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Habeo plus perfect participle in Cicero

Habeo plus participe passé passif chez Cicéron
Silvia Pieroni
p. 127-135


Cet article se propose d’analyser toutes les occurrences de la tournure habeo plus participe parfait passif que l’on trouve dans l’œuvre de Cicéron et dans lesquelles le participe n’est pas nécessairement prédicatif. L’analyse permet de formuler l’hypothèse que habeo (particulièrement au présent) plus participe parfait est susceptible d’être ré-analysé dans les unités de texte argumentatives et commentatives.

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Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1It is commonly held that Cicero’s works contain a remarkable number of occurrences of the combination habeo plus perfect participle (habeo + PP, henceforth) which could have played a role in the emergence of the periphrastic perfect. The purpose of this paper is to make a systematic collection of these cases and to analyse them in context. Before doing so, it is useful to give a brief summary of the state of the art.

2. State of the art

2. 1. Reanalysis

2In Latin studies, the literature on the construction habeo + PP mainly focuses on the question as to whether or not some occurrences may be considered as foreshadowing the Romance perfective periphrasis (see, above all, the seminal work by Thielmann, 1885).

  • 1 Although the development of the Romance periphrases concerns both habeo + PP and sum + PP jointly, (...)
  • 2 Cf. Benveniste, 1968; Salvi, 1987; Loporcaro, 1995; Ledgeway, 2012, p. 317-20.
  • 3 See, among the others, Jacob, 1995; La Fauci, 2005; Nuti, 2005; de Acosta, 2011.
  • 4 See Rosén, 1980, and, again, de Acosta, 2011; cf. Ramat, 1983; Napoli, 2007; Haverling, 2010; Hertz (...)

3The shift is usually summed up by a formula of this kind: Lat. librum scriptum habeo ‘I have a book, which has been written (not necessarily by me)’ > It. ho scritto un libro ‘I have written a book’.1 The general lines of the morpho-syntactic process are clear:2 a complex predication (in which habeo has an object to which a passive perfect participle is joined as a predicative) is reanalysed as a verbal unit (in which habeo and the participle – which is no longer passive – share the same subject). Less clear, if we leave apart abstract formulas, is the actual Latin starting point for the structure. E.g. it is commonly maintained that the lexical value of habeo is substantially possessive at first and then undergoes a progressive semantic bleaching, eventually becoming an exquisitely grammatical element. This point is questionable and the variety of meanings and functions of habeo is wide at all stages of Latin, as well as in the Romance languages.3 More convincing is the description of the aspectual value of the group habeo + PP, which traces the perfective periphrasis back to a construction expressing an attained state.4

4The major difficulty is to grasp when and where the qualitative jump is made. The fact is that, whereas there are cases where a perfective periphrasis is excluded – for instance because of the occurrence of an ab phrase which makes explicit the difference between the subject of habeo and the agent of the participle as in example (1) –, there are no unambiguous cases where it is attested in Latin.

  • 5 The translations are those which appear in and are taken as such independently (...)


Regem Ariobarzanem, cuius salutem a senatu te auctore commendatam habebam… (Cic. Epist. 15, 4, 6)
Ariobarzanes, whose welfare had been commended to me by the Senate at your instance…’5

  • 6 So, some scholars find examples which may be interpreted as periphrastic perfects (or very close to (...)

5This is to say that many cases may have an ambivalent reading and the decision regarding how to consider the single passages depends on interpretation,6 as in eum (sc. fundum) autem emptum habebat quoted in note 1, where at least in principle both the reading ‘he had (i.e. possessed, in this case) a house, which was bought (some time ago)’ and the reading ‘he has bought a house’ are allowed (see Adams, 2013, p. 617 in particular).

6A necessary condition for the reanalysis to take place is that the subject of habeo and the logical subject of the participle coincide. Moreover, some contexts could have favoured the process: e.g. the presence of a propositional object instead of a nominal one as object of habeo (cf. Pinkster, 1987). The passage in (2) is an example of both circumstances, but neither of them is a guarantee that habeo + PP is a perfective periphrasis (discussion in de Acosta, 2006, p. 182).


cum cognitum habeas quod sit summi rectoris […] numen (Cic. Fin. 4, 11)
‘by realizing the will, design and purpose of the Supreme Lord and Ruler’

  • 7 Cf. Țâra, 2012; Fruyt, 2011, p. 797, from where the translation is taken; Adams, 2011, p. 642-43.

7Even the well-known invitatum habes from Gregory of Tours may be questioned, taking into consideration that ecce habes is an idiom meaning ‘there you have’:7


Ecce episcopum cum duce et civibus invitatum habes. (Greg. T. Vit. patr. 3, 1)
‘Here, look:
you have, as your guest, the bishop with the duke and the citizens.’

  • 8 Cf. Meyer-Lübke, 1899, § 289; Kuryłowicz, 1931.

8Going back to example (2), a further reason for its very close resemblance to a periphrastic perfect is worth emphasizing: the consequences of an act of knowing, besides having a persistent effect in time (as is also shown by the present value of perfects such as memini), affect the subject rather than the object. The clearest exposition of this argument is given by Lucot:8

Les verbes transitifs ne sont pas sur le même plan. S’ils signifient tous une action qui passe sur un objet grammatical, ils se divisent cependant en deux groupes. Le sens des uns est tel que les conséquences de l’action intéressent le sujet ; l’objet n’ajoute qu’une détermination qui ne se trouve pas touchée par ces conséquences. Ainsi pour les verbes qui rendent les idées d’‘apprendre’, ‘acquérir’ et les idées voisines. Les autres expriment une action qui porte directement sur l’objet, soit qu’elle produise cet objet, soit qu’elle lui fasse subir un changement (Lucot, 1940, p. 247-8).

2. 2. The functional split between the synthetic and the complex perfect

  • 9 Cf. Serbat, 1975; 1976; 1980; Poirier, 1976; Pinkster, 1983; Mellet, 2000; 2005.

9Diachronically, the perfective periphrasis takes up a function of the Latin perfect,9 though the relationship between the two need not be considered mechanically either as a drag-chain or as a push-chain (cf. Pinkster, 1987).

  • 10 For the different types of distribution of these forms found in the Romance languages, see Harris, (...)

10A full set of analytical forms was created in the Romance languages; it is nonetheless only in one case that the new forms do not simply substitute the old, but make way for a functional specialization. To be more precise, this happens in the case of the opposition between the simple past (which comes from the Latin indicative perfect, e.g. It. scrissi) and the compound past (which comes from the combination of habeo in the present indicative + PP, e.g. It. ho scritto).10 Thus, this redundancy itself merits attention.

3. Cicero’s uses

3. 1. Selection of the corpus

  • 11 The corpus was retrieved by searching all the occurrences of the forms habe- and habu- in the elect (...)
  • 12 To give some figures, the cases I have taken into consideration are a bit more than two hundred: ou (...)

11Let us come to the occurrences of habeo + PP in Cicero’s works where the participle is not unambiguously predicative.11 This selection, which does not give any consideration to the cases where the participle is clearly attributive (as in 4), also excludes all the cases where the participle is clearly predicative (as in 5). In particular, I excluded: (i) the cases where the subject of habeo is different from the initial subject of the participle and the difference is explicit, as in ex. (1) above; (ii) the cases where it may be clearly inferred from the context that the initial subject of the participle is different or irrelevant as compared to that of habeo, as in ex. (6); (iii) the cases where some other requirement qualifies the participle as predicative in relation to the object, as in ex. (7)-(9).12


At, credo, in hisce solis rebus indomitas cupiditates atque effrenatas habebat. (Verr. 2, 1, 62)
‘But we are no doubt to understand that it is in these directions only that the man’s greedy desires were free from all restraint or control.’


Statuerunt nihil se tam clausum neque tam reconditum posse habere… (Verr. 2, 4, 42)
‘They felt sure that they could not possibly keep anything so securely locked up or hidden away…’


Et Hortensius habeat exposita ad quae respondeat… (Quinct. 35)
‘Hortensius will have a statement to which he has to reply…’


Meam dignitatem commendatam habeas rogo. (Fam. 10, 21a)
‘Let me ask you to regard my public standing as entrusted to your care.’


In qua nisi, ut dicitur, apertum pectus videas tuumque ostendas, nihil fidum, nihil exploratum habeas. (Lael. 97)
‘For in friendship, unless, as the saying is, you behold and show an open heart, you can have no loyalty or certainty.’


Interim cum per insulas in Asiam naviganti mihi nuntiatum est classem Dolabellae in Lycia esse Rhodiosque navis compluris instructas et paratas in aqua habere. (Fam. 12, 15, 2)
‘Meanwhile, as I was sailing through the islands to Asia, it was reported to me that Dolabella’s fleet was in Lycia and that the Rhodians had a number of ships afloat equipped and ready.’

  • 13 The fact that the participle addictus may function as a noun or adjective meaning ‘slave (for debt) (...)

12The last three examples exemplify the following cases, respectively: dependence on a volitional predication, coordination with an adjective, and contextual information (here, in aqua) which favours a predicative reading of the participle. It goes without saying that this last criterion in particular (which excludes, on a purely interpretive ground, a group of cases from the corpus) is partially arbitrary. Arbitrary as well is the decision not to consider the identity of tense between habeo and a coordinated verb (e.g. habeo + PP in coordination with verbs in the present tense) as a determinant for excluding a case from the corpus. A passage such as (10) is thus included:13


Etenim si illud est flagitiosum […] ob rem iudicandam pecuniam accipere, pretio habere addictam fidem et religionem… (Verr. 2, 2, 78)
‘For indeed, if it is a wicked thing […] that a judge should accept a bribe, that he should make money the master of his honour and his conscience…’

3. 2. Analysis of the textual distribution

13As a matter of fact, in most cases included in the corpus the participle is likely to have a genuine predicative value and, in principle, may be considered to be predicative in all of them. Nevertheless, the structure appears available for a different reading which may eventually coincide with that of a perfective periphrasis.

  • 14 Cf. note 12 and 13. What I counted are the occurrences of habeo: i.e. a passage such as habet ea co (...)

14As I have said, the corpus thus collected is composed of 88 cases.14 According to the form of habeo, we find: 40 cases of the present indicative, 12 present infinitive, 9 imperfect subjunctive, 8 imperfect indicative, 6 present subjunctive, 5 future indicative, 3 perfect indicative, 2 perfect infinitive, 2 perfect subjunctive, and 1 future perfect.

15Both the fact that Cicero’s Latinity permits this structure to emerge and the frequency of the structure with the present indicative hint at the relevance of the textual types involved: text-types, I would say, rather than genres. For instance, the frequent occurrence of the habeo cognitum-type in Cicero’s philosophical works has been considered pragmatically natural because of the topics which are dealt with (see Thielmann, 1885, p. 517): but, though the frequency of cognition (and other similar) predicates is confirmed by my corpus (see 3.2.1), these cases are not significantly related with philosophical works.

16As a matter of fact, the 88 cases collected come from philosophical works (with the exception of De officiis), but also from the orations and from the letters; some examples also come from rhetorical works (but one single case from the Orator (121); I found only one case in De republica (2, 11). The absence of the structure from De officiis and, apart from the occurrence just quoted, from the Orator confirms the importance of text-types: the treatise De officiis and the Orator are exceptions to the dialogic form that Cicero privileges in rhetorical and philosophical writings. It is in the works which are dialogic (in a broad sense, not only in actual dialogues) that the structure emerges; thus, frequently in the present.

3. 2. 1. Subject-orientation

17A second observation concerns the actual frequency of subject-oriented predicates, which are not limited to the semantic class of cognition verbs: actually, in addition to mental activities (11), sometimes expressed via a metaphoric use of a concrete verb (12), we find verbs expressing a decision (13), but also a change of attitude (14), the reception or the acquisition of something (15-16).


Ad meam fidem, quam habent spectatam iam et diu cognitam, confugiunt. (Div. in Caec. 11)
‘I am the man to whose honour, having proved it in the past and not found it wanting, they now fly for refuge.’


Omnem spem delectationis nostrae […] in tua humanitate positam habemus. (Att. 1, 7)
‘All my hopes of enjoying myself […] depend upon your kindness.’


si quod constitutum cum podagra habes (Fam. 7, 4)
‘so if you have an appointment with the gout’


Itaque, iudices, ii […] quos illi mystagogos vocant, conversam iam habent demonstrationem suam. (Verr. 2, 4, 132)
‘The result of all this, gentlemen, is that the persons known as “mystagogues” […] have had to reverse the form of their explanations.’


nisi dum a populo auspicia accepta habemus (Div. 2, 76)
‘except when the duty of doing so is imposed by a vote of the people’


Mitto, quod eas ita partas habent ii, qui nunc optinent. (Prov. 3)
‘I pass over the way in which those who now govern them acquired them.’

18Out of the 88 total cases, 63 concern subject-oriented predicates and come from philosophical and rhetorical writings, orations, and letters.

  • 15 Cf. also ex. (10); Epist. 10, 24, 3; 12, 13, 4; Manil. 18.

