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Purpose Clauses in Latin


Purpose Clauses are used in Latin sentences when there are two parts of a sentence, generally joined by a conjunction, where the first, independent or main part expresses an action, and the second, or dependent clause, shows the goal of that action. The action is supplied by a verb that is often in the Indicative Mood, while the second (goal) part, the one we're looking at, is in the Subjunctive Mood.

What Is the Purpose Clause Used for?

As is clear from the name of the clause, it supplies the purpose of an action or its end; hence Final Clause, which is another name for the Purpose Clause.

The Purpose Clause answers the question "why?".

Ut or Ne?

The words "ut" (sometimes "uti") or "ne" normally introduce Purpose Clauses. Ut and ne are not interchangeable. One is positive; the other negative. Although the word may sound archaic, "lest" is a good translation for the "ne" in purpose clauses. Ut is translated something like "so that", so if "lest" bothers you, you can think of the English equivalent of the Latin "ne" as "so that not".


  • Clause of Purpose With Ut:
    ab aratro abduxerunt Cincinnatum, ut dictator esset (Cicero. Fin. 2.12), they brought Cincinnatus from the plough that he might be dictator.
  • Clause of Purpose With Ne:
    scalas parari iubet, ne quam facultatem dimittat (Caesar. Civ. 1.28), he orders scaling ladders to be got ready, in order not to let slip any opportunity.

When Does a Purpose Clause Use Something Other Than Ut or Ne?

You may find a purpose clause without the conjunctions ut or ne serving as markers, but you should see something else that serves the same function. This variation on the Purpose Clause is introduced by a relative adverb or the Relative Pronouns qui, quae, quod. These are called Relative Clauses of Purpose. Sometimes, you will find quo used as the conjunction introducing a purpose clause with a comparative.


  • Ablative Quo With a Comparative:
    libertate usus est, quo impunius dicax esset (Cicero. Quinct. 11), he took advantage of liberty, that he might bluster with more impunity.
  • Relative Clause of Purpose:
    habebam quo confugerem (Cicero. Fam. 4.6.2), I had [a retreat] whither I might flee.

Which Tenses Does the Purpose Clause Take?

The tenses of the purpose clause are limited to the present or imperfect. Since this is a subjunctive construction, that means it's the present subjunctive (active or passive) or imperfect subjunctive (active or passive).

When Does It Take the Present Subjunctive?

The Present Subjunctive is used when the main verb is in the primary sequence of tenses.

  • The primary sequence includes the present and the future.
  • It also includes the Perfect Tense when English translates it as "have +verb +ed".

The tense of the verb in the main clause affects how you translate the main clause, but the present subjunctive verb in the Purpose Clause can be translated the same way regardless of the tense in the main clause.

When Does It Take the Imperfect Subjunctive?

The Imperfect Subjunctive is used when the main verb is in the secondary sequence of tenses. Note, however, that when the present tense is used in the main verb and the imperfect subjunctive is used in the dependent clause, the explanation may be that the main verb is an historical present.

  • The secondary sequence includes the imperfect, the simple perfect (aorist), and the pluperfect.

Again, the tense of the main verb affects the translation of the main clause, but the imperfect subjunctive may be translated the same way regardless of the main clause.

* Examples From Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar

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