Re: Deponent Verbs

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Nov 01 1999 - 08:49:40 EST

<x-rich>At 10:16 AM +0200 11/1/99, Kevin Smith wrote:

<excerpt>Dear friends


Where or how did deponent verbs originate? Were they always deponent,
or did they originally have active forms that disappeared from use?


I like to think that the term was ripped untimely from the head of
Epimetheus by some numb-skulled grammarian who imagined that any
self-respecting verb OUGHT to have an active form, and, if transitive,
ought to have a passive form, but was dismayed to find that many a verb
in Greek and/or Latin has no "active" form but that its middle-passive
form may very well take an object; further dismayed by the number of
these forms in Greek and/or Latin, he gave them the name "deponent,"
using a present participle of the Latin verb DEPONERE evidently in the
sense "dropping" or "omitting" the expected 'active' form, evidently
assuming that such verbs were deviant from the standard pattern of
meanings assigned to distinct morphology. In my judgment, whatever
that's worth, this terminology was based at the outset upon the skewed
assumption that Greek and/or Latin verbs really OUGHT to behave
according to the patterns of some target language.

I have ranted on this subject from time to time on B-Greek, ever since
I sent to the list a rather lengthy discussion entitled "Observations
on Ancient Greek Voice" on May 27, 1997. It's in the older list
archives along with a considerable thread of discussion that ensued at
that time. The subject has come up again and I've been wanting to
revise that lengthy discussion in terms of some further thinking, but
it's never come to fruition. But some day ...


Carl W. Conrad

Department of Classics/Washington University

One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018

Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649


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