The grammar book I'm studying translates the following sentence like this:

English: The death is certain, uncertain is the day of death.

Latin: Mors certa, dies mortis incerta est.

However, I'd translate it like this:

Mors certa est, mortis dies incerta est.

Is it just a question of style, or is it a rule to omit the verb?

  • 2
    By the way, there is a famous proverb that goes: Mors certa, hora incerta. Which shows that even mors need not be repeated. Jan 27 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


Others can maybe add answers with more nuance, but I'll put it simply: You can repeat the verb, so avoiding repetition is not mandatory. Omitting a repeated word — verb or other — is a common stylistic choice but never a hard grammatical rule.

You can always think whether leaving a word out introduces ambiguity. In the example sentence you gave, the text is easy enough to interpret either way. Whether leaving the word out is a viable option depends on your audience, context, and other circumstances. Leaving the repeated word in is always an option.

  • 2
    "Omitting a repeated word — verb or other — is a common stylistic choice but never a hard grammatical rule." <-- Point in case, you could have repeated "it is" before "never," but chose not to.
    – cmw
    Jan 27 at 14:43
  • @cmw Ha! That choice wasn't even conscious; I only notice it now that you point it out. I never knew how subtly clever I was.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 27 at 15:08
  • Better Latin style seems to be to omit a duplicated verb, but as others have said it is not mandatory. I also think that 'dies mortis" is distinctly better style than "mortis dies." In a genitive construction, the more informative word generally goes first, and in this case, the listener already knows that "mors" is under discussion and so it should be demoted to second place. Jan 27 at 16:07
  • @Vegawatcher I agree that at least in this specific case it would be better style to leave the duplicate verb out. If you want to say more on the matter, another answer with more nuance would be great. I only wanted to give the simple (and I think still correct) answer that both are fine. I was not sure if the OP was concerned at all with nuance or style, or just with grammatical validity.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 27 at 16:37
  • I did not mean to suggest your answer was wrong or even incomplete, or I would have not said what I did in a comment. I should have first reaffirmed that your comment was accurate. Why I added additional information is that I have been quite surprised the extent to which "duplicate verbs" are dropped in Latin style, even in complex constructions, compared to what we would do in English. I wished I had been warned about that in my learning process. If you think it is worth it for the level of this question, I could certainly give a full answer with more detail. Jan 27 at 16:48

I agree with the answer given by Joonas Ilmavirta, but want to add that as you begin to read texts, it is very common to confront very compressed syntax where verbs are shared with many different predicates. This is actually similar to some types of English, except that the order of the elements is reversed, which makes it harder to recognize the ellipsis. For an English speaker, it is not so hard to recognize that in a structure like x->a and ->b, x applies equally to a and b, since b is obviously incomplete and seems to fit with something already encountered; however it is harder to recognize a<- and b<-x, since you probably get stuck at wondering what the incomplete a<- means since you don't have anything yet to complete its meaning until you reach b<-x and hopefully recognize the parallelism.

One example comes from the very beginning of Caesar's Gallic Wars, the first authentic connected text traditionally given to "beginners" to study. It goes as follows, followed by my adapted and somewhat literal translation (FYI, no macrons are shown):

  1. Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. 2 Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit.

  2. Gaul is on the whole divided into three parts, of which one inhabit the Belgae, another the Aquitani, a third those who in their own language Celts, in ours Gauls, are called. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The Gauls from the Aquitani the river Garonne, and from the Belgae the Marne and the Seine,--divides.

Notice that incolunt ("inhabit") governs three predicates without being repeated and that the third also has appellantur ("are called") which also governs two embedded predicates. In the last sentence, dividit ("are divided") governs two predicates. In learning to read such sentences fluently, you need to recognize discontinuities that represent the first part of a series of parallel phrases that will be resolved later in the sentence. This is all without the verbs being repeated.

Another frequent structure is the following:

Sardiniam Atilius, Siciliam Manlius, Hispanias Sempronius citeriorem, Helvius ulteriorem est sortitus (Livy 32.28.2)

Somewhat literally this is:

Atilius, Sardinia; Manlius, Sicily; of the Spains, Sempronius the nearer part, Helvius the further part--received by lot.

To understand this at first reading, you have to give some meaning to the Latin case endings and recognize the topic placement of the "Spains" at the beginning of the last pair. Again, only one verb is used and it even uses the "wrong" singular form, since it simply agrees in number with the nearest noun. For a very advanced reader, even the "unusual" placement of est before sortitus is a clue to the discourse structure.

Here is another example of a delayed verb from Cicero's Against Catiline

quae libido ab oculis, quod facinus a manibus umquam tuis, quod flagitium a toto corpore afuit

What licentiousness from your eyes, what atrocity ever from your own hands, what iniquity from your whole body has ever been absent?

To top it off, the original Latin readers had no punctuation to help them and had to rely on their own sense of rhetoric to figure out how to segment the text.

All this is to say that Latin can be written in many styles, and many of them may seem quite unlike what we are used to in English

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