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Agreement of nouns and verbs

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Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby Carolus Raeticus » Fri Sep 24, 2010 1:40 pm

Salvete comites!

I have a small grammatical problem concerning the agreement of nouns and verbs with respect to number (singular or plural).
I'm just reading the "Narrationes Faciles de Historia Romanorum" compiled by John P. Piazza, and in one of the stories about Hannibal it says (Hannibal is just trying to cross the Alps):
"Neque frumentum neque cibus in his regionibus inveniri poterat."

I am aware that inveniri is passive, but still, why poterat and not poterant? Doesn't the verb refer to both cibus and frumentum at once? For some reason poterant feels more right to me. Are both possible or only the singular?
Thanks in advance for your help,
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby lauragibbs » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:02 pm

"Neque frumentum neque cibus in his regionibus inveniri poterat."

The grammars will often say that the verb agrees with the nearest subject, which is a fine rule to use - and if you want to understand the rule, you can think about the the way that Latin will often drop repeated phrases which are in parallel structures:

Neque frumentum in his regionibus inveniri poterat
neque cibus in his regionibus inveniri poterat.


You then drop the repeated words to get the collapsed parallel:
Neque frumentum ... ... ... ... ...
neque cibus in his regionibus inveniri poterat.


Which gives you your sentence:
Neque frumentum neque cibus in his regionibus inveniri poterat.

Latin is very fond of parallel structures, and when it uses parallel structures it often omits the words that would be repeated verbatim within that parallel structure.
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby adrianus » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:28 pm

Separatim id quod Laura dicit, nec pluralis numeri obiter hîc est verbum anglicé cum "neque" excludit, et eadem ratio attinet latiné.
In addition to what Laura says, nor incidentally is the verb in the singular here in English as it's an exclusive "or", and the same logic applies in Latin:

"Nor was grain or food able to [/could (sing.)] be found in these lands."
"Neither grain nor food was to be found in these lands."

You don't say this ('though you might like to, just to annoy the pedants)// Non dicendum est hoc (nisi grammatistas vexari placet):
"Neither grain nor food were to be found..."
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby Carolus Raeticus » Sat Sep 25, 2010 12:33 pm

Thank you, Laura and Adrianus!

A grammatical rule is one thing, but with your explanations things are a lot clearer. To make sure that I have really understood it, are the following sentences correct?

Neque carbo neque metalla in his regionibus inveniri poterant.
But:
Neque metalla neque carbo in his regionibus inveniri poterat.

And with the verb at the beginning when emphasizing the inability to find:

Inveniri poterat neque carbo neque metalla.
But:
Inveniri poterant neque metalla neque carbo.


Am I right?
Valete,

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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby lauragibbs » Sat Sep 25, 2010 4:13 pm

As Adrianus pointed out, the use of neque makes this something more of a special case, because you are not talking about a basic compound subject.

A basic compound subject (X et Y) has a stylistic choice, singular verb or plural.

PLURAL:
Puer et puella bibunt.

SINGULAR:
Puer bibit, et puella.
(which you can think of as an abbreviated form of "Puer bibit et puella (bibit)" with the parallel word omitted)

The problem with the example you cited is that you don't have a simple compound subject "X et Y" but instead a coordinated subject: "neque X neque Y" - the parallel structure there is what requires the singular verb: "neque X-verb, neque Y-verb" and then the repeated verb gets omitted: "neque-X-verb, neque-Y-(verb)".

Neque puer bibit, neque puella.

I find it very hard to imagine a Latin writer using a plural verb there with a nec...nec - it's not a choice I would ever prefer, that's for sure; "neque puer, neque puella" doesn't feel like a compound (plural) subject to me at all. I am curious what others will say about this.
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby Imber Ranae » Sun Sep 26, 2010 4:52 am

lauragibbs wrote:
The problem with the example you cited is that you don't have a simple compound subject "X et Y" but instead a coordinated subject: "neque X neque Y" - the parallel structure there is what requires the singular verb: "neque X-verb, neque Y-verb" and then the repeated verb gets omitted: "neque-X-verb, neque-Y-(verb)".

Neque puer bibit, neque puella.

I find it very hard to imagine a Latin writer using a plural verb there with a nec...nec - it's not a choice I would ever prefer, that's for sure; "neque puer, neque puella" doesn't feel like a compound (plural) subject to me at all. I am curious what others will say about this.


