In Cap. IX of LLPSI Pars I, Ørberg tells the story of a black sheep wandering into the forest where it's confronted by a wolf. The wolf finds the sheep alone in the darkness of the forest, and the sheep closes its eyes and waits for the wolf to attack. The sentence Lupus collum ovis petit dentibus... then follows. I took this to mean the wolf makes for the neck of the sheep with its teeth, or more literally the wolf makes for the sheep's neck with teeth.

Is dentibus ablative and is the preposition implied, or is this dative and the indirect object of the sentence?

  • 1
    If it helps, you can often think of the ablative as translated with the suffix -wise in English. In this example: The wolf makes for the sheep's neck teeth-wise. In English too, then, there is no further need for a preposition.
    – HolKann
    Apr 22 '21 at 19:58

It's an ablativus instrumentalis, or an instrumental ablative, and specifically an ablative of means. No preposition necessary or even permitted.


It's ablative.

There's no preposition because this is the instrumental use of the ablative. @TKR helped me out with this long ago when he pointed out that you would not say cum to indicate using the teeth to attack. This meaning is indicated by the plain ablative with no preposition (with a non-human noun).

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the dative-ablative ambiguity puzzling! The answer to that question points out that this is seldom a problem in practice; and I'm happy to say that as I've gotten more experience with Latin, there seems to be less and less ambiguity between ablative and dative. In the case of the lupus, you guessed right: the wolf attacks the sheep with its (the wolf's) teeth, of course—since that makes sense.

Another clue is that the verb peto doesn't have much use for a dative noun. I'm having a hard time thinking of how to use a dative noun with peto; maybe Canis ovi lupum petivit: "The dog attacked the wolf on behalf of the sheep."

  • What if you were saying something like "the wolf, with the dog, attacked the sheep"? I'd imagine it's more straight forward to just keep wolf and dog nominative and use et and a plural verb, but if you wanted to make it clearer that the wolf is the main aggressor it might make sense to word it this way (at least in English): lupus collum ovis petit cum cane. I'm not sure if that requires a plural verb, though.
    – Adam
    Apr 21 '21 at 21:54
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    I have seen cum used instead of et many times to set up a singular verb, just as you illustrate (or, more prosaically, lupus cum cane ovem petit), but this book suggests the plural. I'm no expert, but I've come to think of that use of cum as a Latin mannerism.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 21 '21 at 23:47
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    @Adam You can use cum as well as et for this; the verb can be either singular or plural according to how much of a single idea the two subjects form in your head. For maximum disambiguation you have ūnā cum "together with". Notice though that postponing cum cane so far from the subject is quite awkward, and it kind of feels instrumental. Yes, instrumental uses of cum also exist, normally when the noun is some kind of tool. Apr 22 '21 at 0:08

It's an ablative of means: with the teeth.

wolf attacks neck of sheep with teeth

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