Chapter 12: Latin Present Participles and Gerundives

§85. The Latin Gerundive: the -ND- form

The GERUNDIVE is far less important than the present participle. You should be able to recognize its more obvious English derivatives, but there is no need to examine its Latin formation and grammatical use. In brief, it is a 1st and 2nd declension verbal adjective, which always has the characteristic morpheme -nd- in both Latin and English.[1] (It may help to remember this element by the -nd- of gerundive.)

In its most fundamental usage, the Latin gerundive conveys the idea of obligation or necessity. The name Amanda is a feminine gerundive, meaning “[a woman] to be loved,” “[a woman] who must be loved.” Miranda, similarly, is “[a woman] to be admired.” Two of the most familiar Latin gerundives in English are both 2nd declension neuter adjectives used as nouns: memorandum, “[a thing] that must be remembered,” and referendum, “[a thing] that should be brought back.” Again, an addendum is a thing that should be added, and a corrigendum one that should be corrected; a hastily edited book may contain a list of addenda and corrigenda (regular Latin plurals). Originally, propaganda were things to be propagated or disseminated. An agenda (L agere) is a list of “[things] to be done”; that form, too, is plural, though the singular agendum sounds very pedantic in English. How would you pluralize memorandum and referendum? (You have a choice in both cases.) The plural pudenda (L pudere) are things to be ashamed of—a rather coy and archaic euphemism for the human genitals.

Some gerundives have lost their Latin endings in English, thus sounding less alien. A legend is a thing “to be read” (L legere) and reverend means “to be revered.” If you have been exposed to traditional arithmetic, you will know all about the subtrahend, the multiplicand, and the dividend; the last, of course, is a word of broader application. Through Italian, English has acquired the musical term crescendo (L crescendus, “to be increased”), its opposite diminuendo, and sforzando (sf = “to be forced”).

If you want a few exotic and disguised gerundives, try hacienda (< facienda), viand (< vivenda), and launder (< late Latin lavandarius < lavanda, “to be washed). At this point, we might just say, “q.e.d.” (quod erat demonstrandum: “that which was to be demonstrated”).[2]

  1. If you’re curious about the original Latin form, you may wish to know that the gerundive, like the present participle, shows -a- for the 1st conjugation and -e- for all the rest, with -ie- for -i- verbs. Thus (1) amandus, (2) reverendus, (3) agendus, (4) audiendus, (3 i-stems) faciendus.
  2. At the risk of causing confusion and panic, let us dare to mention that there is another Latin verbal form known as the GERUND—a noun, like its English counterpart in -ing. It appears in the Latin phrases modus vivendi (“way of living”) and modus operandi (“way of operating”), as well as in the word innuendo, which originally meant “by nodding”—thereby conveying a hint or insinuation.


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

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