I recently came across o beatum te in a letter and I was surprised that accusative was used instead of vocative. Lewis and Short indeed indicate that the interjection o can be used with vocative, accusative, nominative, and genitive. Examples are given of each case, but no explanation is provided.

Is there a difference in meaning or nuance or anything else between the different cases? Could I for example interpret o beate as an address or a greeting but o beatum te more as "o how blessed you are"? Based on the examples in L&S, I could interpret the vocative being used for all address but the other cases mutually interchangeably for everything else. But is it really so?


1 Answer 1


Typically, Latin dictionaries just lump these uses together, hence your confusion.

O (oh) can used with a number of cases other than the vocative when there's no addressing a person. For instance, the OLD entry (s.v. o²) treats them separately (probably because the OLD lexicographers used relevant data from the TLL entry - see below on this).

2.1 with the vocative, in addressing people or in adjurations;

2a-c.in expressions of admiration, pleasure, horror etc., "O what (a) ..., o how ...", examples with the nominative (2a), accusative (2b), and genitive (2c) listed separately again.

Pinkster 2015 (v.1, 6.35 Exclamatory sentences, pp. 361-368) also discusses this. While the vocative is used for address or invocation, exclamatory sentences on the other hand are used to express "disbelief, surprise, relief, indignation, misery or disgust about a certain state of affairs" (p. 361), cf.

accusativus exclamationis: O audaciam! (Ter.),

nominativus: O mirum commentum! (Apul.),

genitivus: O mercis malae! (Pl.)

The idea of address in the vocative - which the exclamatory uses discussed above cannot express - should be clear from this example: O stulte, stulte, nescis nunc venire te? (Pl.)

For a comprehensive, very detailed description, see the TLL entry (s.v. o) - it's 10 pages long! - esp. the first two sections, caput primum: exclamando (IIA. with the acc., IIB with nom., and IIC with the genitive) and caput secundum: appellando, vocando (with the vocative).

  • 2
    Tibi gratulor, quod iam decem milia tulisti punctorum!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 10:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.