Participles are verbal adjectives. That means that they are built off Latin verb forms but modify nouns. Take a look at some examples of participles in English:
These participles modify nouns because they tell us what that noun is doing (“laughing”) or about to do (“about to jump”) or what has been done (“praised”) to that noun. So, participles in Latin will look like Latin adjectives, either a 2-1-2 or a one-termination, and either agree with an explicit noun in the sentence or be used as a substantive.
Participles, because they are derived from verbs, can also function like verbs by taking direct objects, ablatives of agent, prepositional phrases, indirect statements, etc., depending on the type of verb in question.
Participles in Latin have a tense (present, perfect, or future) and a voice (active or passive). Participles do not have a person, number, or mood, and there are no imperfect, pluperfect, or future perfect participles. Of the existing tenses and voices, there are only four combinations for participles in Latin, two of which you’ve already met!
The present active participle is often translated as the “-ing” form of the verb; for example, “singing”, “laughing”, “praising”, “hearing.”
This is easy to confuse, however, with the gerund, a verbal noun that also ends in -ing. It is important to keep in mind the difference between a participle and a gerund: the participle is a verbal adjective that usually modifies a noun, and the gerund is itself a verbal noun. If you need to determine whether an -ing form in English is a participle or a gerund, try to add the words “the act of” before the -ing form. If the sentence still makes sense, the -ing form is a gerund; if not, it’s a participle. For example:
It is easy to tell the two apart in Latin, however, because they are formed differently. In order to form the present active participle, we use the second principal part.
In all conjugations, the vowel before the -ns of the nominative singular will always be long; the vowel before the -nt- of the oblique cases will always be short.
So, take a look at some examples of the present active participle in context.
* Note that the ablative singular of the present active participle can end either in -ī (the usual ending for one-termination adjectives) or in -e. -ī is the ending when the participle is used as a simple adjective (e.g., ab regentī rege, “by the ruling king”). -e is used when the participle takes a prepositional phrase or object, as above (urbem regente), or is used in an ablative absolute (on which see below).
Note that there is no present passive participle.
We form the present active participle of a deponent verb similarly.
Note that this is one of three exceptions to the rule that deponents are passive in form but active in meaning. In this case, the present active participle of a deponent verb is both active in form AND active in meaning. We’ll learn about the other two exceptions below.
orīrī (“to rise”) > oriēns, orientis, “rising”
The perfect passive participle, or PPP for short, is already familiar to you from the dictionary entries of verbs: the PPP is the 4th principal part and it functions as a 2-1-2 adjective.
When translated literally, the PPP means “(having been) (blank)ed.” For example, amatus puer = “the boy, having been loved” or “the loved boy.” This, however, sounds like stilted translation-ese rather than actual English, so there are a number of ways to make the translation of the PPP – and participles in general – more idiomatic in English. See the section on translating participles below.
Check out these examples of the PPP in context. Remember that as a verbal adjective, the participle can govern appropriate constructions. In this case, with a perfect passive participle, we can use elements like ablatives of agent.
Note that there is no perfect active participle, BUT there is one exception. The PPP of a deponent verb (found in its third principal part), like other forms of the deponent verb, is passive in form but active in meaning. So, we translate the PPP of a deponent verb as “having (blank)ed”. For example:
The future active participle indicates that the noun being described is about to or going to do something. As such, we can translate the future active participle “about to (blank)” or “going to (blank)”.
Counterintuitively, we form the future active participle off the perfect passive participle. We take off the -us, and then add the endings -ūrus, -ūra, -ūrum to form a new 2-1-2 adjective. Note that the difference between the future active participle and the perfect passive participle is very slight: the syllable -ūr- is the only difference.
