The possessive dative construction involves a subject possessee, a dative possessor, and a form of esse:

  1. Mihi soror est.
  2. Dicit sibi sororem esse.

In this construction, is esse ever elided? That is, can you say e.g. Dicit sibi sororem? I don't think I've seen such cases, and the fact that esse in this construction has an existential force may mean it's obligatorily expressed. But I don't recall seeing any discussion of this in grammars. Can anyone point to either a case of such elision, or a grammatical reference on this topic?

  • FWIW, same feeling like yours: Dicit sibi sororem without esse sounds really bad, compared to, for example, Dicit sororem sibi occidendam (esse), which is ok. I think that the "problem" is not that the former construction is "existential" and the latter isn't (in my opinion, a modal construction like Nunc est bibendum is also a type of "existential" construction. Why not?). In any case, existential or not, what about if the "problem" in Latin has to do with the fact that there is a lexical predicate (e.g., occidendam) in the latter, which is missing in the former?
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:39
  • We can assume that esse is a lexical predicate in the possessive dative construction, but a functional predicate in the modal construction, which makes sense in the grammaticalization process involved (from the former to the latter). However, note that this lexical/functional distinction preserves the following relevant parallelisms between them: e.g., cf. Mihi est liber and Mihi currendum est & Habeo librum and Habeo currendum. For further discussion, see latin.stackexchange.com/questions/11169/…
    – Mitomino
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:51
  • 1
    @Mitomino I suspect we're getting at the same thing with "existential" and "lexical predicate" (namely that this use of esse has more semantic content than a copula).
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


I don't know any specific rule, but since the dative of possession can also occur without esse (in the guise of a dative of reference), you don't want to elide esse when it will sound like an incomplete sentence (or, what is much the same thing, when it won't be clear that we don't have the verbless form of a dative of possession, also known as a dative of reference). Dicit sibi sororem could be the start of Dicit sibi sororem te amare, for example, whereas Dicit sibi sororem occidendam doesn't leave you expecting more words. But even then, for example, Dicit sibi sororem occasam might sound like a complete sentence...or not...it could go on Dicit sibi sororem occasam te amavisse. (Of course, in the last example, the ambiguity isn't around the use of sibi but around whether occasam is attributive or predicative.)

  • 1
    I'm not sure that "the dative of possession can also occur without esse". Dicit sibi sororem te amare sounds wrong to me -- wouldn't it be suam?
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 17:49
  • It would more usually be suam, but I think sibi is possible.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 18:09
  • @TKR There is a difference in flavor of meaning between the two: see dcc.dickinson.edu/grammar/latin/dative-reference
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 18:34
  • The dative of reference can't freely replace a possessive adjective, though -- its use is more restricted (though I'm not sure how the restrictions are to be defined). I think Dicit sibi sororem te amare would have to mean "He says his sister loves you for himself", or "for herself", whatever that might mean.
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 20:37
  • @TKR It definitely means something more like the first, though i would still translate it as "He says his sister loves you". You can't always translate the shades of meaning--in this case that the speaker's sister's love for "you" may have been on account of the spsaker (e.g., maybe "you" and he are old pals).
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 23:55

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