I was scanning wood s lot when I hit on a link headlined “Inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias…” It was the work of a moment to discover that this was from Livy’s preface to his history of Rome and that it meant (as translated in this essay on the value of Latin) “From it [i.e., history] you can find examples for yourself and your country to follow,” but the word imitere threw me. It looks like an infinitive of the second or third conjugation, but the verb is a first-conjugation deponent: imitor, imitārī. My days as a Latin student are far, far behind me, and I became increasingly confused and hopeless as I pored over tables of conjugations. Fortunately I found William L. Carey’s Livy site for his Latin students, where each assigned passage has a pdf file, with a separate one for grammatical commentary. And his commentary is aimed at my level of neediness, because the one for this passage (pdf) says:

imitere = imiteris, present subjunctive of imitor, -ari, -atus sum, to imitate, copy. All verbs in –ris (i.e., the 2nd person singular of the present, imperfect, and future tenses of deponents and the passive voice of other verbs) are often syncopated to –re.

So it’s not an infinitive ‘to imitate,’ it’s second person singular subjunctive ‘that you should imitate’ (actually imitēre/imitēris, with long e). Thank you, Mr. Carey, and thank you, O great internet!


  1. 3rd person, plural, active, indicative, perfect verbs are sometimes similarly syncopated — one of the many reasons I haven’t cracked my Latin textbook in months.

  2. And then there’s this:
    I wish there was a dictionary of such a quality for every other language I’m interested in. You just type in the word, it will list all the forms that fit it.

  3. Wow, that’s a great site! Here‘s a direct link.

  4. All dictionaries (including bilingual dictionaries) I’ve ever used skimp on the inflected forms. Many don’t even have the conjugations and declensions in the back of the book, and few crossreference irregular inflected forms with the main verb. They basically assume a pretty good knowledge of the language,

  5. All dictionaries (including bilingual dictionaries) I’ve ever used skimp on the inflected forms.
    Yeah, same here. A dictionary with a list of conjugations and declensions in the back? Now there’s a reason for celebration.
    Which is why I love those Russian dictionaries from the 1960s – 600 pages of real honest-to-Shiva detailed and thorough dictionary plus 100 pages of so of grammar and conjugation/declensions tables.

  6. Whitaker’s Words can also be downloaded as a DOS program. It’s pretty much permanently open on my desktop.

  7. My purposes are not typical, of course. My use of foreign languages consists almost entirely of reading literature and scholarship in languages I don’t speak well if at all. I don’t have a thorough, systematic knowledge of any of them, while at the same time having a lot of strength in such specialized areas such as Old and Middle French, Spanish, and Portuguese, the vocabulary of symbolist poetry, etc.

  8. A.J. P. Cow says

    … not to mention Icelandic sagas — sorry whodunnits, Icelandic whodunnits.

  9. I have read Mickey Spillane in Norwegian just to test my Rosetta Stone abilities. First without the English, and then with. But no dictionatu.

  10. If you don’t know what a word means, look it up in your dictionatu.
    We have here an extremely useful word lacking only a meaning.

  11. A.J. P. Cart says

    Who shall look up dictionary in the dictionary? Quis… no, forget it.

  12. Artifex Amando says

    Thank you for that link, Dmitry!
    I’ve used for quite some time, but it is often very slow, while the site you link to is really fast!
    The “Miserere” in “Miserere Mei” puzzled me for a long time. I didn’t know deponents had imperative forms differing from other verbs. We didn’t even get as far as “Imitere” and the like in the two years of Latin I got in school.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Ha! I guessed it! I guessed it! I’m good!!!1! =8-)

  14. Bill Walderman says

    The second person singular passive ending in -re is actually not “syncopated”–it’s the original form, derived from an Indo-European medio-passive second person singular ending in -se/-so, which is of course the Greek 2d sing medio-passive ending, with normal Latin rhotacism (s>r between vowels). The form in -ris was formed by adding the second person singular active ending to the -re form. See Sihler, New Comparative Greek and Latin Grammar sec. 436.2; Ernout, Morphologie historique du latin, sec. 182. Acccording to Sihler, -re is exclusive in Terence, more common in Plautus and usual in Cicero except in the present indicative, but -ris becomes more usual in the Augustan period.

  15. I’ve had the 1.97 version for ages. It’s great to have a Windows GUI for it now, since working in a DOS box is such a pain.

  16. Likewise, the -ēre of the 3rd pl. perfect is probably not syncopated either, but reflects an archaism. cf. Hittite preterite 3rd pl. -er.

  17. jamessal says

    Thanks, Bill and Matt! And Dmitri too — Whitaker’s Words looks fantastic!

  18. When I started doing Greek in college in 1961, the instructor insisted that all students buy a handy little Italian tome called “Tutti i verbi greci”.
    It saved a lot of us from an awful amount of puzzlement. In classical Greek, it’s not just the endings that change in odd ways—the verb stem itself can change radically in the different tenses.

