The grammar of Latin subjunctive modes.

Michael Zwingli

Active Member
We know that in Latin, the morphological subjunctive is used to express the verbal idea in differing basic modal ways: exhortively, concessively, deliberatively, optatively, or potentially. I am wondering if there are any grammatical conventions, other than selection of verbal tense, which can only clarify the time aspect, which one might use to mark which of these modes the writer intends by his use of the subjunctive.

To narrow the field of consideration, I will confine my example to the potential and optative modes as they are reflected in the subjunctive use of the verb vincere in it's meaning "to win". It seems to me that the statement cursum vincas can express the potential "you may win the race..." or the optative "may you win the race...". Am I correct in so thinking? Taking that as a given, is there any grammatical convention which can be employed to clarify what subjunctive mode you, as the writer, intend to convey, or must the potential reader simply make that determination by contextualization? Is there any way to give the reader a hint as to how, in which subjunctive mode, one is using a verb in the subjunctive? Can one add language to ensure that a potential reader will read cursum vincas as meaning "may you win the race", as opposed to "you may win the race"?


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Michael Zwingli

Active Member
Thank you, @Pacifica. I posted this question because I was wondering if there are any other, additional, grammatical "markers", apart from verb tense and the use of conjunctions, and the inclusion of such "possibility words" as licet/possum/fortasse, that can be used to indicate subjunctive mode. I opine that the subjunctive gets tricky in Latin for the same reason the ablative does: it has assumed so many functions...

Anbrutal Russicus

Active Member
As usual, I want to refer you to a language you already know - with no context and setting aside any possible punctuation or capitalisation, try telling which of the following 'win the race' is supposed to mean:
  1. an order to win the competition;
  2. an order to win a given race of people;
  3. a wish or a prayer for someone to win the competition;
  4. a wish or a prayer for someone to win a given race of people;
  5. the protasis of a conditional sentnence upon whose fulfillment something else happens ('win the race and you can go home');
  6. an answer to "what do we need to do?";
  7. an answer to "what is it that they do?";
  8. a race competition called 'Win';
  9. a race of people called 'Win';
  10. any of the above put as a question.
Which of these possible meanings (or even some further ones) come to your mind when you see the English phrase 'win the race', and how does it compare with the Latin cursum vincās? What do you think is the source of the difference, if any?