Is it better to say a lectica portatur or in lectica portatur if it's the lectīcā who is the agent? Gratias plurimas.

1 Answer 1


It depends. I can see three somewhat different meanings here, and they all lead to different choices.

If you want to say "he is carried in a litter", then the litter just describes location and is not really an agent. In this case you would use in with ablative and get in lectica portatur.

If you want to say "he is carried by a litter", then the litter can be considered an agent. Some agents in Latin get a preposition (it's always a(b(s))), but not all do. A rule of thumb is that human agents get the prepositions and thing agents don't. It's a matter of will; if the agent willfully causes the event, it gets a preposition, but if it is a mere instrument, it does not. Thus the agent without preposition is really the same thing as an instrumental ablative. (The instrumental ablative can also be used with the preposition cum.) In this case you would get lectica portatur or cum lectica portatur.

If the litter is an autonomous being that decides to carry you — I am still waiting for the release of the self-driving litter — then a "human agent" with a preposition is a valid choice. In this case you have a lectica portatur.

  • Thank you for the answer and the appropriate link. I'm thinking that if perhaps we are on a dial system it can be turned High enough so any noun could really have agency and in that case saying a lectīcā is acceptable. I can think of few cases in Italian where abstract thoughts or emotions can be agents, but along with the above one can say 'a macchina' (by car) and especially you do want to distinguish it from a second following proposition of location, i.e. --a macchina in ospedale, not --in macchina in ospedale
    – rearThing
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 15:50
  • @rearThing Most Latin grammars will tell you that things can be agents but that they will not get the preposition. A less common but essentially equivalent view is that the "thing agents" are in fact instruments. In Latin a thing agent with a preposition is extremely rare, nowhere near comparable to e.g. Italian. You would have turn the dial a lot, but I wanted to mention this rare option too.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 17:34

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