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I'm having trouble parsing the phrase "quae cum audisset," which I've seen translated as "when [subject] heard" or "and when [subject] heard" in the latin vulgate. For instance, Joshua 11:1, 2 Kings 19:1, and Esther 4:1. Here is Joshua 11:1 for discussion:

Quae cum audisset Jabin rex Asor, misit ad Jobab regem Madon, et ad regem Semeron, atque ad regem Achsaph:

When I try to parse this, I get:

  • Quae: reflexive pronoun "who/which/that/what", nominative feminine singular
  • cum: preposition "with"
  • audisset: This one had me stuck for a while, but I believe it's simply a contracted form of audivisset, which is active voice, subjunctive mood, singlar, third person, pluperfect, which I believe would be rendered "whether [subject] had been heard." I found support for that here and here.

So, my questions:

  1. What is the correct parsing of audisset?
  2. Are my other parsings correct?
  3. How is the gender of "quae" selected? E.g., why "quae" (feminine) vs "qui" or "quod" (masculine or neuter, respectively)
  4. Once everything is parsed correctly, I'm anticipating I will still struggle with how we get to the english rendering "And when [subject] heard"--is this an idiomatic phrase?
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  • I'm wondering if there is a connection with the phrase Quae cum ita sunt which apparently means "since these things are so"
    – Josh
    Aug 8 at 17:14
  • You're right in your intuition. Cum+subjunctive, here, is taking a secondary meaning of 'when': when Jabin, the king of Asor, heard that...
    – Rafael
    Aug 8 at 17:36
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If you read the English translation closely, you will find it actually reads “And when Jabin king of Asor had heard these things ⋯”

Quae is accusative neuter plural, and Latin uses the neuter plural for “the things, all that,” etc., in other words, to refer to something in a wholesale manner. A typical example from the very beginning of Caesar's De bello Gallico:

mercatores [⋯] ea quae ad effeminandos animos pertinent important
merchants import such things as serve to render the spirits soft

Quae cum ita sint (since this is so, this being so, therefore, etc.), a very common expression (well, not in the Vulgate I suppose, but with Cicero), works the same way.

Of course, quae does not mean “these,” it is a relative pronoun and means “which.” This is a relative continuation (§ 308 f), and if you wanted to translate it literally, you would get “Which when Jabin king of Asor had heard ⋯” – that is not proper English, because of the presence of “when” in the sentence, so we are forced to use a demonstrative pronoun in English.


Audisset is the contracted form of audivisset. This type of contraction (§ 181 b) is quite common. It is indeed the pluperfect subjunctive (not “subjective”), which tense is used to signify anteriority in a dependent clause that depends on a past-tense verb. The past tense verb in this case is misit, and the clause is dependent because cum clauses usually are when there is a relationship between the events, which is obviously the case here.

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    It occurs to me I seem to be the only person in the world to use the term “relative continuation.” That's my translation of „relativer Anschluß“ as they call it in German. I have no idea if it has a common name in English. Aug 8 at 20:53
  • I might adopt that term, as it seems to hit the nail on the head and I don't have an English term for it either. That'd make two of us then, but perhaps the term is indeed not found in grammars or the scholarly literature.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 9 at 8:03
  • I don't think I know a term for it either. Allen and Greengough talk about this use as similar to "a demonstrative with a conjunction." I also thought of it as having a conjunction sense, so perhaps conjunctive relative?
    – cmw
    Aug 13 at 19:05
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Quae isn't just nom. f. sg; it can also be nom. f. plural or nom./acc. n. plural. In this case it's acc. n. plural: accusative because it's the direct object of audisset, neuter plural because it refers to the previously mentioned things. It's an inflected form of the relative pronoun qui (not a reflexive), and used at the start of a sentence like this with the antecedent not being in the sentence itself it's sometimes called a pseudorelativum; some people will tell you to translate it as if it were "et ea" instead.

Cum is not the preposition 'with', but the conjunction 'when'. They're different words that were historically distinct (the preposition from Old Latin com, the conjunction from Old Latin quom). It's followed by a subjunctive.

Audisset is that subjunctive—it's the syncopated form of audivisset. It's an active pluperfect subjunctive, as you might expect.

The whole thing translates literally as "Which [things] when he had heard", or more naturally as "(And) when he had heard these things".

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  • This is very helpful and clears up my confusion. Thank you very much!
    – Josh
    Aug 8 at 21:21
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I'd say something like "When [subject] had heard [such] things" or some variation depending on context.

quae is relative here, and neuter accusative plural.

audisset is subjunctive pluperfect. The reason it's subjunctive is because it's following cum and isn't the main verb.

cum is an adverb here. It means "when" or "because", or maybe even "although". This is where context is important. Latin doesn't make this particular distinction even if English does.

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