I'm learning Latin on my own with the book "Beginner's Latin" by Collar & Daniell, I recently reached Chapter IV where the ablative is introduced with the preposition In, my problem with the ablative is that I don't know where it goes in a sentence:

    Rusticus validus pabulum in carro habet
    In carro Rusticus validus pabulum habet
    Rusticus validus in carro pabulum habet
    The Strong Countryman has fodder in the wagon

Which one of the former sentences is the one with the correct position of the ablative? Does it even matter where is it?

Thanks in advance for any answer.

2 Answers 2


The combination of the preposition in and a noun in the ablative is an example of a “prepositional phrase.” (The word in is just one of many prepositions, and the majority require that the noun is in the accusative, or “take the accusative,” as it is called. See an overview here.)

The ablative has many other uses, and there is no place for “the one ablative” in a sentence. You really seem to be asking where to put a prepositional phrase.

The answer is that there is no fixed rule. All variants you offered are correct.

My impression is that prepositional phrases that have adverbial character tend to be near the verb, usually before. Direct objects, if there are any, may or may not come in between, e.g.

Datames primum experiri voluit, ut sine armis propinquum ad officium reduceret.
Datames first wanted to see if he could lead his relative back to his duty without arms (i.e., take him to order without resorting to armed conflict).

Here you have:

  • sine armis (without arms): prepositional phrase with ablative
  • propinquum (relative): direct object
  • ad officium (to duty): prepositional phrase with accusative
  • reduceret (lead back): verb

In particular, I think it makes sense to have ad officium right next to the verb, because it is integral to the meaning, whereas sine armis adds a qualification.

But compare:

Artaxerxes Datamen ad exercitum misit.
Artaxerxes sent Datames to the army.

(subject – object – prep-phrase – verb), whereas:

Datames se ad Artaxerxen legatos missurum dixit.
Datames said he would send legates to Artaxerxes.

(subject – prep-phrase – object – verb; both examples, like all others in this answer, only slightly modified, from the same text, “Datames” by Cornelius Nepos.)

Note that there may be overriding considerations, e.g. if the prepositional phrase contains a relative pronoun, it will stand at the start of your clause, e.g.

saltum, in quo Ciliciae portae sunt sitae
the mountain range, in which the Cilician passes are situated

Also, parts of the sentence are often put at the front to emphasize them. Also note that parts can occur in the middle of other parts, e.g.

cum ab amico nullas vereretur insidias
when from his friend he feared no ambush

Here we have:

  • ab amico (from his friend): prepositional phrase with ablative
  • nullas insidias (no ambush): direct object, rudely interrupted by
  • vereretur (feared): verb

But it gets even wilder:

Datames primum militum in numero fuit apud Artaxerxen eorum, qui regiam tuebantur.
Datames at first was among the number of those soldiers at the court of Artaxerxes who guarded the palace.

Note the two prepositional phrases:

  • apud Artaxerxen (at Artaxerxes' place; A. was the king of Persia, so let's say “court”): prepositional phrase with accusative
  • in numero eorum militum, qui … (among the number of those soldiers, who …): prepositional phrase with ablative
  • fuit (was): verb

Here you have two interlocked prepositional phrases. But then again, so you do in English, at least in my translation, which I hope does not sound too stilted.

I bring these examples not to confuse you, but to illustrate that Latin word order gives the writer great freedoms. What you can do in a given situation, and to what effect, is something you can best learn by doing lots of reading.


Within a typical praedicate, you can move around adverbial phrases fairly freely. Only when they should be connected to a certain phrase, but seem unconnected or connected to another phrase based on their position, may issues arise.

In your example, all positions are valid.

There can be a pragmatic difference: because the most basic word order often has the subject near the beginning, placing the adverbial phrase there could indicate that it is intended to be the topic of the sentence.

English may show similar shifts in topicality based on the position of adverbs:

In his wagon, the strong peasant has fodder. [Why is it at the beginning? This might suggest, "hey, I want to tell you something about what happens in his wagon: he has fodder in it".]

The strong peasant has fodder in his wagon. [This word order is rather neutral.]

Note that the difference is very slight, in these examples. I would say it's almost insignificant.

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