  19. Bill Walderman says

    “Likewise, the -ere of the 3rd pl. perfect is probably not syncopated either, but reflects an archaism. cf. Hittite preterite 3rd pl. -er.”
    That’s right. Actually there were three forms of the 3d pl. perf. ind. ending: (1) in -ere with long -e-; (2) in -erunt with short(!) -e- (metrically guaranteed in Plautus); and (3) the form that is generally taught as the standard form, in -erunt with long -e-. According to Sihler (sec. 529.6), (1) the ending in -ere may be related to the Hittite ending and Ernout finds parallels in Indo-Iranian and Tokharian; (2) the ending in -erunt long -e- was formed by adding the primary tense ending in -nt to the -ere ending; and (3) the origin of the ending in -erunt short -e- is disputed but may have been formed from the element in *-is- (with rhotacism of the -s-) that appears in the perfect endings -si, -sisti and -sistis, and may have been older than the ending in -ere (and the model for forming -erunt long -e- from -ere). Sihler suggests that the short e -erunt ending was the conversational form in Cicero’s day and may have been the basis for Romance forms such as It. dissero. The -ere form is the most common form in hexameter, where it was more readily adaptable to metric constraints.

  20. Bill Walderman says

    I should have confessed that my comments on this thread are entirely the product of my curiosity, which prompted me to look these issues up in the relevant treatises, and not something I knew offhand. But I thought I’d share what I found with those who are interested in Latin verbal morphology, and who isn’t?

  21. marie-lucie says

    AA: We didn’t even get as far as “Imitere” and the like in the two years of Latin I got in school.
    It is not surprising: I had nine years of Latin, and I don’t remember learning anything about those subjunctive forms. I didn’t even learn the reason for the -ere in “miserere nobis”.
    Bill Walderman: thank you for all the precisions. It is good when someone takes the time to check the facts. Even if you already have the facts in your head, memory can be fallible.

  22. When I started doing Greek in college in 1961, the instructor insisted that all students buy a handy little Italian tome called “Tutti i verbi greci”.
    An excellent little book; my ex-wife used it at college in the mid-1980s, and I’ve still got her copy (since she lost interest in Greek).
    Bill Walderman: I add my thanks!

  23. Bill Walderman says

    “she lost interest in Greek”

  24. Bill Walderman says

    “In classical Greek, it’s not just the endings that change in odd ways—the verb stem itself can change radically in the different tenses.”
    I once read somewhere that in their spare moments, Marx and Engels used to amuse themselves by challenging one another to identify obscure Greek verb forms.

  25. Greek has nothing on Old Irish, where the extreme syllabic compacting that took place just before it started getting written down rendered many related forms unrecognizable.

  26. scarabaeus says

    thank yee all, for the wakening of grey cells, as all available must be filled.

  27. scarabaeus says

    space be the word or be it void

  28. ‘Way off topic, but the sale of the Donnell Branch Library has fallen through.

  29. A.J. P. Crown says

    Ha, ha. Greedy mid-block pigs. That’s a terrible site for an eleven-story building.

  30. Bill Walderman says

    ‘Way off topic, but the sale of the Donnell Branch Library has fallen through.
    Oh no! I spent many happy hours there as a teenager, especially when I had a summer job on 7th Ave. between 52d and 53d (I think). There used to be a record section, but I think it was eventually moved to Lincoln Center. And by the way, does anyone remember Moondog, the eccentric blind composer who used to stand on the corner of 7th Ave. and 53d dressed in a Viking outfit?

  31. Bill Walderman says

    Make that 6th Avenue.
    Moondog has a Wikipaedia article.

  32. Something like Whitaker’s words would be useful for Hungarian at the moment: I’m trying to find out which one of Shakespeare’s sonnets this translation is, so that I can add the proper inter-wiki links. Looking up random bits of hungarian words in an online dictionary proved extraordinarily unhelpful, even though the dictionary could search for partial matches. (I see the number “126” in the subtitle, but what little I could make of the poem didn’t seem to fit Sonnet 126 very well.) Does anyone here know enough Hungarian to help out?

  33. A.J. P. Crown says

    Bul-bul does, if you can get hold of him.

  34. marie-lucie says

    Look for bulbul at the “bulbulovo” blog.

  35. Yes, that’s got to be it, thanks Nijma. The giveaway, besides “krónikájában” in the first line, is line six, in English “Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,” in Hungarian “S a kéz, a láb. az ajkak és szemek”, since the dictionary lists “hand: kézjel”, “lip: ajak”, and “eye: szem”.

  36. the sale of the Donnell Branch Library has fallen through.
    This surprises me not one bit; in fact, I think I predicted it in one of my posts on the Donnell closing. Bastards. Why couldn’t they just let a good thing alone?

  37. Vasha,
    Hungarian>English doesn’t show up in the FoxLingo toolbar, but once you are in Google Translate, you can change the selected languages, and it will translate Hungarian for you.

