ere ending of the present active infinitive with the -ī.
If the present infinitive shown is active, change it to passive and then translate the new form. If the present infinitive shown is passive, change it to active and then translate the new form.
dūcī, “to be led”
movērī, “to be moved”
punīre, “to punish”
appellārī, “to be called”
iacere, “to throw”
The perfect active infinitive, as the name suggests, indicates an action that occurred in the past. The English translation uses “to” and auxiliary verbs like “have” to get across the past-ness of the action: for example, “to have loved.”
To form the perfect active infinitive, you go to the perfect stem (which, as a reminder, is found by going to the third principal part of a dictionary entry and chopping off the -ī) and then add the ending -isse. This is the rule across all conjugations.
The perfect passive infinitive, as the name suggests, indicates a passive action that occurred in the past. The translation adds “been” to convey the passiveness of the verbal unit: for example, “to have been loved.”
The formation of the perfect passive infinitive works similarly to the formation of the perfect passive indicative. You take the fourth principal part of the dictionary entry (the perfect passive participle) in the appropriate gender, case, and number and pair it with the present infinitive of the verb “to be,” esse. Take a look at these examples:
Note that in these examples, I used only the masculine nominative singular forms, but the perfect passive participle as part of the perfect passive infinitive can change its gender, case, and number to match the noun that it is properly describing. For example, if it were feminine nouns being heard, like vocēs, “voices”, then the proper form of the infinitive would be audītae esse.
We’ll learn more about how to use the perfect passive infinitive later on. It suffices for now to know how to form it and that it exists.
If the perfect infinitive shown is active, change it to passive (using the masculine nominative singular form of the participle) and then translate the new form. If the perfect infinitive shown is passive, change it to active and then translate the new form.
aspectus esse, “to have been looked at”
imperāvisse, “to have commanded”
implēvisse, “to have filled”
ductus esse, “to have been led”
sensisse, “to have felt”
There are various ways in which we can use the infinitive, a verbal noun, in Latin. We’ll discuss two now.
1. As a noun (subjective)
Because the infinitive is a verbal noun, it can stand as the subject of a sentence. When used in this way, the infinitive is a neuter nominative singular noun, and it most often shows up in linking sentence types or with impersonal verbs.
Note that the predicate nominative adjective humanum is neuter nominative singular because it’s modifying errāre via the linking verb est.
The subjective infinitive, though used as a noun, still retains its verbal qualities in that it can be qualified by direct objects or prepositional phrases. Here are some examples:
The infinitive can also be used to complete the meaning of a main verb. For example, with the verb possum, posse, potuī, “to be able to, can”, it would be odd to have simply a conjugated form of that verb without anything to complete its meaning:
This is where the complementary infinitive can help; it completes the sense begun by a main verb. And like the subjective infinitive, it can take its own direct objects or prepositional phrases.
Identify whether the bolded infinitive is subjective or complementary and then translate the sentence.
incipere est difficile.
subjective, “To begin is difficult.” OR “It is difficult to begin.”
ille discēdere poterit.
complementary, “That man will be able to depart.”
in hortō sedēre licet.
subjective, “To sit in the garden is allowed.” OR “It is allowed to sit in the garden.”
docēre carmina possum.
complementary, “I can teach the songs.” OR “I am able to teach the songs.”
Like the infinitive, gerunds are neuter singular verbal nouns. However, while the infinitive can be the nominative subject or accusative direct object, the gerund fills all the other syntactic roles of the verbal noun. It appears in the genitive, dative, and ablative cases and in the accusative only as the object of a preposition and it is usually translated into English by adding -ing to the verb.
The gerund is formed using the second principal part. In the case of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd conjugations, we take the present stem (the infinitive minus -re) and add -nd to form the gerund stem:
We, then, add the appropriate 2nd declension neuter singular case endings to form the gerund:
In the case of the 3rd -io and 4th conjugations, we take the present stem (the infinitive minus -re) and add -iend to form the gerund stem:
We, then, add the appropriate 2nd declension neuter singular case endings to form the gerund:
Below are some examples of how gerunds work in Latin sentence:
NB: Ad + the accusative gerund and causā / gratiā + the genitive gerund are frequently used to express purpose.
Produce the genitive gerund for the following verb forms.
incipiō, incipere, incēpī, inceptum - to begin
discēdō, discēdere, discessī, discessurus - to leave, depart
amō, amāre, amāvī, amātus - to love
doceō, docēre, docuī, doctus - to teach
What if, in the example, ars legendī est bona animō mentioned above, we wanted to specify that it is the “art of reading books” that is good for the soul?
The simplest solution would seem to be adding a direct object after the gerund:
However, for some reason, Latin does not like using this construction and instead prefers to use a gerundive phrase instead. A gerundive is a verbal adjective that looks very much like a gerund (NB: the gerund and gerundive can both be identified easily by the -nd infix). It has the same stem as a gerund, but it can appear in any case, number, and gender and is declined as a 2-1-2 adjective:
In a gerundive phrase, the gerundive agrees with the noun that would have been the direct object in number and gender BUT takes its case from its role in the sentence. In the example above, ars legendī librōs would be expressed as follows using a gerundive phrase:
The gerundive phrase is usually called a gerund-replacing-gerundive (GRG for short). When translating GRGs, the gerundive is translated just like a gerund and the noun that agrees with it as its a direct object. Below are a few examples:
Translate the following sentence and phrases that contain GRGs.
ad incipiendum iter
for the purpose of beginning a journey
ars scrībendōrum librōrum
the art of writing books
docendīs puellīs parat.
He prepares by teaching girls.
rēgīnae iuvandae grātiā
for the sake of helping the queen
In addition to functioning like gerunds, gerundives have two other important usages. They can function as adjectives modifying a noun and as part of a verbal construction known as the passive periphrastic.
Like all other adjectives, the gerundive will usually be paired with a noun. However, unlike most adjectives, the gerundive has two additional characteristics due to its verbal nature: voice and tense. The gerundive is always passive and forward-looking (the reason for this is that gerundive is technically the future passive participle). Consequently, we translate the gerundive “to be [verb]ed”, which often carries a sense of necessity or obligation. Consider the following examples:
When used as an adjective, the gerundive is usually appears in either the nominative case (modifying a subject) or in the accusative case (modifying a direct object). The reason for this is to avoid any possible ambiguity with the GRG. The GRG like the gerund appears only in the genitive, dative, and ablative cases and in the accusative as the object of the preposition.
The use of the gerundive in the passive periphrastic construction is an extension of its use as a verbal adjective. As we saw above, the gerundive is passive and forward looking by nature. In the passive periphrastic, the gerundive is combined with a form of sum to express (forward-looking and passive) verbal obligation and necessity. Take for instance, the following examples:
In these sentences, note how the form of the gerundive matches in gender, number, and case with the subject.
Determine whether the gerundive is being used as a GRG, verbal adjective, or a part of a passive periphrastic.
Puella docenda est.
passive periphrastic (“The girl must be taught.”)
Puerī docendī in urbe vīxērunt.
verbal adjective (“The boys who are to be taught lived in the city.”)
rēgīnae docendae grātiā vēnit.
GRG (“She came for the sake of teaching the queen.”)