Deponent verb

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In linguistics, a deponent verb is a verb that is active in meaning but takes its form from a different voice, most commonly the middle or passive. A deponent verb has no active forms.

Languages with deponent verbs

This list may not be exhaustive.


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Greek has middle-voice deponents (some of which are very common) and some passive-voice deponents. An example in Greek is ἔρχομαι (erchomai, I come or I go), middle/passive in form but active in translation.

Koine Greek has a few verbs which have very different meanings in the active and middle/passive forms. For example, ἁπτω ('hapto') means "I set fire to," whereas its middle form ἁπτομαι ('haptomai') means "I touch." Because ἁπτομαι is much more common in usage, beginners often learn this form first and are tempted to assume that it is a deponent.


Latin has passive-voice deponents, such as hortārī ('to exhort'), verērī ('to fear'), loquī ('to speak'), blandīrī ('to flatter'), and many more. (Deponent verbs are passive in form and active in meaning.)[1] The forms regularly follow those of the passive of normal verbs:

amāre to love amāri to be loved hortāri to exhort
amō[2] I love amor I am loved hortor I exhort
amāvi I have loved amātus sum I have been loved hortātus sum I have exhorted

Deponents have all the participles normal verbs do, although those of the perfect carry an active meaning, rather than a passive meaning as in the case of normal verbs. Some deponent verbs, such as sequī (to follow), use the corresponding forms of other verbs to express a genuine passive meaning. They do not have their own passive forms, nor is it possible to resurrect the "active" forms of the deponent verbs to use for the passive voice (like attempting to use *hortō for "I am exhorted").

Additionally, four Latin verbs (audēre, to dare; gaudēre, to rejoice; solēre, to be accustomed; and fīdere, to trust) are called semi-deponent, because though they look passive in their perfect forms, they are semantically active in all forms.[3]

Conversely, Latin also has some verbs that are active in form but passive in meaning. fit (it is made, done) was used as the passive of facit (to do, to make). In the perfect forms (perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect), this was a compound verb just like the passive voice of regular verbs (factum est, it has been done).


Sanskrit also contains some deponent verbs such as: सच॑ते sác-ate. This class is often simply called ‘Ātmanepada’ or middle voice, without further classifications to distinguish deponents from the true middle voice forms.


Swedish has a few passive-voice deponents, although interestingly, its closely related neighbour languages Danish and Norwegian mostly use active corresponding forms. Indeed, Norwegian shows the opposite trend: like in English, active verbs are sometimes used with a passive or middle sense, such as in "boka solgte 1000 eksemplarer" ("the book sold 1000 copies"). -s is the normal passive ending in the Scandinavian languages.

  • andas, "breathe" (cf. Danish and Norwegian Bokmål ånde (non-deponent))
  • hoppas, "hope" (cf. Danish håbe, Norwegian Bokmål håpe (non-deponent))
  • kräkas, "vomit"
  • trivas, "enjoy oneself"
  • minnas, "remember"


Norwegian has several common deponents which use the '-es' passive ending in the active voice, instead of the usual '-er' active ending (and retains the '-es' in the infinitive, where most verbs end solely in '-e'):

  • kjennes, "perceive",
  • lykkes, "succeed",
  • synes, "think",
  • trives, "thrive".

The past tense is indicated by 'd or 't', e.g. kjentes, lyktes, syntes, trivdes.

Deponency and tense

Some verbs are deponent universally, but other verbs are deponent only in certain tenses, or use deponent forms from different voices in different tenses. For example, the Greek verb ἀναβαίνω (anabaino) uses active forms in the imperfect active and aorist active, but in the future active it shows the middle form ἀναβήσομαι (anabesomai). The future active form might be predicted to be *ἀναβήσω (anabeso), but this form does not occur, because the verb is deponent in the future tense. The future forms that do occur have the same meaning and translation value that the active forms would have if they occurred.

Latin has a few semi-deponent verbs, which behave normally in the present system, but are deponent in the perfect system.

See also


  1. These were chosen because they reflect the four conjugation paradigms. For a longer list, see Adler page 686 ff.
  2. According to Adler, in poetry the o is sometimes short.
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External links

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