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12.1: §80. How to Recognize a Present Participle (Latin -NT-)

  • Page ID
    8397
  • When you first met the Latin PERFECT PARTICIPLE (portatus, visus, auditus), it was identified as a verbal adjective, very much like the English past participle (carried, seen, heard) in that it describes a completed action. It is obviously a verb form; indeed, it is one of the key principal parts of the verb. However, it has an adjectival ending and performs the grammatical function of an adjective. (This adjectival function is not so obvious with the English past participle, though Keats’s “heard melodies” are parallel grammatically to loud or sweet melodies.)

    The Latin form that we are now about to examine is called the PRESENT PARTICIPLE. Like the perfect participle, it too is a verbal adjective, but it describes an action that is still going on in present time. The similarities between Latin and English are here unusually close, and you will not go astray if you think of the Latin present participle as matching almost exactly our adjectival forms in -ing: “a working woman,” “a leading man,” “a sleeping child,” “a burning desire.” Those italicized words are English present participles, a form that always ends in -ing. The Latin present participle will have a similarly dependable form, and its etymological meaning can be best expressed by an English -ing word. You will always be able to recognize this Latin PRESENT PARTICIPLE by the letters -NT-, letters that come at the end of its base and appear at the end of its English derivatives. In fact, the English word present is derived from a Latin present participle, and it is a useful reminder of the -nt that characterizes this verbal form.

    The Latin present participle was a 3rd declension adjective of the form currens (nominative), currentis (genitive): > English current (“running”). As current illustrates, the English derivative will regularly be the Latin participle base, which is the genitive form minus its final -is ending. That base in -nt is the only form of the Latin present participle that there is any useful reason for you to know.

    The Latin base ends in -ent in all verb conjugations except the first, which always shows -ant. In the two i-verb classes (the 4th conjugation and the 3rd conjugation facere type), the present participle base ends in the letters -ient.

    That situation can be best summarized by an illustrative table:

    Verb conjugation Lat. present participle Lat. base Eng. deriv Etym. meaning
    1st: -ANT mutans, mutantis mutant mutant changing
    2nd: -ENT ardens, ardentis ardent ardent burning
    3rd: -ENT currens, currentis current current running
    3rd (i): -IENT patiens, patientis patient patient suffering
    4th: -IENT sentiens, sentientis sentient sentient feeling
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