Is there a difference in meaning between super and supra (both with accusative)? Would one indicate motion and the other one position?

2 Answers 2


When both prepositions are used with accusative, the difference is not large. Compare these two dictionary entries:

super (with acc.)

  1. [of place] over, above, on the top of, upon, on
  2. [of place] above, beyond
  3. [of time] during, at
  4. [of measure] over, above, beyond, in addition to
  5. [figuratively] of official position, over, in charge of
  6. [in the phrase, super omnia] above all, before all

supra (with acc.)

  1. [of place] above, over
  2. [in the phrase supra caput] close, clinging, burdening, oppressing
  3. [of geographical position] above, beyond
  4. [figuratively] of time, before
  5. [of number] over, above, beyond, more than
  6. [of quality or degree] above, beyond, superior to

Follow the links for more detail. You can also check the entries in L&S, although they are harder to decipher: super and supra.

There are some differences, but the overall spirit is the same. In particular, I see no hint of one meaning position and the other meaning movement.

There is one difference in general tone (thanks TKR!): supra is only "over, above (and not touching)" while super can also be "on top of, resting on". That is, super has a broader meaning, allowing direct contact.

This was for accusative use only, and I will not try to discuss the difference between accusative and ablative uses of super. That accusative describes motion and ablative describes position is a useful rule of thumb, but it is better to treat is as a tendency than a rule. This rule works well for in, but it does not really describe the meanings of e(x) and prope.


The short answers are "no" and "yes", respectively.

Supra appears to be a contraction of supera, the fem. sing. abl. of superus, used adverbially (the a is long). There are plenty of analogous adverbial uses, e.g. qua, una. Unlike super, it almost never appears in compounds. As a preposition, it is found only with the accusative.

There are two useful bits of doggerel about common prepositions. First, with accusative:

Ante, apud, ad, adversus,/ Clam, circum, circa, citra, cis,/ Contra, inter, erga, extra,/ Infra, intra, iuxta, ob,/ Penes, pone, post and praeter,/ Prope propter, per, secundum,/ Supra, versus, ultra, trans :/ Add super, subter, sub and in,/ When motion 'tis, not state they mean.

With ablative:

A, ab, absque, coram, de,/ Palam, clam, cum, ex and e,/ Sine, tenus, pro and prae : Add super, subter, sub and in,/ When state, not motion, 'tis they mean.

These were long ago hammered into pupils in England, presumably to induce a more-or-less automatic, correct usage

  • 2
    Can you add a few lines that more explicitly address the OP's question? Your first line says "No, there is no difference in meaning," but "Yes, one means state and ones means motion." But the information you provide doesn't unequivocally support either claim: your ditty shows, for instance, that super can mean both.
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:27
  • Seems perfectly clear to me. Maybe the English idiom with which I began isn't familiar to you?
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:38
  • 1
    I am aware of what "respectively" means and think I demonstrated that in my paraphrasing. How am I misunderstanding you?
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:40
  • 1
    The first ditty seems to imply that all of those prepositions (save for super, etc.) are indicators of state, whereas super and the remaining three are indicators of motion, all when taking the accusative. But this did take me a while to understand, and I am still not confident in my interpretation. Perhaps you could add a couple sentences to the end of your post explaining the ditties? I must add that it's a very informative answer and I learned a lot from reading it.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 15:27
  • 1
    I too found this answer hard to understand. It would be more helpful if you spelled out more clearly what each of the two prepositions means with the case(s) it can take.
    – TKR
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 17:05

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