Passive Periphrastic

Saying Something Must Be Done, in Latin

The passive periphrastic construction in Latin expresses the idea of obligation -- of "must" or "ought." A very familiar passive periphrastic is a phrase attributed to Cato, who was bent on destroying the Phoenicians. Cato is said to have ended his speeches with the phrase "Carthago delenda est" or "Carthage must be destroyed."

There are two parts to this passive periphrastic, one adjectival and one a form of the verb to be.

The adjectival form is the gerundive - note the "nd" before the ending. The ending is, in this case, feminine, nominative singular, to agree with the noun Carthago, which, like many place names, is feminine.

The agent, or in Cato's case, the person who would be doing the destroying, is expressed by a dative of agent.

Carthago____________Romae__________________ delenda est
Carthage (nom. sg. fem.) [by] Rome (dative case) destroyed (gerundive nom. sg. fem.) 'to be' (3rd sg. present)

Eventually, Cato got his way.

Here's another example: Marc Antony probably thought:

Cicero____________Octaviano__________________ delendus est
Cicero (nom. sg. masc.) [by] Octavianus (dative case) destroyed (gerundive nom. sg. masc.) 'to be' (3rd sg. present)

See Why Cicero Had to Die.

Index of Quick Tips on Latin Verbs