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I have been told that the greeting ave or have is of Punic origin and not an imperative of avere. If so, how do I use this word to greet several people? Is it in the same form, is it pluralized to (h)avete as if it was an imperative, is it something else, or is it not used at all in the plural? With a clear imperative like salve I can go salvete in the plural, but I am not sure about ave.

If at all possible, I am looking for attested use in classical Latin or as close to it as possible.

While it might be interesting how the word worked in the Punic language, it is somewhat irrelevant here. I am after the usage in classical Latin, and it need not correspond to the structures in the language of origin. If it turns out that ave is to be understood as an imperative, then avete is expected and should be attested.

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  • Straight from Lewis and Short: "I.to be or fare well; except once in Mamert., used only in the imper. ave, aveto, avete, and inf. avere, as a form of salutation, both at meeting and separating, like salve and χαῖρε (hence, Fest. p. 13 explains it by gaudeo)."
    – cmw
    Jun 8 at 11:56
  • @cmw A corpus search produced one hit for havete and none for avete. The one hit is mentioned by Cairnarvon. It's peculiar how much dictionaries can promote a single attestation.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 8 at 14:49
  • I just found a related question about (h)ave.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 8 at 15:15
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    I also want to add that the infinitive avere actually is not the infinitive of ave — in every instance I've managed to find (that isn't the separate IE verb 'to desire'), it means 'to greet'. It's a neologism built on ave, but ave itself obviously doesn't mean 'greet!'.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jun 9 at 17:10
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Plautus' havo reflects the likely Punic plural *ḥawū, but that's in the mouth of Punic-speaking characters. If that plural made it into Latin proper, it doesn't seem to show up in the literary record.

The folk-etymological plural (h)avete is mentioned by grammarians and shows up in the wild in, as far as I can tell, exactly two places: Apuleius' Metamorphoses (book 7: "Sic introgressus: 'Havete'") and the Vulgate (Matthew 28:9, where it translates χαίρετε: "Et ecce Iesus occurrit illis, dicens: Avete."). Neither of these is known for particularly organic Latin.
(L&S mention another instance in Suetonius, but where they have "Avete vos" as the reply my edition has "Aut non", so I don't know about that.)

I don't know (and I don't think we know) if Plautus' Poenulus is what introduced the word into the Roman vernacular in the first place, but his enduring popularity surely helped keep Romans aware that have wasn't a regular Latin imperative, and as a consequence people generally seem not to have pluralised it at all: the singular apparently sufficed for addressing multiple people, though it's hard to find unambiguous evidence of that. Borrowing Plautus' plural havo must have been seen as overly precious.
(The repeatedly attested Latinised future avētō, which is the only other form of the verb that shows up, must have met a more urgent need than the plural.)

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As has been noted here: The Latin word “Have” rather than “Ave” as a translation of the Greek word Χαῖρε?

Plautus uses the plural havo three times in his Poenulus.

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