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If It All Seems Greek...Remember It's Latin
A participle is a word that functions somewhat like a verb and somewhat like an adjective. It is also known as a verbal adjective for this reason. English and Latin both have the present and past participle. However, only Latin makes use of a future participle. This fact can lead many Latin students to frustration over a participial form they have never before encountered in their native language.
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The English Present Participle
English Present Participles are easy to spot because they are the –ing form of verbs. English Present Participles include:
The English Present Participle has three main functions:
(1) To be part of a verb phrase to form the progressive, such as:
John is walking down the street.
Mark was trying to climb the fence.
(2) To act as an adjective when describing a noun or pronoun, such as:
Mary is an amazing athlete.
She was amazing.
(3) To act as an adjective that introduces a participial phrase, such as:
Mary, running down the street, was a sight.
Mark looked at Mary running down the street.
In these cases, the participial phrases are modifying the subject (Mary) in the first example and the direct object (Mary) in the second example.
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The Latin Present Participle
The Latin Present Participle operates slightly differently than in English. In fact, it is called the Present Active Participle because it always has an active, rather than passive, voice. The inflections of a Present Active Participle include adding an –ns to the present stem of the verb. The genitive of this participle adds an –ntis ending and further declines as if it was a third declension adjective. As any adjective, it must agree with the noun or pronoun it modifies in case, number, and gender. The Latin Present Active Participle has two functions:
(1) To act as a descriptive adjective, such as:
Caesar est pater amans (Caesar is a loving father)
(2) To act as an adjective that introduces a participial phrase, such as:
Caesar, virum videns, non cucurrit (Caesar, seeing the man, did not run)
Notice that in both cases, the participle agrees with the noun it modifies (Caesar) in case, number, and gender.
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The Present Participle does not function similarly in English and Latin. Latin does not need a participle to help form the progressive because any present verb in Latin may be translated as a simple past, present progressive, or present emphatic verb. This can confuse students looking for auxiliary helping words to determine the best translation. Context, experience, and knowledge of both English and Latin grammar are the student’s tools to properly predict the author’s intended meaning. Often, trying all three translations of a present tense verb or verb phrase is necessary to determine the best translation. As always, inflections in Latin reduce the number of words needed in English to express the action of a sentence. Memorizing these inflections is the only way to learn the proper use of the language.
A Comparison of Latin and English Present Participles
Participles function as part verb and part adjective in both Latin and English. Whereas both languages have a present and past participle, only Latin has a future participle. This can cause confusion among Latin students encountering participles during translation exercises.