Deponent Verbs

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Mon Nov 1 08:49:40 EST 1999

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

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
cwconrad at 
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