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The defective verb "inquit"

by Steve
(San Francisco, CA)

Dear Latin Teacher:

I am a beginning Latin student and am confused by the Latin word, "inquit." I understand this verb to translate as, "he/she says." I am unable to find a first person, second person or plural version of this verb. Are there any? Wheelock's Latin grammar book describes inquit as a defective verb. Would you please explain the meaning of a "defective verb?"

Thank you very much for your time and for you useful blog.


Dear Steve,

You will find the verb you seek in any Latin dictionary under the first person singular form inquam. The most common forms found in extant literature are: inquam (I say/said), inquis (you say/said), inquit (he/she says/said), inquimus (we say/said), and inquiunt (they say/said).

Defective verbs are those missing many forms. The forms given above are used for the present and perfect tenses. This verb is used rarely in the following forms: imperfect inquiebat (he was saying), future inquies (you will say) and inquiet (he will say), perfect inquii (I said) and inquisti (you said), present subjunctive inquiat (let him say), and the imperative inque (say!).

This verb is most often found in its third person forms inquit and inquiunt. Many beginning Latin texts use it frequently because it can be used to report direct quotations. When it is used with quotations it is placed usually after the first word or two, very rarely before or after the entire quotation.

"sum" inquit "civis romanus."

"I am" he said "a Roman citizen."

Other common defective verbs, which you will learn very soon in your Wheelock's, are coepi, coepisse (to begin) and odi, odisse (to hate). For these two defective verbs all forms are in the perfect system, i.e. there are no forms for the present, imperfect, and future tenses, and coepisse and odisse are the only infinitive forms. So for these verbs the present tense looks perfect, while the perfect tense looks pluperfect.

Luckily there are only a handful of defective verbs in Latin.

Hope this helps, and thanks for asking a Latin teacher.



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