[This is an article published in CQ 54 (2004), 296-7. The published version may differ slightly.]


Cicero seems to have avoided the first person plural of the present indicative of fero and of its compounds: a search on the PHI Latin Texts CD 5.3 (1991) shows only one occurrence of ferimus, none of adferimus, auferimus, conferimus etc. Since fero and its numerous compounds are common words, this is unlikely to be coincidence. Of course, some forms will be rare because an author will have had little occasion to use them; Cicero may, for instance, have wanted to say ‘let us endure’ or ‘we shall endure’ more often than ‘we are enduring’. The table below (which compares words with similar meanings) suggests that this is not the explanation for the extreme rarity here.1

Occurrences in Cicero

ferimus 1 feremus 9 feramus 13
patimur 5 patiemur 3 patiamur 10
gerimus 5 geremus 1 geramus 4

Of the three forms, the future indicative occurs least frequently in most verbs; so it is no surprise that this is the case for patiemur and geremus too. Beyond that, there is no general pattern of usage. But in proportion to the frequency of its word, only ferimus seems to be avoided. The reason for this is not obvious; perhaps doubts about the correct form could have been created by fers, fert, fertis. Without actually believing that fermus could be correct, speakers may have felt uneasy with ferimus (especially since occasions for using it would in any case have probably been too infrequent to establish its legitimacy beyond question).2

The only instance of ferimus in Cicero is at Flacc. 2-3: non sum arbitratus quemquam amicum rei publicae, postea quam L. Flacci amor in patriam perspectus esset, novas huic inimicitias nulla accepta iniuria denuntiaturum. sed quoniam, iudices, multa nos et in nostris rebus et in re publica fefellerunt, ferimus ea quae sunt ferenda. Editions and commentaries print ferimus without remark;3 but feremus would be an easy conjecture here.

If Cicero avoided ferimus and the ending -ferimus in compounds, we should expect that others did so too. In authors up to Apuleius, the PHI disk shows a total of only twenty instances of ferimus (including Cic. Flacc. 3), 37 of -ferimus in compounds: Plautus 5, Terence 1, Rhet. Her. 2, Cic. 1, Varro 4, Ps. Varro Sent. 1, Publil. 1, Rut. Lup. 1, Verg. 7, Ov. 3, Liv. 8, Sen. iun. 1, Curt. 1, Plin. Nat. 2, Sil. 2, Iuv. 1, Quint. Inst. 5, (Ps.) Quint. Decl. Min. 1, Decl. Mai. 4, Tac. 1, Plin. Epist. 1, Pompon. (Dig. 18, 1, 67) 1, Gell. 1, Apul. 2. It is clear that several authors, such as Plautus, Livy, Vergil and Quintilian, were quite happy to use the form. Did others avoid it? If avoidance of the form varies from author to author, it may be difficult to be sure, in the case of any particular writer, that its absence (or near absence) is due to more than chance. For Cicero, where we have more text to work with, we can be more confident than for authors with shorter surviving works in which the form does not occur, such as Lucan or Valerius Flaccus or even Statius. One case where we should certainly expect to find ferimus, if it was regarded as a legitimate form, is the younger Seneca. The PHI disk gives one instance only, at Sen. Benef. 4.3.1:4 si recipiendi spe tribueremus, locupletissimo cuique, non dignissimo daremus; nunc vero diviti importuno pauperem praeferimus. This text, printed by Hosius (from whose edition it finds its way into Basore’s Loeb) and (with the addition of bonum before pauperem) by Gertz, turns out to be a manuscript conjecture. The oldest manuscript N (now generally regarded as the only authoritative manuscript) has either praeferamus (also the reading of the majority of other manuscripts) or praeferam, the text printed by Préchac,5 who unlike Gertz attributes praeferamus to a second hand. Presumably praeferimus replaced praeferamus because of a feeling that after the unreal condition (si recipiendi spe tribueremus) has been rejected (nunc vero, ‘but in fact’), we should expect an indicative rather than a potential subjunctive (i. e. ‘given the choice between a poor man and an importunate rich man, we would prefer the poor man’). The argument does not seem decisive and in any case need not apply to praeferam (Préchac translates, ‘Je préférerai’). Both praeferam and praeferamus give a superior clausula to praeferimus.6


1. Again a search of the PHI disk in the text of Cicero. The ad Herennium, letters by writers other than Cicero (Att. 8.11c; ad Brut. 25[1.17].2) and quotations (Att. 1.16.10) have been removed from the figures.

2. For an example of doubts about the correct form causing avoidance in Latin, cf. E. Dickey, ‘O egregie grammatice: the vocative problems of Latin words ending in -ius’, CQ 50 (2000) 548-62, particularly 553-6.

3. I have consulted the editions of C.W.F. Mueller (Leipzig, 1896), A.C. Clark (Oxford, 1909), L. Fruechtel (Leipzig, 1933), A. Boulanger (Paris, 1938), F. Zucker (Milan, 1963), C. MacDonald (London and Cambridge, Massachussets, 1977), the commentaries of A. Du Mesnil (Leipzig, 1883) and T.B.L. Webster (Oxford, 1931).

4. I cite the editions of M.C. Gertz (Berlin, 1876), C. Hosius (Leipzig, 1914), F. Préchac (Paris, 1926) and J.W. Basore (London and Cambridge, Massachussets, 1935).

5. Gertz reports praeferam as a conjecture of Gruterus.

6. The observation in this article, if it should be original, is not mine, but develops a remark made to me by a Thesaurus colleague, Oleg Nikitinski, who drew my attention to the fact that afferimus (a word much used by the TLL) is not Ciceronian.

Nigel Holmes, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae.