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Allen and Greenough/ New Latin Grammar

Potential Subjunctive

447. The Potential Subjunctive has the following uses:—

  1. In cautious or modest assertions in the first person singular of expressions of saying, thinking, or wishing (present or perfect):—

      pāce tuā dīxerim (Mil. 103), I would say by your leave.

      haud sciam an (Lael. 51), I should incline to think.

      velim sīc exīstimēs (Fam. 12.6), I should like you to think so.

      certum affīmāre nōn ausim (Liv. 3.23), I should not dare to assert as sure.

    Note— Vellem, nōllem, or māllem expressing an unfulfilled wish in present time may be classed as independent potential subjunctive or as the apodosis of an unexpressed condition (§ 521): as— vellem adesset M. Antōnius (Phil. 1.16), I could wish Antony were here.


  2. In the indefinite second person singular of verbs of saying, thinking, and the like (present or imperfect):—

      crēdās nōn dē puerō scrīptum sed ā puerō (Plin. Ep. 4.7.7), you would think that it was written not about a boy but by a boy.

      crēderēs victōs (Liv. 2.43.9), you would have thought them conquered.

      reōs dīcerēs (id. 2.35.5), you would have said they were culprits.

      vidērēs susurrōs (Hor. S. 2.8.77), you might have seen them whispering (lit. whispers).

      fretō assimilāre possīs (Ov. M. 5.6), you might compare it to a sea.

  3. With other verbs, in all persons, when some word or phrase in the context implies that the action is expressed as merely possible or conceivable:—

      nīl ego contulerim iūcundō sānus amīcō (Hor. S. 1.5.44), when in my senses I should compare nothing with an interesting friend.

      fortūnam citius reperiās quam retineās (Pub. Syr. 168), you may sooner find fortune than keep it.

      aliquis dīcat (Ter. And. 640), somebody may say.

    Note— In this use the subjunctive may be regarded as the apodosis of an undeveloped protasis. When the conditional idea becomes clearer, it finds expression in a formal protasis, and a conditional sentence is developed.

a. Forsitan, perhaps, regularly takes the Potential Subjunctive except in later Latin and in poetry, where the Indicative is also common:—

forsitan quaerātis quī iste terror sit (Rosc. Am. 5), you may perhaps inquire what this alarm is.

forsitan temerē fēcerim (id. 31), perhaps I have acted rashly.

Note— The subjunctive clause with forsitan (= fors sit an) was originally an Indirect Question: it would be a chance whether, etc.

b. Fortasse, perhaps, is regularly followed by the Indicative; sometimes, however, by the Subjunctive, but chiefly in later Latin:—

quaerēs fortasse (Fam. 15.4.13), perhaps you will ask.

Note— Other expressions for perhaps are (1) forsan (chiefly poetical; construed with the indicative or the subjunctive, more commonly the indicative), fors (rare and poetical; construed with either the indicative or the subjunctive). Forsit (or fors sit) occurs once (Hor. S. 1.6.49) and takes the subjunctive. Fortasse is sometimes followed by the infinitive with subject accusative in Plautus and Terence. Fortassis (rare; construed like fortasse) and fortasse an (very rare; construed with the subjunctive) are also found.

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