Do Latin deponent verbs confuse you? Read this post to find out what they are, how to identify them, how to translate them, and more.
Deponent verbs are an important topic in Latin, since many common verbs are deponent. The terminology may sound scary, but don’t worry.
In this post, I offer beginner-friendly explanations of everything you need to know about Latin deponents and semi-deponents. Example sentences are included!
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What are deponent verbs in Latin?
Let’s start with the textbook definition of a Latin deponent verb. If this doesn’t clear anything up, that’s okay. We will go over everything in more detail below.
A deponent verb is a verb that has a passive ending, but an active meaning.
The word “deponent” comes from the Latin verb dēpōnō, which means “lay down” or “put aside.” The idea is that a deponent verb puts aside its expected passive meaning in favor of an active one.
If you aren’t sure about the difference between active and passive voice, then start by reading about how verb conjugation works. That post includes a detailed discussion of grammatical voice.
Here I will just remind you that a verb is active if the subject performs the action. A verb is passive, on the other hand, if the subject receives the action.
In Latin, verbs have special active and passive personal endings. In the present tense, for instance, the first person singular active personal ending is -ō. The first person singular passive personal ending is -or.
Let’s look at an example. We will use the first conjugation verb amō “love”.
amō = I love (ACTIVE ending and meaning)
amor = I am loved (PASSIVE ending and meaning)
Most verbs can be active or passive, depending on the context. Active endings lead to active meanings, and passive endings lead to passive meanings. Logical, right?
Deponent verbs complicate this tidy picture. Deponents express active meanings: the subject is always performing the action. But, strangely enough, deponents have passive endings.
Take, for example, the verb proficīscor “set out, depart”. The first person singular present indicative form is proficīscor, and it means “I set out, I depart”. This is an active meaning – I am performing the action of departing.
But proficīscor ends in -or, which is the first person singular passive ending. In the case of deponents, passive endings lead to active meanings.
proficīscor = I set out, I depart (ACTIVE meaning, PASSIVE ending)
This seems super weird at first, but you will get used to it with time.
Here is another example. The third person singular active personal ending is -t, while the third person singular passive personal ending is -tur.
amat = s/he loves (ACTIVE ending and meaning)
amātur = s/he is loved (PASSIVE ending and meaning)
proficīscitur = s/he sets out, departs (Deponent: PASSIVE ending but ACTIVE meaning)
How To Identify Deponent Verbs
Now that you know what deponent verbs are, let’s move on to the next step. How do you tell if a Latin verb is deponent?
Fortunately this is very easy. Simply look it up in a dictionary or in your textbook and see if the first principal part ends in –ō or -or.
Regular, non-deponent verbs have active principal parts by default. So their first principal part ends in -ō.
Example: amō, amāre, amāvī, amātus “love”
Deponent verbs only have passive endings, so their first principal part ends in -or.
Example: proficīscor, proficīscī, profectus sum “set out, depart”
Notice as well that deponent verbs only have three principal parts, instead of the standard four. A verb with three principal parts is often a deponent – but it can also be a semi-deponent, or simply an irregular verb.
So the most reliable way to decide if a verb is deponent is to look at the ending on its first principal part. If it’s -or, you have a deponent.
Time to practice! I have given the principal parts of 8 verbs below. Determine whether each verb is deponent or not.
- audiō, audīre, audīvī, audītus ‘hear’
- loquor, loquī, locūtus sum ‘speak’
- sequor, sequī, secūtus sum ‘follow’
- audeō, audēre, ausus sum ‘dare’
- ingredior, ingredī, ingressus sum ‘enter’
- sum, esse, fuī, futūrus ‘be’
- mittō, mittere, mīsī, missus ‘send’
- reor, rērī, ratus sum ‘reason, think’
- no (regular verb)
- no (semi-deponent)
- no (irregular verb)
- no (regular verb)
Now you know how to identify deponent verbs in Latin, so it’s time to move on to some examples of deponents in action.
How To Translate Deponent Verbs (with examples!)
Translating deponent verbs is simple, as long as you remember that they can never be passive in meaning. (Except for future passive participles/gerundives – but you don’t need to worry about those until you are very advanced.)
