Sunday, May 30, 2010

Strategy: The Power of Participles

Participles are quite amazing things, and along you to build very expressive sentences using a minimum of words. Have you ever thought about the ways in which participles are different from verbs? Here are two general ideas to ponder:

Participles are happily un-coordinated. In Latin, there can only be one main verb in a sentence. If you have other verbs, those verbs have to be coordinated with the main verb. You can use coordinating conjunctions or subordinating conjunctions but, generally speaking, you must do something to coordinate your verbs. That can get a bit complicated, and it also forces you to make explicit the relationship between the verbs - temporal, causal, etc. - that perhaps is not really important to the message you are communicating. If you use participles instead, you have the option to leaving things suggestively un-coordinated, as it were.

Participles have gender. One of the interesting and unusual things about Latin verbs, and about the verbs of Indo-European in general, is that they are not marked for gender. They have person, they have number... but they do not have gender. Given the obsession with gender in the world of nouns and adjectives, the fact that gender drops out of the equation in the world of verbs is a bit odd, don't you think? Well, when you use participles, you add gender back into the verbal equation! Admittedly, participles don't have number - but participles, by having gender, build a nice bridge between the world of nouns and the world of verbs. If you think of participles in English terms, you don't realize what great "glue" they are for knitting a sentence together, since gender is not important in English. In Latin, however, gender is enormously important, and participles help you knit your verbs firmly into the gendered world of nouns.

So, whenever you are pondering a verb in Latin, think about whether you want to use a participle instead. After you have a main verb for your sentence, for every other action, you really can choose between using a verb or using a participle instead. If you think of what you want to say in English first, you will rarely come up with a participle, because participles just do not play the same role in English. So, try to banish thoughts of English from your mind, and let Latin participles exert their allure. If you have more than one verb in your sentence, think about that just a minute or so, letting your mind explore the participle options, and see if you might want to try replacing one of your verbs with a participle, just to see how it sounds!

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Do you have some good strategies for doing the Vocabulary Challenge in Latin? Share your ideas here! Here are some strategies that I've used in writing my responses.

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