'UT' in Latin: A Grammatical Primer

The Latin particle 'ut', although meaningless by itself, constructs the backbone of many Latin subordinate clauses. Partially replaced by other, simpler constructs in late, medieval, and ecclesiastical Latin, 'ut' and its sister compound words comprise an indispensible component of the language's grammar.

ut in 'simple' Subordinate Clauses

Most often 'ut' functions as a signpost indicating that the sentence will soon switch to a subjunctive subordinate clause. As will almost all Latin clausal constructions, signpost particles may be and are dropped for metrical or stylistic reasons, more so in the Classical dialect than in later and modern versions of the language. Consider the following sentence as an illustration of 'ut' within a subjunctive construction ('ut' construction in bold):

Graecus dicit Latinam ut ancilla comprehendat.

The Greek speaks Latin so that the slave woman might understand.

As shown above, 'so that' or 'that' is often a suitable 'ut' translation in this clausal construction. Non-literal translations (not on school exams!) often embellish the subjunctive to exclude overt reference to the 'ut'.

The Sequence of Tenses

Here's the rub -- Latin (and Greek, sadly) have specific rules relating indicative and subjunctive verbs within a sentence. These patterns denote the time aspect within a sentence. Huh? The above example shows the simplest time relationship. The indicative verb dicit (dico, dicere), is in the present tense, indicative mood. Comprehendat (comprehendo, comprehendere) is also in the present tense, but subjunctive. In its simplest form, the sequence of tenses are as follows. I've followed a format designed to walk you through getting to the right verb combos. Dieter Goebel of Abilene Christian University has written a marvellous tense sequence refresher -- please check the link at the end of this page.

I've transported the above sentence paradigms to illustrate tense sequence. For sake of brevity, only the perfect indicative paradigms will be shown. Directly substitute the other indicative verbs of the primary sequence for the present.

Present, Future, and Future Perfect Tense Sequences

  • Present Indicative --> Present Subjunctive (Simultaneous Action)
  • Graecus dicit Latinam ut ancilla comprehendat.

    The Greek speaks Latin so that the slave woman might understand.

  • Present Indicative --> Perfect Subjunctive (Prior Action)
  • Graecus dicit Latinam ut ancilla comprehenderit.

    The Greek speaks Latin so that the slave woman might have understood.

  • Future Indicative --> Future Active Periphrastic (Pending Action)
  • Graecus dicit Latinam ut ancilla comprehenda sit.

    The Greek speaks Latin so that the slave woman will understand.

As an aside, the kooky peraphrastic verbs are formed by combining the 4th principal part (or supine) of a verb with a form of "esse" in either indicative or subjunctive as per use.

Past tense verb sequences follow a similar pattern. Again, I will include only one indicative verb tense -- the imperfect -- for our paradigms. The perfect and future perfect indicative may also be substituted in the primary sequence.

Imperfect, Perfect, and Future Tense Sequences

  • Imperfect Indicative --> Imperfect Subjunctive (Simultaneous Action)
  • Graecus dicebat Latinam ut ancilla comprehenderet..

    The Greek spoke Latin so that the slave woman might understand.

  • Imperfect Indicative --> Pluperfect (Past Perfect) Subjunctive (Prior Action)
  • Graecus dicebat Latinam ut ancilla comprehenderisset.

    The Greek spoke Latin so that the slave woman might have understood.

  • Imperfect Indicative --> Future Active Periphrastic (Pending Action)
  • Graecus dicebat Latinam ut ancilla comprehenda esset.

    The Greek spoke Latin so that the slave woman will have understood.

Even though I have still not hammered down the sequence of tenses, I have found creating a chart or flashcards aids in memorizing the tangled mass of verb combinations.

The Optative in Latin: utinam as an example of ut compounds

Having mastered verb tense sequence, we can apply compound members of the 'ut' family to other subordinate clauses. The compound particle 'utinam' (according to Glidersleeve's, rarely 'ut' or even 'qui') forms the Latin optative. Although much more attenuated in form than the Greek optative mood, neverthless 'utinam' conveys the sense of longing or hoping. 'Utinam' always occurs with the subjunctive mood. Consider this sentence:

Utinam ancilla amet me!

Should the slave woman love me!

The Latin optative does not depend on sequence of tense like 'simple' ut-direct discourses.

Consultation with a good Latin grammar and romantic days filled with Lewis and Short reveal many more instances of 'ut'. Good luck and be sure to take a break from memorizing charts lest you end up on Zyprexa.

Dieter Goebel's Sequence of Tense Primer: http://faculty.acu.edu/~goebeld/latin/authors/grammar/syntax/consecutio.htm

Gildersleeve, B.L. and G. Lodge. Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar. 1st ed. 1889. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1997.

Ut (?), n. Min.

The first note in Guido's musical scale, now usually superseded by do. See Solmization.

 

© Webster 1913.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.