Chapter 12: Latin Present Participles and Gerundives

§83. Interesting Words

Once you have grasped this concept of the Latin present participle and its kinship with modern English vocabulary, you will start finding participles on every page. Some are common everyday words, while others are erudite and unusual.

The 4th conjugation Latin verb scire meant “to know.” The present participle scient– did not become an English adjective, but the derived noun scientia (“knowledge”) is our word science. A prescient person is someone “knowing ahead” (< praescient-), and prescience is “foreknowledge.” If you are omniscient, you know everything.

The 3rd conjugation verb fluere meant “to flow.” Thus fluent is simply “flowing.” Affluent suggests money “flowing toward” (prefix ad-), and effluent, sewage “flowing out” (prefix ex-). Influence comes from Latin influentia, which is also the source of influenza.[1] A confluence is the place where two rivers “flow together”; the German city Coblenz (< Confluentia) is at the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine.

In plane geometry, a secant is a line “cutting” a circle, whereas a tangent is a line merely “touching.” The word crescent referred originally to the “growing” moon (< L crescere); and then the image of the crescent moon gave its name to that distinctive shape wherever it occurs (including the croissant, which is a French doublet). The verb crescere belongs to a 3rd conjugation group called INCEPTIVE or INCHOATIVE verbs; all contain the infix -sc-, which suggests “beginning to” or “becoming.” These verbs provide a remarkable set of present participles: liquescent (“becoming liquid”), tumescent (“beginning to swell”), pubescent (“becoming adult”), nascent, renascent, juvenescent, senescent, luminescent, incandescent, incalescent, iridescent, convalescent, effervescent, efflorescent, evanescent, obsolescent, recrudescent (“becoming raw again”). What do the others mean?

Here is a list of present participles, arranged by conjugation type. Though it may seem interminable, it could be much longer. There is an amazing number of participial derivatives in English, some of them very expressive and evocative words. Each is a pure Latin participle stem; this means that the 1st conjugation derivatives will end in -ant, and the rest in -ent. Some etymological meanings are given; look up others if you wish.


ambulant (“walking”), flagrant (“blazing”), fragrant, vagrant (“wandering”), errant (“straying”), aberrant, expectant (“watching out”), extravagant (“wandering outside”), ignorant (“not knowing”), infant (“not speaking”), migrant (“moving”), emigrant, immigrant, reluctant, repugnant. From DENOMINATIVE VERBS (Chapter 11, §76§79) come many 1st conjugation present participles. Thus dominant is “mastering” (< dominus) and deviant is “going off the road” (< via). Identify the noun bases in these words: militant, mendicant (“begging”), itinerant (“travelling”), operant, radiant, stagnant, stimulant, defoliant, exorbitant, consonant, dissonant, abundant, redundant, undulant.


ardent (“burning”), docent (“teaching”), latent (“hiding”), patent, penitent, student (“feeling enthusiasm”), torrent, abhorrent, absorbent, adjacent, (“lying beside”), complacent, despondent, deterrent (“frightening off”), innocent (“not harming”), insolent, resplendent, refulgent (“gleaming back”), adherent, coherent (“sticking together”), inherent, apparent, transparent, translucent (“showing light across”), ambivalent (“being strong on both sides”), prevalent, equivalent, detergent (“wiping away”), imminent (< imminēre, “overhang”), immanent (< manēre, “remain”).


lambent (“licking”), plangent (“wailing”) pungent (“pricking” = poignant), regent (“ruling”), rodent (“gnawing”), serpent (“creeping”), strident (“grating”), constituent, inadvertent, intelligent, intermittent, confident, diffident, incumbent (“lying upon”), recumbent, repellent, stringent (“drawing tight”), insurgent, resurgent.


sapient (< sapere, “be wise”), homo sapiens.


lenient (“soothing”), nutrient (“nourishing”), orient (“rising”), prurient (“itching”), ebullient, emollient (“softening out”), expedient, obedient (< audire).


absent, present (< esse, “to be”); potent, impotent, omnipotent (< posse, “to be able”); transient, ambient, circumambient (< ire, “to go”).

  1. That Italian ending occurs also in cadenza, a doublet of cadence and chance—all types of “falling,” from cadentia—and in credenza, a doublet of credence (< L credentia).


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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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