This new form also helps us form the 5th out of our 6 infinitives. We learned last semester about four:
The 5th infinitive to add to this list is the future active infinitive, translated as “to be about to (verb).” We form it by pairing the future active participle with the infinitive esse:
Note that as in the perfect passive infinitive, the participle has to change its ending to match whatever noun it describes. This is particularly important in constructions like indirect statements:
As with the present active participle of deponent verbs, the future active participle of a deponent verb will break the deponent rule by being both active in form AND active in meaning. We will form it the same way: take the PPP, chop off the -us, and add -ūrus, -ūra, -ūrum. Then, it will be translated similarly. For example:
Accordingly, the third and final form that breaks the deponent rule will be the future active infinitive, formed as it is off the future active participle:
The future passive participle is actually a form that you are already familiar with: the gerundive. Remember that we learned that the gerundive is an adjective that is passive. Now we’re filling out that picture: specifically, the gerundive is the future passive participle that, when used literally, is translated as “(about/going) to be (blank)ed”.
This particular participle is not very often used as a straightforward adjective with the meaning described above. The future passive participle is most often used as a gerundive in, e.g., a GRG construction or a passive periphrastic, as we learned last semester.
Identify the tense and voice of each of the following participles, and translate each literally.
perfect passive, “having been warned”
present active, “moving”
future active, “going/about to punish”
perfect passive (deponent), “having thought”
future active, “going/about to follow”
present active, “doing, making”
The tense of a participle is relative to the tense of the main verb of the sentence to which it belongs. In this sense, the tense of a participle functions like the tense of an infinitive; neither is absolute, but it depends on the tense of the main verb.
This relativity of tense is important to keep in mind when translating participles in more creative ways than “-ing”, “having been (blank)ed”, and “about/going to (blank).” Take a look at this sentence that includes two participles:
The song, having been sung, is being memorized by the students, going to learn.
Try saying this previous sentence out loud and notice how stilted it sounds. We have two participles, but their literal translations make the sentence choppy and disjointed.
Quick check: what are the two participles and what tense and voice is each?
having been sung, perfect passive; going to learn, future active
When it comes to translating participles, it is not technically incorrect to translate literally, but you are strongly encouraged to translate more creatively in one of the latter two ways about to be described, keeping in mind the idea that participle tense is relative; you must reflect the relationship of time accurately in your translation.
When in doubt, fall back on the “-ing”, “having been (blank)ed”, or “about/going to (blank)” translation – not ideal, but not necessarily wrong.
We will learn about relative clauses later, but as a quick primer, relative clauses are subordinate clauses introduced by “who,” “which,” or “that” that modify a noun in the sentence. For example, “We do not believe the boy who cried wolf.” The phrase “who cried wolf” tells us more information about the boy: which boy? The one who cried wolf.
Because a participle is a verbal adjective that modifies a noun, we can use a relative clause to convey the verbal action, as long as we reflect the correct relationship of time. For example, take the sample sentence from #1 above:
The participle cantum is perfect tense, so that indicates an action that is completed by the time the main verb erat occurs. erat is imperfect, a past tense.
The action of the song being sung happened before the action of the main verb “was”. Note what happens to the translation, however, when I change the tense of the main verb:
I changed erat to est, the present tense; as a result, it suffices to translate cantum as a simple past tense, because that action is completed by the time the action of the main verb “is” occurs.
Some more examples from above, re-translated with a relative clause:
Translate the following sentences, rendering the participial phrases with a relative clause.
legēs in librō illō scriptās lēgimus.
We read the laws which/that had been written in that book.
vir pacem nuntiāns epistulam accēpit.
The man who was announcing the peace received a letter.
socium mihi locutūrum vitāre nōn potuī. (vitāre, “to avoid”)
I was not able to avoid the ally who was about to speak to me.
We can also translate the participle using a dependent clause introduced by an appropriate subordinating conjunction. We often use this translation tactic with the present participle and the conjunction “while” or the perfect participle and the conjunction “after”. You can also use the conjunction “when” for either participle as appropriate. The future participle is usually better translated with a relative clause or with a sense of purpose; we’ll learn about the latter later (but take a look at the example below).
Depending on the context, you might be able to use other subordinating conjunctions in translation, like “because” or “since”.
