In order to translate the sentence "there are few absolutes" into Latin I thought about: res absolutae paucae sunt. I introduced the word res since I did not find a latin substantive that is equivalent to the English "absolute".

Is this correct?


I think you're right to use absolutus, especially in its more developed meanings. From Lewis & Short:

  1. In rhet. lang., unrestricted, unconditional, absolute: “hoc mihi videor videre, esse quasdam cum adjunctione necessitudines, quasdam simplices et absolutas,” Cic. Inv. 2, 57, 170.—
  2. In gram. a. Nomen absolutum, which gives a complete sense without any thing annexed, e. g.: “deus,” Prisc. p. 581 P.— b. Verbum absolutum, in Prisc. p. 795 P., that has no case with it; in Diom. p. 333 P., opp. inchoativum.— c. Adjectivum absolutum, which stands in the positive, Quint. 9, 3, 19.—Adv.: absŏlūtē , fully, perfectly, completely (syn. perfecte), distinctly, unrestrictedly, absolutely, Cic. Tusc. 4, 17, 38; 5, 18, 53; id. Fin. 3, 7, 26; id. Top. 8, 34 al.—Comp., Macr. Somn. Scip. 2, 15.

Yonge translates the Cicero here:

And it seems to me, that I perceive that there are some kinds of necessity which admit of additions, and some which are simple and perfect in themselves.

This sense of perfection is actually the primary definitely of absolute in English as well. Why bother with anything else when the word from which we get our own English word works perfectly?

As far as substantives go, any adjective can be used substantively. It would be fairly vague, "absolute things," but that's acceptable in Latin. There is nothing inherently wrong with res absolutae, but to my ears it makes it a bit more defined, which I'm not sure you want to emphasize. It's similar to the difference between "bad things (in general) happen to good people" and "those were bad things (=incidences)."

Removing the res, you could also make the pauc- used substantively and absolut- as a predicate, putting them both into neuter plural. The full phrase then would simply be pauca sunt absoluta.

  • It feels way better indeed, thank you for your time – Marc Mar 7 at 9:32

I kinda prefer the verb definire, which seems a bit clearer to me. I don't think you need res, although you could use it if you really wanted to; but why not use the n.pl. instead? Pauca sunt definita.

  • I understand "absolute" in this context to mean "not relative", i.e. not varying from one context to another. Newton famously held time and space to be absolute, but a few centuries later we found out that even durations and distances vary from one reference frame to another. Even relative things, then, can be well defined (and perhaps absolute things can be indefinitus). What do you think? – Ben Kovitz Feb 9 at 0:46
  • Ah. I guess this gets to the limits of my understand of physics (which is almost non-existent anyway). I personally think finding a satisfactory Latin equivalent then becomes a bit of a personal journey, depending partly on the kind of Latin one accepts/likes (I am hopelessly not at home in the Latin of Newton, but I suppose reading that sort of stuff means dealing with a lot of terminology that one simply doesn't get from Cicero, Caesar, Ovid, Vergil, Tacitus, even Bede or Erasmus). As I'm writing, however, how about a word like immutabilis? “Pauca sunt immutabilia”? – Batavulus Feb 9 at 20:31
  • I only meant the physics example as an illustration to suggest that definitus might draw a different distinction than intended. Perhaps the moral principle "Always do your best" is absolute—applicable in all life situations—and yet it's not sharply defined. It's pretty hazy; the details need to be discovered anew in each situation. Well, I did my best yesterday to find a Latin word for this, which led me to spend an hour looking at Augustine's debate with Iulian, and I had no success. _Immutabilis_—maybe! Maybe a separate answer for that, even, to encourage "relative" voting. – Ben Kovitz Feb 9 at 21:33

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