So when you look up a verb and see that it is deponent, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, look at the tense, and then translate it in the active voice.
Here are some example sentences with deponent verbs.
Canis puellam sequitur. = The dog follows the girl.
Amīcī Latīnē loquuntur. = The friends speak in Latin.
Vēritātem dīcere cōnāta sum. = I tried to speak the truth.
Cūr stilō nōn ūteris? = Why aren’t you using a pen?
Arbitrāmur tē esse cōnsulem. = We think that you are the consul.
Īrāscēminī. = You (plural) will get angry.
Notice that all of these verbs are translated in the active voice. In the first sentence, for example, sequitur means “follows”, not “is followed.”
Pro tip: one of my favorite Latin phrases commonly used in English comes from the deponent verb sequor. A “non sequitur” is something that does not follow from the previous conversation. So if you have trouble remembering that deponents are active in meaning, remember the phrase non sequitur!
If you are a relatively new Latin student, then feel free to skip this rather technical section. It’s super confusing and not necessary to know right away. (Seriously, skip it! Jump down to the section on semi-deponent verbs.)
But if you’re more advanced, keep reading. It’s time to discuss how the participles of Latin deponent verbs work.
There are three exceptions to the “no active endings on deponents” rule. All of these exceptions relate to participles.
- In Latin, there is a present active participle, but NOT a present passive participle. So deponents use the present active participle ending to express an active meaning.
- Deponents also have a future active participle. This participle is formed off the perfect passive participle stem (just like in regular non-deponent verbs) and it has an active meaning.
- Lastly, deponents have a future active infinitive with an active meaning. This is not surprising, since future active infinitives are built off future active participles.
There is also one case in which deponents have a passive meaning. Deponents have future passive participles (aka gerundives) that express a passive sense. But you won’t see these too often, so most of the time you can be sure that you should translate any given deponent in the active voice.
Okay, that was confusing, right? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. To summarize, here is a chart that lists Latin deponent participles and how to translate them. I have used the verb sequor “follow” as an example.
|Present active||Active||Active||sequēns (following)|
|Future active||Active||Active||secūtūrus (about to follow)|
|Future passive||Passive||Passive||sequendus (about to be followed)|
|Perfect passive||Passive||Active||secūtus (having followed)|
What are semi-deponent verbs in Latin?
Definition: Semi-deponent verbs are verbs that are regular in the present system and deponent in the perfect system. They are called semi-deponents because semi means “half” in Latin.
Half of the time they behave regularly. Active endings have active meanings and passive endings have passive meanings. But half of the time they act like deponents: passive endings lead to active meanings.
I said up above that semi-deponent verbs are regular in the present system. This refers to the tenses built off the present stem – the present, imperfect, and future tenses.
But semi-deponent verbs are deponent in the perfect system. This includes the tenses built off the perfect stem – the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect.
How do you tell if a verb is semi-deponent? Look at the principal parts. The first two principal parts will be normal, active forms, but the third principal part will consist of two words: a perfect passive participle and the irregular verb sum.
Example: audeō, audēre, ausus sum
The first principal part ends in -ō, just like in regular verbs. But the third principal part signals that this is a semi-deponent.
To reiterate: just like deponents, semi-deponents only have three principal parts. But unlike deponents, you will see that the first principal part ends in -ō.
List of Common Deponent & Semi-Deponent Verbs
Common Latin Deponent Verbs
Latin has a lot of deponent verbs, so I can’t possibly list all of them here. I have settled for around 20 of the most common!
These verbs are the ones often included in introductory Latin textbooks, and almost all of them are also on the DCC Latin Core Vocabulary List. This means they are among the 1000 most frequently used Latin words.
