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Gerunds & Gerundives

with thanks to David Cramer

I.  The gerund is a verbal noun, just as the participle is a verbal adjective. That is, just as the participle is a verbal form that functions as an adjective, the gerund is a verbal form that functions as a noun. You must be careful, however, because in English both the gerund and the present participle end in -ing. You will have no problem, however, if you ask yourself whether the verbal form is adjectival or substantival. Noun or Adjective?

Leaving the theater, we ran into our friends. ("Leaving" = adj. modifying "we")

I like running. ("running" = a noun, the direct object of "like")

We saw a man running across the field. ("running" = an adj. modifying "man")

Swimming is fun. ("Swimming" = a noun, modified by the adj. "fun")

II.  Forms:

Gen. Amand-i of loving

Dat. Amand-o to, for loving

Acc. Amand-um loving

Abl. Amand-o by, with loving


Gen. Labor amandi est facilis.

Dat. Ille dat operam (he gives attention to) legendo.

Acc. Ille amat legendum (or legere).

Abl. Ille discit legendo.

As a noun, the gerund, like all nouns, is governed by other words in the sentence. It may be the indirect object, an ablative of means, etc. As a verb, it may, in theory, take an object of its own in the proper case. E.g.:

Discimus legendo libros.

Ille dat operam amando puellas.

N.B. We expect this construction by analogy with other constructions in Latin, but Latin authors, especially prose authors, tend to avoid it.

III.  The Romans felt hesitant about using a gerund with a direct object, since they did not feel that it had a strong enough verbal connotation to govern a direct object. Therefore, when the gerund would have an object in the accusative case, Latin prefers to put this noun (the one which would be the direct object) in the case in which the gerund would appear, and to use the gerundive, in agreement with that noun:

Discimus legendo libros. ("We learn by reading books")

But Latin prefers the Gerundive: Discimus libris legendis.

("We learn by reading books.")

Ille dat operam amando puellas. ("He gives his attention to loving girls")

But Latin prefers the Gerundive: Ille dat operam puellis amandis.

("He gives his attention to loving girls")

The gerundive is a passive participle agreeing (like all adjectives) with a noun; the gerund is an active verbal noun.

Gerundive: Passive verbal adjective

Gerund: Active verbal noun.


Genitive: Ars docendi est difficilis.(Gerund)

Ars docendi linguam Latinam est difficilis. (Gerund)

Ars linguae Latinae docendae est difficilis. (Gerundive)

Dative: Operam dat docendo. (Gerund)

...docendo linguam Latinam...(Gerund)

...linguae Latinae docendae. (Gerundive)

Ablative: Discimus legendo. .(Gerund)

Discimus legendo philosophiam. (Gerund)

Discimus philosophia legenda. (Gerundive)

IV.  Two expressions with the gerund or gerundive may be used to express purpose.

A.  ad and the accusative of the gerund or gerundive, if there is an object, may be used to express the goal striven for (very much like "ad" used to express place to which or goal of motion) or purpose:

Venerunt ad videndum. or Venerunt ad ludos videndos.

B.  causa or gratia (for the sake of) and the genitive of the gerund or the gerundive may also be used to express purpose.

Venerunt videndi causa. or Venerunt ludorum videndorum causa

V. Finally, the gerundive is used with the verb esse and a dative of agent to express obligation in the passive periphrastic.

With the passive periphrastic, the person who needs to do the action is expressed with a dative ("dative of agent")

Mihi hic liber legendus est.

"This book must be read by me," or "I must read this book"

N.B. The verb esse is often left out in the passive periphrastic, especially in the indirect statement.

Dixit mihi hunc librum legendum.

"He said that I should read this book".


Sample ExCET-type questions:

1. Fill in the blank in the sentence below.

Julia ___________ a patria expellenda erat.

a. Augustus

b. ab Augusto

c. Augustum

d. Augusto

Answer: d, because the passive periphrastic requires the dative of agent Augusto.

2. Amici mei Romam profecti sunt ut matres viderent.

Which of the following sentences has the same meaning as the sentence above?

a. Amici mei Romam profecti sunt matribus visis.

b. Amici mei Romam profecti sunt ad matres videndas.

c. Amici mei Romam profecti sunt matribus videntibus.

d. Amici mei Romam profecti sunt et matres viderunt.

Answer: b, because the gerundival phrase ad matres videndas expresses purpose, as does ut matres viderent.

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