Chapter 10: Turning Latin Verbs into Latin Nouns

§69. The Perfect Participle as 2nd Declension Neuter Noun

When we were discussing 1st and 2nd declension adjectives in §26, we saw that the neuter –um form of this type could be used in Latin as a noun; just recall the examples medium, vacuum, and bonum (E boon). It should not be surprising, therefore, that the perfect participle, a verbal adjective, can also work this way. The most prominent example, from the English point of view, is datum (“something given,” “a given”), from the verb dare, datus. This word is still treated in English as an alien Latin form: singular datum, plural data (a grammatical rule that makes a good many speakers of English feel uncomfortable or rebellious). A parallel form was the Latin word stratum (“something spread out”), from sternere, stratus, a verb seen in §11 as the origin of our word street. In English, stratum, strata (“layer”) should operate exactly like datum, data—and we mustn’t let ourselves be confused by stratus clouds and strata title.

It is rare to find English words like datum and stratum, which have kept their original Latin form. More commonly, words of this type have been anglicized in one of the standard ways we learned in §14. From the deponent verb fari, fatus (“speak,” “utter”), Latin derived the neuter noun fatum (“something uttered,” “a divine edict”)—our English word fate. Edict itself is from edictum, “something spoken out” (< edicere, edictus). From tentus, the alternative perfect participle of tendere, came the noun concept tentum (“a thing stretched”), English tent. From the familiar verb facere, factus (“make,” “do”) came factum (“a thing done”), English fact. And the other common verb that meant “do”—agere, actus—produced a Latin neuter noun actum, another “thing done,”: an act. (How would you define the contrast in modern English between a fact and an act?) The “things done” by Roman legislators were written down and circulated as acta diurna, “Daily Deeds,” the original newspaper of the western world.[1]

  1. The title of this ancient Hansard combines acta with diurna, an adjective from the noun dies (“day”). Diurnus is the origin of the French derivative jour and the Italian giorno; its longer variant, diurnalis, is the source of French journal and Italian giornale.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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