In English, if we want to state rule or some didactic principle, we use the indefinite article. So, for example, we might say "A car drives on the right side of the road." meaning that we drive on the right side as a matter of principle or law. If we say "The car drives on the right side of the road." it means something completely different and refers to a particular situation. It's a little bit subtle. In fact, a common error of non-native speakers of English is to incorrectly use the definite article when stating a didactic principle.

How is are things phrased in Latin when expressing a principle versus a fact? Examples from classical literature would be appreciated.

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    I would call this "gnomic" rather than "didactic", since it's stating a general fact about the world.
    – Draconis
    Apr 21, 2021 at 21:19
  • 1
    "A car drives on …" — It's also common to omit the article entirely: "Cars drive on …". Jul 6, 2023 at 2:20

1 Answer 1


A&G 475 Actually mentions the "gnomic perfect"

  1. The perfect is sometimes used of a general truth, especially with negatives (Gnomic Perfect).

Quī studet contingere mētam multa tulit fēcitque. (Hor. A. P. 412) He who aims to reach the goal, first bears and does many things.

Nōn aeris acervus et aurī dēdūxit corpore febrīs. (id. Ep. 1.2.47) The pile of brass and gold does not removes fever from the frame.

Note— The Gnomic Perfect strictly refers to past time; but its use implies that something which never did happen in any known case never does happen, and never will (cf. the English “Faint heart never won fair lady”); or, without a negative that what has once happened will always happen under similar circumstances.

However, A&G 313 also mentions "general assertions", which I'm not sure what does it mean or the what difference it has to the "gnomic perfect", but maybe it is closer to the OP's request:

  1. The distributives quisque (every), uterque (each of two), and ūnus quisque (every single one) are used in general assertions.

Bonus liber melior est quisque quō mâior. (Plin. Ep. 1.20.4) The larger a good book is, the better. (each good book is better in proportion, etc.)

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