QUAERITUR: What’s with Latin “memineris” and the genetive?

From a reader:

I am singing in a small Gregorian chant "schola" that my wife has organized.  My voice continues to be mediocre, but one thing that I find myself drawn to is the resuscitation of my high school Latin.
We are singing "Rorate Caeli" in an upcoming Advent service.  I have a small handbook and a low-budget Latin-English dictionary.
Here is a line from the song that I find somewhat confusing.

Ne ultra memineris iniquitatis.
"May you no longer remember [our] iniquities."

I am puzzled by the form "iniquitatis." It looks like a genitive singular, where I am expecting an accusative plural.

Is "memini, meminisse" a verb that takes a genitive object? (Even if so, why would the object be singular?)  The dictionary just says "perfect form for present meaning," and I do appreciate that much information.
Do you know of someone to whom I could turn with questions of this sort?

Expecting an accusative, are we?  Well… we don’t always get what we want!  o{];¬)


You can consult a normal dictionary.  Doing so, you will find that the defective verb memini, "to remember, recollect, to think of, be mindful of a thing" has an "object" in the genetive.  It can also go with the accusative and even be construed with de.  There is a common phrase in Latin Church circles "memento mei"… "be mindful of me". 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike T says:

    Thank you very much, Father Z. Perhaps the time has come to invest in
    a heftier dictionary or handbook.

    …And now to push my luck. Sometimes I encounter the spelling
    “coeli” instead of “caeli.” I wonder if both spellings go back to
    classic times, or am I nuts? (Could be both.) Somebody once told me
    that “oe” and “ae” were distinctly pronounced in the days of Virgil
    and Cicero (as in Am. English “boil” and “bile”), only to converge
    into a single pronunciation (as in Am. English “bail”) by the late
    empire (4th or 5th century A.D.)

  2. Marcin says:

    Memento mori

  3. wsxyz says:

    The German verbs gedenken and sich erinnern, meaning “to recollect, remember”, can both take a genitive object as well.

    Even in English, constructions like “think of me” or “be mindful of us” seem similar.

  4. Liam says:

    Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

  5. jacobus says:

    If you’re taking grammatical questions, Father, I’ve been wondering about that ‘verbo’ in “…tantum dic verbo…” What is it and why isn’t it accusative?

  6. Ian says:

    To answer the ‘singular’ question, it makes perfect sense to say “no longer be mindful of (our) iniquity”. Iniquity seems a state of sinful being here, not a singular incident of sin, hence we are not asking God to disregard each and every sin, but to have mercy on us and turn his eyes away from that fact that we are sinful.

  7. jacobus: That is like saying “Speak by/in a word”.  If you go back to look at the Greek of Matthew 8:8 you can see how this Latin phrase evolved.  The Greek has an aorist imperative followed by a dative giving us “say in a word”.  The Latin follows suit.

  8. jacobus says:

    gratias tibi, Domine.

  9. Jason says:

    I have an off-topic question. I don’t want to derail the thread, but I wouldn’t know where else to ask.

    In the Eucharistic Prayer, when the Priest says, “We do well always and everywhere to give you thanks…” Is “well” an accurate translation of the Latin. This past Sunday it struck me as an odd word choice (I don’t know why it struck me this past Sunday, after hearing it for years). I would expect “we do good always…” So I was just wondering if the Latin says “well” as well?

  10. Frank H says:

    Jason, I don’t know about the Latin, but I have always heard it as “We do well, always and everywhere, to give you thanks…”. So, “good” would not work, since you wouldn’t say “We do good to give you thanks.”

  11. Jason says:

    The way I’ve always understood the line, it is saying “We do good actions always in thanks to you.” But I see how “well” would work if the prayer is saying “we do our best to give you thanks always.”

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