Constructing an Indirect Statement

Indirect statement is the most common infinitive use in Latin. It is also the grammatical construction that is least like the construction English uses to express the same thing. In fact, if you try to translate the Latin literally, you get a hopeless garble of words. Let's take a look at how English reports things first.

Direct Statement: Caesar has a powerful army.

Indirect Statement: I hear that Caesar has a strong army.

English takes the original, direct subject-verb-object statement (“Caesar”– “has”–“a strong army”), and uses the conjunction “that” to link it to a main, subject-verb clause (“I”–“hear”). On the whole, the resulting sentence is actually just a normal subject-verb-object sentence. What differentiates a normal English sentence from one with an indirect statement is that English uses an entire clause as a direct object instead of a simple noun (or noun phrase).

It will come as no surprise that Latin is entirely logical about this construction. If the construction needs a direct object, Latin says that a direct object it shall have.

Direct Statement: Caesar exercitum potentem habet.

Indirect Statement: Ego Caesarem exercitum potentem habē re audiī.

All indirect statements are introduced by a verb of saying, thinking, knowing, or perceiving; for example, “I told you that …,” “I believe that …,” “I understand that …,” “I see that …,” and so on. The indirect statement itself consists of an accusative subject, a complement, and an infinitive. So here we have:

ego Caesarem exercitum potentem habē re audiī
subject object main verb (of saying, thinking, etc.)

If we take a closer look at the infinitive phrase that is serving as the object of audiī, a little “subclause” of predictable word order appears:

Caesarem exercitum potentem habē re
subject object main verb
  • Caesarem is accusative because it is the subject of the infinitive habē re, and subjects of infinitives are always in the accusative case.

  • Exercitum is accusative because it is the direct object of the infinitive habē re and direct objects of transitive verbs are always in the accusative case.

  • Potentem is accusative because it is an adjective modifying exercitum and adjectives agree with their nouns in gender, case, and number.

  • Habē re is an infinitive because infinitives are used as main verbs for indirect statement.

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