19The relative weight of subject-oriented predicates becomes even greater if we limit our analysis to the subgroup of cases with habeo in the present tense (in particular, leaving out those occurrences where habeo is in imperfect form, which are not significantly related to subject-oriented predicates): e.g. out of 40 cases in the present indicative, 32 are instances in which the natural consequences of the act expressed by the participle affect the subject. Moreover, the remaining 8 occurrences with habeo in the present indicative are not exceptions to subject-orientation, even though in these cases subject-orientation is due to the syntactic environment rather than to verbal semantics. Consider the presence of dixi in (17)15 and in (18) the preceding quod … absolvam:


An ea, quae dixi, et innumerabilia, quae collecta habent Stoici… (Div. 2, 145)
‘And those incidents which I have given and the numberless ones collected by the Stoics…’


Quod me hortaris ut absolvam, habeo absolutum suave, mihi quidem uti videtur, ἔπος ad Caesarem. (Ad Q. fr. 3, 7, 6)
‘The epic to Caesar which you urge me to finish, finished I have, a delectable piece, so it seems to me.’

3. 2. 2. Commentative contexts

  • 16 For the occurrence of satis, cf. also Brut. 147; Fam. 3, 10, 7; 10, 12, 1; 13, 17, 3; Fin. 2, 6; 4, (...)

20A further consideration which the occurrences of habeo (precisely in the present) + PP invite is that adverbs or other expressions added in a commentative way – to borrow Weinrich’s (1964) term – often occur in these environments. Consider, e.g., the following occurrence of satis, which certainly goes with cognitam from a syntactic point of view but also expresses an evaluation on the part of the speaker (Brutus, in this case):16


Nam Scaevolae dicendi elegantiam satis ex eis orationibus quas reliquit habemus cognitam. (Brut. 163)
‘As for Scaevola, the simple directness of his oratory is adequately known
from the speeches which he left.’

21The comment may be sometimes on the level of the énonciation, as in the following passage, where the modal adverb certe is a manifestation of the ego locuteur:


Hoc quid intersit, si tuos digitos novi, certe habes subductum. (Att. 5, 21, 13)
‘If I know your
arithmetical powers, you have already reckoned up the difference.’

22As a matter of fact, all the occurrences of habeo (pres.) + PP are found in argumentative, commentative text-units: none of the passages is narrative (though the present is not excluded in principle from narration) nor simply descriptive (though the present is typical for descriptions).

23Since the construction habeo + PP typically occurs in contexts of non-narrative and non-descriptive character, it is therefore also suitable for negative and interrogative (i.e. non factual and non assertive) contexts:


An vero’, inquit, ‘quisquam potest probare quod perceptum, quod comprehensum, quod cognitum non habet?’ (Fin. 5, 76)
‘“But”, said he, “can anyone approve that of which he has not full perception, comprehension and knowledge?”’


Conscendens navem sapiens num comprehensum animo habet atque perceptum se ex sententia navigaturum? (Ac. 2, 100)
‘When a wise man is going on board a ship surely he has not got the knowledge already grasped in his mind and perceived that he will make the voyage as he intends?’

  • 17 Cf. Att. 15, 20, 4.

24A preference for habes cognitum in a negative sentence (nondum satis), as compared to affirmative cognosti, also appears in the following context of alternation:17


Quem si tu iam forte cognosti, puto me hoc quod facio facere serius. […] Sin autem propter verecundiam suam minus se tibi obtulit aut nondum eum satis habes cognitum… (Fam. 13, 17, 2-3)
‘If you happen to have made Curius’ acquaintance already, I
imagine that this letter comes too late […]. If, on the other hand, his modesty has deterred him from putting himself in your way, or if you do not yet know him sufficiently…’

4. Closing note

25To sum up, the study of the cases attested in Cicero suggests the hypothesis that the discussion on the development of the structure habeo + PP could be enriched by taking textual distribution into consideration. In particular, when habeo is in the present tense, the structure leans towards a perfective periphrasis (with a subject-oriented participle) in commentative contexts, which is precisely in the kind of contexts where the complex perfect will diachronically gain ground, progressively narrowing the uses of the synthetic present. Whether or not there is continuity between Cicero’s uses and the Romance outputs, these uses show what can happen and, therefore, what may have happened over time.

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1 Although the development of the Romance periphrases concerns both habeo + PP and sum + PP jointly, an atomistic tendency to deal with them separately may be observed (see Vincent, 1982, p. 71). The fact is that periphrases with sum already function in Latin in deponent and passive compound forms. As for habeo + PP, it has a more precise counterpart in the structure mihi est + PP, as can be seen comparing the following cases: tanti sunt mihi emptae? (Varro Rust., 2, 2, 5) ‘they are sold at such a price?’; eum (sc. fundum) autem emptum habebat cum socio Cn. Acerronio (Cic. Tull. 16) ‘but he had had a partner in the purchase, Cnaeus Acerronius’.

