In De Bello Gallico, book 1, chapter 1, it starts as follows:

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt.

My doubt is concerning the object of reference of the relative pronoun qui. I can certainly understand the sentence and translate qui as those, but in my opinion this a case of relative pronoun and yet I cannot find its object of reference.

Is there any srategy to find the object of reference of a relative pronoun? Certainly there are cases where it is quite evident like in the case of quarum in this extract (partes tres), but it seems that in other cases it is not so clear.

  • 3
    Doesn't qui there mean those who, and not simply those? If you agree it's those who, you get both a real relative pronoun (who), and it's antecedent (those). 'Antecedent' is a linguistic term for "the object of reference of a relative or any other pronoun."
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 10, 2019 at 9:24
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    If you like empty elements in syntax, it could be said that there is a null nominative demonstrative ei preceding the relative clause headed by qui.
    – Mitomino
    Jul 10, 2019 at 15:45
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    @YellowSky That comment of yours goes such a long way in answering the question, that it should be rather posted as an answer. It doesn't matter that there are already two answers; more answers do add more value.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 10, 2019 at 19:04
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    Empty elements are a traditional solution to missing words prescribed by theories. It's one way to handle headless relatives. It's awkward in English, since they're pretty rare and somewhat obsolete. As for the Caesar quotation, I've always thought the really classy thing about it was that it gaps both left and right in the same sentence. It's such a cool sentence that I made up an exercise about it for my freshman etymology class.
    – jlawler
    Jul 10, 2019 at 19:08
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    Yes, this famous sentence is also very appropriate to show the important relation between syntax (word order) and information structure. So, for example, quarum unam incolunt Belgae is better to be translated as a passive sentence in English just to preserve the fact that Belgae is not TOPIC but RHEME (e.g., see the excellent chapter on word order in Dirk Panhuis's "Latin Grammar", where this sentence is analyzed).
    – Mitomino
    Jul 10, 2019 at 19:34

2 Answers 2


Descriptively speaking, relative clauses can be classified into two types depending on having an external antecedent or not (e.g., please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause ): cf. so-called "bound relative clauses" and so-called "free relative clauses", respectively.

The former are the "typical" ones, which, as you point out, have an antecedent in the main clause (e.g., (... in partes tres) quarum unam incolunt Belgae). The latter, the ones that seem to bother you, lack an explicit antecedent external to itself (e.g., (tertiam incolunt Ø) qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur).
NB: Ø is the empty slot that could be filled by the null nominative demonstrative ei.


Two ways:

  1. By agreement in gender and number—but not case, since the pronoun's case in the subordinate clause may differ from that of its antecedent in the parent clause.

  2. By sense—that is, by what interpretation makes sense in context.

You're running into trouble, though, because qui in that sentence has no antecedent. It refers to the as yet unnamed inhabitants of the third part of Gaul. It might help to see another sentence that works this way:

Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. (Vegetius, Epitoma Rei Militaris, III)

Who desires peace should prepare for war.

English has this construct, too, though today it sounds old-fashioned to use "who" in this way, without being preceded by another pronoun, like "one", to serve as an antecedent.

The pronoun together with its subordinate clause serves as a noun in the parent clause. The same principle is at work in the phrase "To whom it may concern". The whole clause "whom it may concern" is the object of "to".

Here are another couple examples from the same book by Vegetius (ch. 25, on what to do if you've been partially or wholly defeated):

Innumerabilibus hoc accidit bellis, et pro superioribus sunt habiti qui minime desperarunt. Nam in simili condicione fortior creditur quem aduersa non frangunt.

This [a comeback after suffering losses] has happened in innumerable wars, and [those] who least despaired were found victorious. For in like conditions [of partial defeat], whom adversities don't break is believed stronger.

Here's an example well known in both Latin and English:

Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius.

Whom Jupiter wishes to destroy he first makes mad.

I've seen this construct often used to introduce new terminology, as in your sentence.

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