More than half of extant deponent verbs belong to the first conjugation (although many of the most common deponents are not first conjugation). Most deponent verbs tend to be intransitive or reflexive.
|arbitror, arbitrārī, arbitrātus sum||judge, think|
|cōnor, cōnārī, cōnātus sum||try, attempt|
|ēgredior, ēgredī, ēgressus sum||go out, leave|
|experior, experīrī, expertus sum||test, experience|
|fateor, fatērī, fassus sum||confess|
|for, fārī, fātus sum||say, speak|
|fruor, fruī, frūctus sum||enjoy (+ ablative)|
|fungor, fungī, fūnctus sum||perform, do (+ ablative)|
|hortor, hortārī, hortātus sum||encourage, urge|
|ingredior, ingredī, ingressus sum||enter, go in|
|īrāscor, īrāscī, īrātus sum||grow angry, get angry|
|loquor, loquī, locūtus sum||speak|
|mīror, mīrārī, mīrātus sum||marvel at, admire|
|morior, morī, mortuus sum||die|
|moror, morārī, morātus sum||delay|
|nāscor, nāscī, nātus sum||be born|
|orior, orīrī, ortus sum||rise, arise|
|patior, patī, passus sum||suffer, allow|
|potior, potīrī, potītus sum||obtain, acquire (+ ablative)|
|precor, precārī, precātus sum||beg, entreat|
|proficīscor, proficīscī, profectus sum||set out, depart|
|queror, querī, questus sum||complain|
|reor, rērī, ratus sum||reckon, think|
|sequor, sequī, secūtus sum||follow|
|ūtor, ūtī, ūsus sum||use (+ ablative)|
|vereor, verērī, veritus sum||fear, respect|
Common Semi-Deponent Verbs
There are few semi-deponent verbs in Latin. In fact, my favorite Latin grammar highlights just four. Since these are the only semi-deponent verbs you will encounter on a regular basis, these are the ones that I will list here in this post.
Notice that three of these four verbs belong to the second conjugation.
|audeō, audēre, ausus sum||dare|
|fīdō, fīdere, fīsus sum||trust|
|gaudeō, gaudēre, gāvīsus sum||rejoice|
|soleō, solēre, solitus sum||be accustomed to|
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are some verbs deponent?
If you think about the meaning of a deponent verb, you can often see how it might originally have had a passive or middle sense. Middle voice refers to when a subject performs an action that somehow affects itself.
Think about īrāscor, which means “get angry.” Being in an emotional state definitely affects the subject. Similarly, verbs like ingredior “enter” and proficīscor “set out” involve the subject moving itself in a new direction.
Potior “acquire” and ūtor “use” seem very active at first glance, but they can include an element of personal benefit. If I acquire money, I am acquiring it for myself, and so there is a possible middle sense of the verb.
Nāscor “be born” and morior “die” are also good examples of a passive or middle sense. Does someone perform the action of being born or of dying? Not really – the event happens to them.
Are deponent verbs active or passive?
Deponent verbs are active in meaning, but passive in form. If I am parsing verbs, I will list a deponent verb’s voice as “deponent” to avoid confusion.
What endings do deponent verbs have?
Deponent verbs almost always have passive endings. I say almost always, because there are three exceptions:
1. The present active participle has an active ending.
2. The future active participle has an active ending.
3. The future active infinitive has an active ending.
How do you form deponent verbs in Latin?
Deponent verbs are conjugated in the same way as regular verbs, except that they only have passive forms. So you do not actually need to learn any new forms in order to use and understand deponent verbs.
How are deponent verbs translated?
You should almost always translate deponent verbs in the active voice. There is one main exception to this rule: the future passive participle (or gerundive) has a passive meaning.
So you should translate the participle sequendus, a, um as “about to be followed,” not “about to follow.”
How do you tell what conjugation a deponent verb belongs to?
Just like with any verb, you look at the second principal part. For more details, check out my post on finding a Latin verb’s conjugation.
What deponent verbs take the ablative?
Several common deponent verbs take an object in the ablative case. These verbs are fruor (enjoy), fungor (perform, do), potior (obtain, acquire), and ūtor (use).
How do you feel about Latin deponent and semi-deponent verbs? A bit better? The number 1 thing to remember is that when in doubt, assume the verb is being used actively.
It is also crucial to know if the verb is deponent or not. So make sure you look it up in a good dictionary or in your textbook first, before you try to figure out what it means.
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