  38. It took a while to track down and An Alice has been closed due to spammers. But here is the relevant portion of “Miss Marianne Moore, Bless Her!”

    There are few more pleasant ways of spending a wet afternoon than inventing categories by which to classify things or people. Some years ago, on a hint from Lewis Carrol [sic], I began dividing human beings into Alices and Mabels. The best way to explain the difference is to give a few examples.

    Alice            Mabel
    Montaigne    Pascal
    Marvell         Donne
    Lovelace       Rochester
    Jane Austen  Dickens
    Turgenev      Dostoievsky
    Colette         Gide
    E. M. Forster Joyce
    De la Mare    Yeats
    Webern        Berg
    G. E. Moore   Heidegger

    The difference, as these names show, is not in artistic merit, but in character. The Alices never make a fuss. Like all human beings they suffer, but they are stoics who do not weep or lose their temper or undress in public. Though they are generally people with strict moral standards, they are neither preachers nor reformers. They can be sharp, usually in an ironical manner, and tender, but the passionate outburst is not for them. As a general rule, also, while perfectly well aware of evil and ugliness in the world, they prefer to dwell on what is good and beautiful. Alices are always in danger of over-fastidiousness, as Mabels are of vulgarity.

    One has only to read a page or two of Miss Moore to recognize that she is a pure Alice.

              … A thing yet more rare,
          though, and different,
            would be this: Hans von Marées’
          St. Hubert, kneeling with head bent,
      form [sic] erect—in velvet and tense with restraint—
    hand hanging down: the horse, free.
    Not the original, of course. Give me
    a postcard of the scene. …

        … The musk ox
      has no much and it is not an ox—
    illiterate epithet.
    Bury your nose in one when wet.

    It smells of water, nothing else,
    and browses goatlike on
      hind legs. Its great distinction
    is not egocentric scent
    but that it is intelligent. …

  39. much -> musk, obviously.

  40. A.J. P. Cone says

    I’m definitely a Mabel, though it seems like she’s noticing their tone rather than their character. I don’t understand ‘form [sic]’.
    I hope she had nothing against goats.

  41. A.J. P. Crudp says

    Why couldn’t they just let a good thing alone?
    Leave it alone.
    It’s too bad that nobody mentioned to them the curse of the Donnell Library.

  42. I don’t understand ‘form [sic]’.
    That word does not appear in modern editions of “Saint Nicholas,” like her Complete Poems that most of us have. It was in the original O to be a Dragon, which Auden quoted. I don’t know any more, but noted it when transcribing.

  43. marie-lucie says

    I guess “form erect” is in parallel to “head bent” in describing the posture and bearing of the man. Omitting “form” gives the impression that “erect” refers to the head, but adding “sic” suggests that the word “form” is wrong.

  44. I think “wrong” is too strong: sic means (to me), transcribed as written, despite indications to the contrary. The few commentaries I could find on this poem also omit that word; there isn’t a variorum. Since it was also printed with it in in The New Yorker‘s Christmas ’58 issue, I assume that was how Ms. Moore liked it then and it was her own later revision. But I don’t know that for a fact.

  45. marie-lucie says

    MMcM, “sic” indeed means “as written” but in most cases that indicates that the spelling is not standard or there is something else unusual about the word, so it does suggest to the reader that “form” is either a wrong spelling or the wrong word altogether. A way around this would be to omit “sic” but to add a little note indicating that the word is not in all editions but was MM’s own preference, or something to that effect.
    Thank you for the link to the painting: “form erect” is not how I would characterize the attitude of St Hubert, he looks very stiff to me, but he is sitting and slightly bent.

  46. A.J. P. Crown says

    Well thank you for transcribing it.

  47. how I would characterize the attitude of St Hubert
    He’s kneeling, actually, on one knee and his head is bowed. That’s not exactly what I think of when I think of “erect”.

  48. marie-lucie says

    He’s kneeling, actually, on one knee
    Nijma, you are right. The colours of the painting are so murky that it is hard to see the details.

  49. A.J. P. Crown says

    The colours of the painting are so murky that it is hard to see the details.
    Not to be ungrateful to MMcM, but that was my feeling too. I couldn’t see it at all.

  50. marie-lucie says

    That is not MMcM’s fault.

  51. The kneeling description is in one of the links. I was trying to search for the image from the description, but it’s unbelievably hard to find.

  52. The image on the museum’s own site is only a little better (click for a big one). Honestly, it looks like there’s a fair bit of craquelure and grime.

  53. A.J. P. Crown says

    Thanks MMcM. Once again it’s not your fault, but you have got to agree that is a terrible painting. It’s like a really, really bad, post-Casper David Friedrich, cut and paste job; and the horse has the same size ears as the man and waaay too long, Bambi legs.

  54. Christophe Strobbe says

    So this imitere form is the same as the “abutere” in Cicero’s famous Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?. (Followed by O tempora o mores! at little bit later.)

  55. Well, that’s a future, not a subjunctive, but yes, it’s the same phenomenon (-ēre = -ēris).

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