Passive Voice in the Perfect System

Passive voice in the perfect system is unlike anything you have seen Latin verbs do so far. In fact, Latin's approach to putting the perfect system tenses in passive voice is remarkably similar to English. Rather than relying on a special set of personal endings, Latin uses forms of the verb sum, not as endings, but in conjunction with a participle. Before examining the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses in passive voice, you need to know a little about participles. (Participles will be dealt with in Chapter 15 extensively.)

First and foremost, participles are verbal adjectives. They are verbal in that they are made from verbs and have tense and voice. They are adjectives in that they modify nouns. Take a look at these examples.

“The boy broke the window.” “Broke” is the past tense, active voice of the verb “to break.”

“The window was broken.” “Was broken” is the past tense, passive voice of the verb “to break.”

“A bird flew in the broken window.” “Broken” is an adjective simply describing the window.

The participle “broken” in the last example (Latin fractus, –a, –um from the fourth principal part of the verb frangī , frangere, frē , fractum) is perfect and passive. As a perfect participle, it shows something that happened before the main verb. (The bird couldn't have flown “in the broken window” unless the breaking had happened first!) As a passive participle, whatever word it modifies passively received the action; it didn't actively do anything.

In the second example sentence above, the passive verb “was broken” illustrates how English uses its past participle with a form of the verb “to be” to form passive voice. Latin uses the same approach. A translation of that second example sentence into Latin would be: Fenestra fracta est. You know that in Latin adjectives agree with their nouns in gender, case, and number. You shouldn't be surprised, then, to see that the perfect passive participle fractus, –a, –um is feminine nominative singular, since the word it modifies (fenestra) is feminine nominative singular.

As you may recall, all perfect system tenses are conjugated the same way regardless of their conjugation. This rule is also true in passive voice. That being the case, one passive voice example for each perfect system tense will suffice.

Table 14-5 Perfect Tense, Indicative Mood, Passive Voice of agō , agere, ē , actum

Latin English
actus (–a, –um) sum I was driven
actus (–a, –um) es you were driven
actus (–a, –um) est he (she, it) was driven
actī (–ae, –a) sumus we were driven
actī (–ae, –a) estis you were driven
actī (–ae, –a) sunt they were driven

The perfect passive is formed with the perfect passive participle and the present tense of the verb sum. Don't forget that participles are adjectives, and true to their adjectival nature agree with the subject in gender, case, and number. With mulier as the subject, you would see acta est for a verb because mulier is feminine singular. If it were more than one woman (mulierē s), the verb would be actae sunt (i.e., feminine plural).

Because the perfect passive uses the present tense of sum with a participle, you may be tempted to translate it as present tense. Remember, the perfect tense shows a single completed action in past time, so when you find est, for example, you should say “was.”

Table 14-6 Pluperfect Tense, Indicative Mood, Passive Voice of agō , agere, ē gi, actum

Latin English
actus (–a, –um) eram I had been driven
actus (–a, –um) erā s you had been driven
actus (–a, –um) erat he (she, it) had been driven
actī (–ae, –a) erā mus we had been driven
actī (–ae, –a) erā tis you had been driven
actī (–ae, –a) erant they had been driven

The pluperfect passive is formed with the perfect passive participle of a verb plus the imperfect of sum. Just as all pluperfect active forms are always translated “had ____,” so are pluperfect passive forms. If you had learned the tense indicator –era– to recognize the pluperfect active, you're in luck — here it is again!

The pluperfect subjunctive passive is made following the same rules. The only difference — and what makes it subjunctive — is that the imperfect subjunctive of sum (essem, essē s, esset, etc.) is used with the participle instead of the imperfect indicative.

Table 14-7 Future Perfect Tense, Indicative Mood, Passive Voice of agō , agere, ē gi, actum

Latin English
actus (–a, –um) erō I will have been driven
actus (–a, –um) eris you will have been driven
actus (–a, –um) erit he (she, it) will have been driven
actī (–ae, –a) erimus we will have been driven
actī (–ae, –a) eritis you will have been driven
actī (–-ae, –a) erunt they will have been driven

The future perfect passive quite predictably uses the future tense of sum with the perfect passive participle.

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