Cum Clauses

The subjunctive usually appears in sentences where the speaker intends for the action to be understood as a wish or simply an idea. Sometimes, however, the nonfactual “feel” that the subjunctive mood provides is used for something else. The subjunctive mood can also push an action into the background so that the action illustrated by the main verb (i.e., the verb in the indicative mood) can be made more vivid. This is what cum clauses do.

Cum clauses are subordinate clauses. There are four different ways to read them. Three of those ways use a verb in the subjunctive mood; the other one is indicative.

  • cum temporal clause: Cum advē nit, laetī erā mus. (When he arrived, we were happy.)

  • cum circumstantial clause: Cum advenī ret, laetī erā mus. (When he arrived, we were happy.)

  • cum causal clause: Cum advenī ret, laetī erā mus. (Because/Since he arrived, we were happy.)

  • cum concessive clause: Cum advenī ret, laetī tamen erā mus. (Even though/although he arrived, we were happy [anyway].)

Cum temporal and cum circumstantial clauses translate the same way (“when …”), but they use different moods because they emphasize different things. Temporal clauses put their verbs in the indicative. They stress the time the main clause took place. (The word “temporal” comes from the Latin tempus, temporis, n. — time.) Circumstantial clauses have verbs in the subjunctive. They show the circumstances under which the main clause takes place. By using the subjunctive instead of the indicative, they downplay the importance of their clauses, which in turn emphasizes the main clause.

Cum causal clauses do exactly what their name suggests. They show the cause or reason for whatever the main clause says. The subjunctive stresses the possibility of cause rather than the fact of the matter.

Cum concessive clauses aren't very common, but they are easily recognized by the inclusion of the word tamen (“but, anyway, nevertheless”) in the main clause. Another way to translate the above example could be: “He arrived, but we were happy anyway.” The cum clause sets up the circumstances, but it's the tamen in the main clause that provides the gist of the entire sentence.

So, when you're reading, how do you know which kind of cum clause it is? If it's temporal, the verb will be in the indicative mood. If tamen appears in the main clause, it's concessive. That leaves circumstantial and causal. To tell them apart you need to rely on context.

The conjunction cum is not the same as the preposition cum meaning “with.” They are totally different words. The conjunction was quom in archaic Latin. That it evolved to look like the preposition is a coincidence. If you see the word cum followed by an ablative, you've got the preposition. If cum starts a clause that has a verb in the subjunctive (as they usually do), then it's the cum we just discussed.

Table 10-3 Vocabulary

absum, abesse,ā fuī, ā futū rus

to be away

adsum, adesse, adfuī, — — —

to be present

ā missus


caelum, -ī, n.

sky, heaven

canē, -ere, cecinī , cantum

to sing, play (a musical instrument), recite (poetry)

carmen, carminis, n.

poem, song

causa, -ae, f.

reason, cause (causā + gen. for the sake of)

clā rus, -a, -um

clear, bright, famous

dignus, -a, -um


rus, -a, -um

hard, harsh, rough

enim, conj.*

that is to say, for instance

ferus, -a, -um

wild, untamed

fleē, -ē re, flē , flē tum

to cry, weep

igitur, conj.


intrē, -ā re, ā , ā tum

to enter

itaque, conj.

and so

mereē, -ē re, -, itum

to deserve

mox, adv.


, minis, m.

no one

numquam, adv.


perī culum, -ī, n.


puella, -ae, f.


puer, puerī, m.


quā lis, -e

what kind (of)?

quantus, -a, -um

how big? how great?

quot, adv.

how many?

stella comā ta, -ae, f.

comet (literally “a star with long hair”!)

lis, -e

such, of such a kind

tam, adv.


tamen, conj.

but, however, nevertheless, anyway

tantus, -a, -um

so big, so great

timeē, -ē re, -uī, — — —

to fear, be afraid of

tot, adv.

so many

tunc, adv.

then, at that time

vel, conj.**


verbum, -ī, n.


s, vī s, f.

force, strength, power

* The conjunction enim is used to clarify or re-explain something that was just said. Here is an example in English to help you get a feeling for what enim means: “I was late to work this morning because of traffic; you see, there was an accident.”

** The conjunction vel means “or,” but not in the same way aut means “or.” Aut offers a choice between things where only one thing can be chosen (e.g., life or death). Vel offers a choice where choosing one does not exclude the other (e.g., chocolate or vanilla).

Latin-to-English Translations

Identify which subjunctive use is illustrated — if there is one — in each sentence; then translate into English. Use the vocabulary from TABLE 10-3 to help you.

  • Puella caelum omnī nocte spectā bat ut stellās comā tās invenī ret.

  • Cum corde tam gravī filium ā missum exspectā bat pater infelix ut mox exspī ret.

  • Cum rē x clā rus Romam advē nisset, senā torēs epulās maximās posuē runt.

  • Vergilius erat poeta tā lis ut nē carmina nōn caneret.

  • Graecī Troiam multīs navibus advē runt ut urbem caperent.

English-to-Latin Translations

Identify which subjunctive use is illustrated — if there is one — in each sentence; then translate into Latin.

  • Since the slave feared his master, he ran away.

  • The dogs were so fierce that no one would enter the house.

  • The Greeks came to Troy to conquer the Trojans.

  • The women of the town left their houses in the middle of the night.

  • They walked for many days so the evil men wouldn't capture them ( s).

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