In Latin and Greek, when a negator appears in an absolute construction (ablative absolute, genitive absolute), it is generally taken to negate the predicate within that construction:

hostibus impetum facientibus "the enemy attacking"
hostibus non impetum facientibus "the enemy not attacking"

Do we ever get instances of a negator applying not to the predicate, but to the whole absolute construction? A made-up example of what I mean:

Caesar se recepit non hostibus impetum facientibus, sed fessis suis. "Caesar retreated not because the enemy were attacking, but because his men were tired."

Here non is semantically outside the absolute construction rather than applying to a constituent within it.

The same question could be asked of Greek genitive absolutes; in fact this question occurred to me reading an answer by Draconis to a Greek question, in which he translates οὐ παραμιγνυμένου αὐτῷ κασσιτέρου as "not because it's mixed with tin" (οὐ negating the whole construction) rather than "because it's not mixed with tin" (οὐ negating only the predicate).

My sense is that for both Latin and Greek, this kind of usage is either nonexistent or very rare, and that meanings like these would be expressed with some other construction (e.g. non quod, οὐχ ὅτι). Thoughts?

ETA: prodded by the examples in Mitomino's answer, I'm now thinking this is really a question about information structure rather than negation. Maybe what's odd about my made-up example above is not that it's negated, but that it's acting as the focus of the sentence. In that case the question can be recast as "Can an absolute construction be focused?" Answers to this question would be equally welcome.

  • I think that the question "Can an absolute construction be focused?" is a bit more general, whereby it could be useful to formulate it independently. I think that it could also be useful to clarify the (too general) notion of "focus" by giving some empirical hints to the readers in order for them to know what you're looking for. E.g., cf. Pinkster's (1990) remark: "focus constituents may be marked by certain intensifying particles like et … et, quidem and sane". Cf. perseus.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 23:37

1 Answer 1


What follows is not an answer but just some initial thoughts related to your question. My first impression/intuition is like the one you express at the end of your post. I'd be surprised to find examples that follow the specific schema you suggest (i.e., "non AA sed AA") in a classical author like Cicero. However, I must also say that I would be less surprised to find this sort of data in Tacitus. In the latter (but, as far as I know, not in the former) one can find, for example, causal ablative absolutes (turbatis omnibus) coordinated with causal clauses introduced by the conjunction quod:

Nec dissolutio nauigii sequebatur, turbatis omnibus et quod plerique ignari etiam conscios impediebant (Tac. Ann. 14.5).

Given the existence of this sort of coordination, one could perhaps also find a sequence like "non + Ablative Absolute sed quod ..." in Tacitus (but, as noted above, according to {my intuition/my readings}, not in Cicero). If so, notice that the scope of non would be on the full Ablative Absolute (and not only on the predicate included in it).

I've just taken a look at Pinkster's (2015) Oxford Latin Syntax (OUP). When dealing with the scope of negation in ablative absolutes, he gives the following relevant information:

"Most often the negation concerns only one or more words in the clause to which it belongs. The constituent in question is either a contrastive topic or a focus (...). In example (k), the ablative absolute clause me ... auctore is the scope of non (note quidem) (...) As the examples show, the scope may be on a nuclear constituent (...) or on an adjunct (me auctore). The scope may concern one word or a subordinate clause. Ex. (k) illustrates an ablative absolute clause" (Pinkster 2015: 676-677; bold mine: Mitomino).

(k) Non me quidem / faciet auctore hodie ut illum decipiat (Pl. St. 602-3)

Unfortunately, as you have seen, the discussion above is exemplified with a sort of lexicalized ablative absolute: me auctore. More interestingly, on page 715 Pinkster gives an intriguing example, where the negation, due to its external position in the coordination, could be claimed to take scope on the full Ablative Absolute (and not necessarily only on the predicate included in it). I add Pinkster's translation below.

...cum C. Sulpicius et C. Licinius Calvus consules in Hernicos exercitum duxissent neque inventis in agro hostibus Ferentinum urbem eorum vi cepissent, revertentibus inde eis Tiburtes portas clausere (Liv. 7.9.1).

'(...) the consuls Gaius Sulpicius and Gaius Licinius Calvus led an army against the Hernici, and not finding the enemy abroad, captured their city of Ferentinum by assault. As they were returning thence, the men of Tibur closed their gates against them'.

  • We have discussed ablative absolutes (AA) before, in Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/12724/1982. In the example, above: "...neque inventis in agro hostibus Ferentinum urbem eorum vi cepissent, …", pronoun, "eorum", in the main clause, refers to the enemy "hostibus" in the AA-clause. Is this not forbidden? ("Absolutus": free or unconnected.) Has Pinkster's violated an established orthodoxy? Whatever next? Negation: an ex. from an elementary text (GCSE): "templis a consule aedificatis, cives cibum non habebant." = "After the temples had been built by the consul, the citizens
    – tony
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:32
  • had no food." This could be put into reverse: "templis a consule non aedificatis, cives cibum habebant." = "With ….not having been built, the citizens had food."--do you agree? A more imaginative approach to negation is given in Allen & Greenough (p419 [a]): "nil desperandum Teucro duce et auspice Teucro." (Hor. Od. 1. 7. 27.) = "There should be no despair under Teucer's leadership and auspices (Teucer being leader, etc.). Here, the use of our old friend, the neuter gerundive.
    – tony
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:44
  • 1
    Thanks for these interesting examples! The Plautus quote does look like an instance of what I asked about, though as you say it's less surprising because lexicalized. The Livy quote I think is most naturally taken as a "normally" negated AA where the scope is just inventis (it could be recast as something like hostibus non inventis). Information structure seems important here -- in the Plautus and my made-up example the negated AA is the focus of the sentence. Maybe the question is really whether an AA can function as focus?
    – TKR
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:24
  • 1
    @tony In Livy's ex. eorum is referring to Hernicos. Cf. Pinkster's translation with this one: "when the consuls C. Sulpicius and C. Licinius Calvus led an army against the Hernici and did not find the enemy in the field, they took Ferentinum—a city of the Hernici—by force. The Tiburtines closed their gates to the returning Romans)". For context, cf. p. 98 (transl. given in footnote 197: repository.upenn.edu/cgi/… ). Ok with your transl. of templis non aedificatis. Finally, glad to know we share a passion for the gerundive.
    – Mitomino
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:04

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