2 Cf. Benveniste, 1968; Salvi, 1987; Loporcaro, 1995; Ledgeway, 2012, p. 317-20.

3 See, among the others, Jacob, 1995; La Fauci, 2005; Nuti, 2005; de Acosta, 2011.

4 See Rosén, 1980, and, again, de Acosta, 2011; cf. Ramat, 1983; Napoli, 2007; Haverling, 2010; Hertzenberg, 2015.

5 The translations are those which appear in and are taken as such independently from the interpretation they give of the structure here in question.

6 So, some scholars find examples which may be interpreted as periphrastic perfects (or very close to it) already in Early Latin (Thielmann, 1885; Benveniste, 1962; Pinkster, 1987; Cennamo, 2008), whereas others state that the periphrastic perfect was not fully formed in Latin (de Acosta, 2011, p. 174; Fruyt, 2011, p. 799).

7 Cf. Țâra, 2012; Fruyt, 2011, p. 797, from where the translation is taken; Adams, 2011, p. 642-43.

8 Cf. Meyer-Lübke, 1899, § 289; Kuryłowicz, 1931.

9 Cf. Serbat, 1975; 1976; 1980; Poirier, 1976; Pinkster, 1983; Mellet, 2000; 2005.

10 For the different types of distribution of these forms found in the Romance languages, see Harris, 1982; cf. de Acosta, p. 199-208.

11 The corpus was retrieved by searching all the occurrences of the forms habe- and habu- in the electronic corpus Phi 5.3.

12 To give some figures, the cases I have taken into consideration are a bit more than two hundred: out of the total, 88 (thus, approximately 40%) are actually available for reanalysis.

13 The fact that the participle addictus may function as a noun or adjective meaning ‘slave (for debt)’ has not been considered as a reason for its exclusion, either. It is also worth noting that the same linear combination may correspond to different morpho-syntactic structures. E.g. scriptum habeo, though often taken as the symbolic example for the reanalysis (Lat. scriptum habeo > It. ho scritto), occurs in contexts as different as those which follow: nec scriptum habeo nec possum edere (Verr. 2, 4, 36) ‘I have no statement written, and I can produce none’; itaque in nostris commentariis scriptum habemus (Div. 2, 42) ‘and so we find it recorded in our augural annals’; quod autem scriptum habetis hinc tripudium fieri, si ex ea quid in solum ceciderit, hoc quoque, quod dixi, coactum tripudium solistimum dicitis (Div. 1, 28) ‘but, according to the writings of you augurs, a tripudium results if any of the food should fall to the ground, and what I spoke of as a “forced augury” your fraternity calls a tripudium solistimum’. The first may be considered as a substantivized use of scriptum; in the second scriptum habemus occurs without a true object and with the contextual implication that the initial subject of scriptum is not the same as that of habemus; the last case, though the augurs to whom the speech is addressed are not necessarily those who wrote, leaves open the possibility of the interpretation ‘you have written’ (cf. the following dicitis). For the purpose of my collection, only the third case has been included.

14 Cf. note 12 and 13. What I counted are the occurrences of habeo: i.e. a passage such as habet ea conprensa atque percepta (Ac. 2, 106) counts as one. This same passage also shows, shortly before the occurrence of habeo plus participles, an adjectivized use of the same participles (perceptarum comprensarumque rerum) which is not considered here as a valid criterion to exclude the case from the corpus.

15 Cf. also ex. (10); Epist. 10, 24, 3; 12, 13, 4; Manil. 18.

16 For the occurrence of satis, cf. also Brut. 147; Fam. 3, 10, 7; 10, 12, 1; 13, 17, 3; Fin. 2, 6; 4, 3; Phil. 5, 52. Cf. penitus in Fam. 10, 12, 1 and Tusc. 3, 30; prope modum in Att. 15, 20, 4; plane in Rep. 2, 11. The occurrence of iam is also worth noting as it shows a variety of meanings that may be put in relation with an evaluative function (Kroon and Risselada, 2002): in addition to (11) and (14), consider Att. 1, 6, 1; Catil. 3, 16; De orat. 2, 130; Fam. 4, 2, 4; Verr. 2, 2, 78.

17 Cf. Att. 15, 20, 4.

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Silvia Pieroni, « Habeo plus perfect participle in Cicero »Pallas, 102 | 2016, 127-135.

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Silvia Pieroni, « Habeo plus perfect participle in Cicero »Pallas [En ligne], 102 | 2016, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2016, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Silvia Pieroni

Assistant Professor, University for Foreigners of Siena

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