I think he understands that. His examples #1 and #4 have the verb agreeing with metalla as the nearest subject, which is neuter plural, not with both metalla and carbo.
Ex mala malo
bono malo uesci
quam ex bona malo
malo malo malo.
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby cb » Sun Sep 26, 2010 2:17 pm

hi, the agreement of multiple subjects with a verb in ciceronian latin is very thoroughly analysed in lebreton’s studies on the language and grammar of cicero (études sur la langue et la grammaire de cicéron, 1901), pgs 1-23. it's trickier than you might think.

the general patterns for how this agreement works in cicero are:
- pattern (1): if the multiple subjects each refer to persons, then the verb is most often put in the plural – e.g. A. ATILIVS ET L. ATILIVS DIXERVNT, Caec.10.27 (see lebreton p.14 and following), and
- pattern (2): in any other case (i.e. if one or more of the subjects doesn’t refer to a person), then the verb most often agrees with the subject closest to it – e.g. GRAVITAS ET VIRTVS IVDICIS CONSOLETVR, Quinc. 1.5 (see lebreton p.2 and following).

http://www.archive.org/stream/tudessurl ... 2/mode/1up

the patterns above are how the agreement usually works, although there are exceptions. e.g. there are some exceptions to pattern (1) where, even though the multiple subjects each refer to persons, the verb agrees with the subject closest to it (rather than being put in the plural in accordance with the usual pattern (1)):
- exception (A): where the verb falls in between the multiple subjects, it agrees with the subject falling before it – e.g. CATVLO AVDIENTE ET CAESARE, De Or.2.10.40 (see lebreton p.17)
- exception (B): where the verb falls before the subjects – e.g. QVOD AIT ARISTOTELES ET THEOPHRASTVS, Or.68.228 (see lebreton p.17)
- exception (C): where each person is qualified in a different way – e.g. SVAVITATEM SOCRATES, SVBTILITATEM LYSIAS, ACVMEN HYPERIDES ... HABVIT, De Or.3.7.28 (see lebreton p.19)
- exception (D): where each person has before it the same word repeated – e.g. ET COTTA ET SVLPICIVS EXPECTAT, De Or.2.7.26 (see lebreton p.21)
- exception (E): where AVT, VEL, VE OR SIVE connects the subjects – e.g. ARISTOPHANE AVT CALLIMACHO TRACTANTE, De Or.3.33.132 (see lebreton p.22)

just also to note that, although the e.g. latin sentences given by Laura above all give the correct agreement, and the explanation “Latin will often drop repeated phrases which are in parallel structures” is a good one, i think that if someone memorises this explanation as a method/rule of thumb to figure out how to make the verb agree properly (i.e. by "collapsing" parallel structures), this could possibly lead to mistakes. e.g. if you look at the two e.g. sentences mentioned in patterns (1) and (2) above:
- A. ATILIVS ET L. ATILIVS DIXERVNT, Caec.10.27
- GRAVITAS ET VIRTVS IVDICIS CONSOLETVR, Quinc. 1.5
they both have multiple subjects and then a verb at the end, and so you might assume that these could “collapse” in a similar way and therefore would both take a singular verb, but this would be incorrect because it would not take into account that the first sentence has subjects referring to persons and the second sentence doesn’t (and so you need to follow patterns (1) and (2) respectively to get the agreement right in these sentences). alternatively, you could use Laura's explanation as a method/rule of thumb but remembering that it doesn’t always apply when the subjects all refer to persons.

cheers, chad :)
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby lauragibbs » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:32 pm

Hi Chad, I was not trying to offer a rule - but rather to note that there is a STYLISTIC choice when it comes to compound subjects. It is very interesting how different authors will have strong preferences with regard to stylistic choices (so much so that you can talk about "rules of style" for a given author, like the way some authors will use historical infinitives, say, and some authors will never ever use them).

Both the "puer et puella bibunt" and the "puer bibit, et puella" stylistic options fit the only grammar rule involved here: the number of a verb agrees with the number of the subject... what gets tricky and interesting is saying what is really the subject of a verb (it seems like an obvious question, but not so!).

Of course, we can have a similar stylistic choice in English too - that is, we have the same grammar rule about agreement, and the same way to analyze compound subjects, but in English the option to have a subject with a suppressed anaphoric verb is very very VERY poetic, while in Latin it is not so strongly a poetic choice.

So, if you say in English, "The boy is drinking, and the girl - everyone is drinking!" there is a kind of sing-song poetic feeling to it. It's possible to do in English what Latin can do with compound subjects, but we are so much more hesitant to do that for many reasons - because of the rules about word in English, while Latin has no such rules; the additional marking of the subject case in Latin, while English has no such marking, etc.

Fascinating stuff. Grammar taught as a set of rules can be pretty boring but when you start thinking about just what the rules do and how they interact with an author's individual style, how they depend on the overall structure of the language itself, etc. then it becomes very interesting I think. :-)
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Re: Agreement of nouns and verbs

Postby cb » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:46 pm

hi Laura, yes all agreed. i was just saying that if someone did happen to memorise your explanation as a rule of thumb to be applied then they might fall into error - not that you were presenting it as a rule of thumb to be applied. one of the things i do when reading a whole set of rules which interrelate is turn them into a single technique which i can apply, and errors can arise if i don't do this rules-to-technique conversion correctly - that was what i was trying to flag, cheers, chad :)
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