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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: February 2017

6 - The Periphrastic Perfect in Latin


In Chapter 5, we traced the complex history of the periphrastic perfect and related structures in Ancient and Hellenistic Greek. After an overview of the synthetic and periphrastic perfect of Latin, we examine recent theories as to the origin and development of the periphrastic perfect. Among the key claims to be explored is whether the periphrastic perfect of Latin developed completely independently from that of Greek, as is usually claimed, or whether this structure owes at least some of its existence to contact with Greek. We then turn to the evidence for the later influence that Latin exerted on the Greek periphrastic perfects during the time of Roman dominance in Greece referred to in the last chapter (subsection 5.3.4). Finally, we explore in some detail the role that the “sacral stamp of Greek” played in influencing the language of Latin authors in the Christian tradition.

Overview of the History of the Latin Perfect

Latin Synthetic Perfects

As discussed briefly in Chapter 4, the western Indo-European language families of Celtic, Germanic, and Italic all merged the ancient perfect and aorist categories into a single preterital category. Remnants of the ancient reduplicated perfect persist in a few Old Irish, Gothic, and Latin forms, and Germanic strong preterites retain the o-grade of the ancient IE perfects. But in each of these families, the IE perfect no longer exists as a separate category. In Latin, the term perfectum refers to this amalgamated category of perfect and aorist, so that the semantic value of the Latin “perfect” is, above all, preterital, with possible reference to an anterior meaning in appropriate contexts.

Latin Participles

As discussed in Chapter 4, the Latin participial system is very limited compared to that of Greek. It only has a present active, a past passive, a future active, and a future passive participle:

Latin Periphrastic Perfects

Besides the archaic and innovative synthetic perfects, Latin also formed a periphrastic perfect for its passive and deponent verbs. Deponents, which originated as ancient middles (Ernout 1909: 4; Flobert 1975; Tuttle 1986: 247–48), are usually characterized as active verbs with passive morphology e.g., sequor ‘follow,’ cōnor ‘try,’ orior ‘rise,’ queror ‘complain.’

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Language Contact in Europe
  • Online ISBN: 9781139027694
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