Translate the sentences that were in the last practice opportunity, this time with a subordinating conjunction of your choice, like “when”, “because”, “since”, “while” (with present participles), “after” (with perfect participles). Each given answer is just one example of a correct answer.
legēs in librō illō scriptās lēgimus.
We read the laws after they had been written in that book.
vir pacem nuntiāns epistulam accēpit.
The man, while he was announcing the peace, received a letter.
socium mihi locutūrum vitāre nōn potuī. (vitāre, “to avoid”)
I was not able to avoid the ally since he was about to speak to me.
In general, it is preferable to try one of these more creative translations of the participle than to use the default translation. The goal is to create a translation that flows smoothly in English; the default translations tend to break that flow up!
The ablative absolute is a special construction that uses a participle and a noun, pronoun, or substantive adjective both in the ablative case to indicate the circumstances (e.g., time, condition, or reason) under which the action of the main verb is happening. The construction is so called because neither the participle nor its noun, pronoun, or substantive adjective depend grammatically or syntactically on any part of the main sentence: the construction is absolutus, “disconnected” (literally, “freed from”), from the main part of the sentence.
Note this distinction: if you want to use a participle to modify a subject, direct object, indirect object, etc., you simply use the participle in the appropriate gender, case, and number to modify the noun in question. The ablative absolute is used when you want to describe a circumstance that involves an entity that does not belong directly to the core of the sentence. That means that you can remove the ablative absolute from the sentence without affecting the meaning or grammatical coherence of the sentence.
The ablative absolute is most often used with the present active or perfect passive participle. The literal translation of the former is “with the (noun) (verb)ing”; the literal translation of the latter is “with the (noun) having been (verb)ed.”
* Remember that the ablative singular of the present active participle will end in -e as opposed to the expected -ī when the participle takes an object or prepositional phrase or is used, as here, in an ablative absolute.
As with the translations of straightforward participles above, however, such literal translations of the ablative absolute are stilted almost to the point of incomprehensibility, so we should feel empowered to be more creative with our translations.
Take a look at this Latin example and its literal translation:
Because the ablative absolute indicates the circumstances under which the action of the main verb occurs, we can translate the ablative absolute as a dependent clause introduced by an appropriate subordinating conjunction like “because,” “since,” “although,” “when,” “while” (only with present participles), or “after” (only with perfect participles). Note all the different ways in which we can translate the examples above:
The queen led her soldiers away from the battle line since the enemies had been conquered.
mīlite flūmen aspiciente hostēs castra cēpērunt. Because the soldier was watching the river, the enemies seized the camp.
* Note that I use the context of the sentence to infer that “we” is the agent of the verbal action in lectīs (there is no, e.g., ablative of agent within this particular ablative absolute), and I flip the voice of the passive lectīs into an active translation. These modifications help create a smoother and more idiomatic, if not exactly literal, translation that still gets the same idea across. Smooth and idiomatic is preferable to literal as long as the correct idea and relationship of time is being conveyed.
You can and should use the context of the sentence to render a translation that is smooth and idiomatic. Try to steer clear of the literal translations of ablative absolutes whenever possible, or at least use a literal translation only as a starting point before you work it into a more idiomatic version.
Note that the verb sum, esse, fuī, futūrus, “to be”, has only one participle: the future active futūrus (as we can see from the -ūrus ending). Because it does not have a present active participle or a perfect passive participle, when we construct an ablative absolute that needs a form of “to be”, we leave the verb out and construct the ablative absolute with only the noun/pronoun/substantive adjective and its subject complement:
Identify the ablative absolute and any words (objects, prepositional phrases, etc.) that belong to it; then translate the sentence. The given translation for each question is just one example of a correct answer.
pater epistulīs scriptīs frātrēs mīsit.
epistulīs scriptīs; “The father sent the brothers after the letters had been written.”
duce mīlitēs eius hortante hostēs veniunt.
duce mīlitēs eius hortante; “While the leader is exhorting his soldiers, the enemies are coming.”
ad nāvem sapientī sociō nostrō ductī sumus.
sapientī sociō nostrō; “We were led to the ship because our ally was wise.”