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Gerundive (/ɛrˈʌndɪv/) is aterm in Latin grammar for a verb form which functions as an adjective. Traditionally, the term has been applied to verbal adjectives and nouns in other languages.

In Classical Latin the gerundive is distinct in form and function from the gerund and the present active participle. In Late Latin these differences were largely lost, resulting in a form derived from the gerund or gerundive but functioning more like a participle. This adjectival gerundive form survives in the formation of progressive aspect forms in Italian, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. In French the adjectival gerundive and particle forms merged completely, and the term gérondif is used for adverbial use of -ant forms.[1]

There is no true equivalent to the gerundive in English; the closest translation is a passive to-infinitive non-finite clause clause such as books to be read. This reflects the most common use of the Latin gerundive: combining a transitive verb (such as read) and its object (such as books), usually with a sense of obligation.

Latin gerundive


The Latin gerundive is a form of the verb. It is composed of

For example

laud- -a- -nd- -us, -a, -um First conjugation laudandus, -a, -um 'concerned with the act of praising' homo laudandus est— 'the man is to be praised'
mon- -e- -nd- -us, -a, -um Second conjugation monendus, -a, -um 'concerned with the act of warning' muller monenda est — 'the woman is to be warned'
leg- -e- -nd- -us, -a, -um Third conjugation legendus, -a, -um 'concerned with the act of reading' volumen legendum est — 'the volume is to be read'
capi- -e- -nd- -us, -a, -um Third conjugation capiendus, -a, -um 'concerned with the act of taking' castra capienda sunt — 'the camps are to be taken'
audi- -e- -nd- -us, -a, --im Fourth conjugation audiendus, -a, -um 'concerned with the act of hearing' voces audiendae sunt — 'the voices are to be heard'

Related gerund forms are composed in a similar way with nominal inflexional endings.

Meaning and use

In principle the gerund could express a wide range of meaning relationships: 'capable of, 'prone to', 'ripe for' (killing, dying, rising, rolling etc). Some gerundives have much the same meaning as present participles: secundus 'following; oriendus 'arising, descended from'; volvendus 'rolling'. Originally it could express active or passive meaning, and therefore could be used with verbs in intransitive as well as transitive use. However, the great majority of gerundive forms were used with passive meaning of transitive verbs.

In principle, the gerundive could be used as either a predicative or attributive adjective. However, attributive use was rare, largely confined to verbs expressing approval or disapproval. The predicative use invited a secondary meaning of obligation (a meaning not shared with the gerund). Thus

ATTRIBUTIVE agnus caedundus 'a lamb ready for slaughtering'
PREDICATIVE agnus est caedundus 'The lamb is for slaughter', 'The lamb is to be slaughtered', 'The lamb must be slaughtered'

This sense of obligation with passive meaning is by far the most common use of the gerundive.[2] Thus it has been equated with a future passive participle.

A neuter form without a noun may function as an impersonal expression, for example: addendum 'something to be added'; referendum 'something to be referred back'. These are not gerund forms; the -um form of the gerund is used only after propositions. The plural forms without nouns such as agenda 'things to be done' are also adjectival gerundives; the gerund has no plural form.

For details of the formation and usage of the Latin gerundive, see Latin conjugation: Gerundive.

Gerundive expressions widely quoted or adopted in English

  • Cato the Elder, a Roman senator, frequently ended his speeches with the statement Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse ("I also think Carthage to be [something] that must be destroyed", i.e. "Besides which, I think Carthage must be destroyed").
  • Mutatis mutandis "changing [only] those things which need to be changed" or more simply "[only] the necessary changes having been made".
  • A gerundive appears in the phrase quod erat demonstrandum ("which was to be demonstrated"), whose abbreviated form Q.E.D. is often used after the final conclusion of a proof.
  • The motto Nil desperandum 'Nothing is to be despaired at' i.e. 'Never despair'. Based on this the cod Latin Nil illegitimis carborundum 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'.
  • The name Amanda is the feminine gerundive of amare ("to love"), and thus means roughly "[she who is] to be loved", "worthy of being loved", "worthy of love", or simply "lovable". Similarly with the name Miranda; mirari means "to admire", so the name means "[she who is] to be admired", "worthy of admiration", or "admirable".
  • A number of English words come from Latin gerundives. For example, addendum comes from the gerundive of addere ("to add"), and so means something which needs to be added; referendum comes from the gerundive of referre ("to bring back"); agenda comes from the neuter plural of agendus, the gerundive of agere "to do", and so means things which need to be done; reverend comes from the gerundive reverendus, and refers to a person who should be revered; propaganda comes from a New Latin phrase containing a feminine form of propagandus, the gerundive of propagare ("to propagate"), so that propaganda was originally something which should be propagated; legend in Latin is legenda which originally meant things you should read, ( from legere "to read") but became a (fem. sing.) word in its own right in medieval times.

Later developments

In Late Latin the distinction between gerundive and future participle was sometimes lost. Thus gerundive moriendi is found for morituri 'about to die'. Conversely, future particles recepturus and scripturus are found for recipientus and scriptures`. More regularly, the gerundive came to be used as a future passive participle. Eventually the gerundive in the nominative case came to substitute for the present participle.[3]

In some important Romance languages that developed out of Late Latin, the Classical present participle forms with -nt- suffix became confused with the Classical gerundive forms with -nd-.

  • In Italian, the -d- form (cantando, 'singing' etc) took on the participle function and was termed gerundio by grammarians. The -nt- forms survived and was reanalysed as nouns (e.g. cantante 'singer') or adjectives (sorridente 'smiling). They were also used with participle function in very formal register.[4]

Gerundives in other languages

The term gerundive is occasionally used in descriptions of English grammar, to denote the present participle used adjectivally or adverbially e.g. 'take a running jump'. This form, ending in -ing, is identical to that of the English gerund, but it is generally called a gerund when it is used as a noun, not as an adjective or adverb e.g. 'the running of the deer'.[5]

The term gerundive may be used in grammars and dictionaries of the Pali language, for example the Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary of 1921-25.[6] This gerundive is referred to by some other writers as the participle of necessity, the potential participle or the future passive participle. It is used with the same meaning as the Latin gerundive.

In the east African Semitic language Tigrinya, gerundive is used to denote a particular finite verb form, not a verbal adjective or adverb. Generally speaking, it denotes completed action which is still relevant. A verb in the gerundive can be used alone, or serially with another gerundive verb; in the latter case it may sometimes be translated with an adverbial clause: bitri hidju kheydu (literally, "a-stick he-took-hold-of he-began-walking") means "while holding a stick, he is walking", i.e. "he is carrying a stick". See Tigrinya verbs.


  1. Posner, Rebecca. 1996, The Romance Languages. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-28139-3 p. 175.
  2. Palmer, L.R. , 1954, The Latin Language, London. Faber and Faber. pp 320-322.
  3. Palmer 1954. p 17
  4. Vintent, Nigel in Harris, Martin and Nigel Vincent, eds. The Romance Languages. 1988, London., Rutledge. p 294
  5. The KISS Approach to Grammar in the Curriculum
  6. Pali Text Society Pali-English Dictionary, edited by T W Rhys Davids and William Stede, 1921-25

External links

The following pages provide definitions or glosses of the term gerundive: