As an adjective, supine is used:
- to describe a person’s physical position: it means ‘lying on one’s back, face upwards’. The opposite of supine in this sense is prone, i.e., ‘lying on one’s front, face downwards’. (The adjective prone also has other meanings, viz., ‘sloping downwards’ and ‘having an inclination or tendency (to do something)’).
- to describe a person’s attitude or frame of mind: it means ‘inactive, lacking interest or energy’. A person who takes no action to deal with a situation which requires his attention may be criticised for his supine attitude.
- Readers of AWE are most likely to meet with the word supine in the context of the Latin language, the supine being one of the four principal parts of the Latin verb, i.e., the parts of the verb one needs to know in order to conjugate the verb and derive all its inflectional forms. However, the supine is also found in a number of modern European languages, such as Swedish, Rumanian, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Slovenian; and in English grammar the word has sometimes been applied - though it rarely is nowadays - to the full form of the infinitive, i.e., the form with ‘to’, when this is used as if it were a noun, as in ‘To win would be a dream come true’, ‘To respect the law is the duty of every citizen’, and ‘If all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work’ (Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I, Act I, Scene 2, lines 226-227).
Etymological note:: The English adjective supine comes from the Latin supinus, ‘bent backwards’, ‘thrown backwards’, ‘on the back’ and, figuratively, ‘inactive, indolent’. The noun supine, used in grammatical contexts, was verbum supinum (i.e., ‘supine word’) in Latin, though why this expression was used is obscure.