Infinitive as the Subject of an Impersonal

Book Nav

454. The infinitive is used as the apparent subject with many impersonal verbs and expressions. Such are libet, licet, oportet, decet, placet, vīsum est, pudet, piget, necesse est, opus est, etc.

Libet mihi cōnsīderāre. (Quinct. 48)
It suits me to consider.

Necesse est morī. (Tusc. 2.2)
It is necessary to die.

Quid attinet glōriōsē loquīnisi cōnstanter loquāre? (Fin. 2.89)
What good does it do to talk boastfully unless you speak consistently?

Neque mē vīxisse paenitet. (id. 84)
I do not feel sorry to have lived.

Gubernāre mē taedēbat. (Att. 2.7.4)
I was tired of being pilot.

Note— This use is a development of the Complementary Infinitive (§ 456); but the infinitives approach the subject construction and may be conveniently regarded as the subjects of the impersonals.

455. With impersonal verbs and expressions that take the infinitive as an apparent subject, the personal subject of the action may be expressed:

  1. By a dative, depending on the verb or verbal phrase.

    Rogant ut id sibifacere liceat (B. G. 1.7)
    They ask that it be allowed them to do this.

    Nōn lubet enim mihi. dēplōrāre vītam (Cat. M. 84)
    For it does not please me to lament my life.

    Vīsum est mihi dē senectūte aliquid cōnscrībere. (id. 1)
    It seemed good to me to write something about old age.

    Quid est tam secundum nātūram quam senibus ēmorī? (id. 71)
    What is so much in accordance with nature as for old men to die?

    Exstinguī hominīsuō tempore optābile est (id. 85)
    For a man to die at the appointed time is desirable.

  2. By an accusative expressed as the subject of the infinitive or the object of the impersonal.

    sī licet vīvere eumquem Sex. Naevius nōn volt (Quinct. 94)
    if it is allowed a man to live against the will of Sextus Nœvius.

    Nōnne oportuit praescīsse mēante? (Ter. And. 239)
    Ought I not to have known beforehand?

    Ōrātōrem īrāscī minimē decet. (Tusc. 4.54)
    It is particularly unbecoming for an orator to lose his temper.

    Pudēret mēdīcere. (N. D. 1.109)
    I should be ashamed to say.

    Cōnsilia ineunt quōrum eōsin vestīgiō paenitēre necesse est. (B. G. 4.5)
    They form plans for which they must at once be sorry.

    Note— Libet, placet, and vīsum est take the dative only; oportet, pudet, piget, and generally decet, the accusative only; licet and necesse est take either case.

a. A predicate noun or adjective is commonly in the accusative; but with licet regularly, and with other verbs occasionally, the dative is used.

Expedit bonās esse vōbīs (Ter. Haut. 388)
It is for your advantage to be good.

Licuit esse ōtiōsō Themistoclī. (Tusc. 1.33)
Themistocles might have been inactive.
(It was allowed to Themistocles to be inactive)

Mihi neglegentī esse nōn licet. (Att. 1.17.6)
I must not be negligent.
[But also neglegentem]

Cūr hīs esse līberōs nōn licet? (Flacc. 71)
Why is it not allowed these men to be free?

Nōn est omnibus stantibus necesse dīcere. (Marc. 33)
It is not necessary for all to speak standing.

Note— When the subject is not expressed, as being indefinite (one, anybody), a predicate noun or adjective is regularly in the accusative (cf. § 452.3, Note 2).

vel pāce vel bellō clārum fierī licet (Sall. Cat. 3)
One can become illustrious either in peace or in war.

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.