What does one call a construction like;

The father works as a physician.

which becomes:

Pater medicus laborat.

Where we have multiple subjects. Now I now "medicus" would be the predicate noun here, but I saw in the German dictionary of Grimm that he called the German "als" which is equivalent to our English "as" the "demonstrative als", probably it is used for further explanation on the verb, adjective, noun or anything. So What exactly then is "as a physician". Does one speak of "predicate nouns" outside of copulative verbs?

  • 1
    Welcome to the site, and nice question! Just to be clear, is the emphasis of your question in grammar in general (Does one speak of predicate nouns... etc.) or how to render the "demonstrative als" in Latin? FWIW, I think ut applies here.
    – Rafael
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 13:34
  • 2
    @Rafael it is relating to the demonstrative "als" in German or "as" in English into Latin. As far as I understand it is treated like an apposition but that is not what it can be: The Bible verse I mentioned in Gothic and German: 1 Corinthians 7, 21: goth. "skalks galaþôþs vast, ni karôs"; lat. "servus vocatus es, non sit tibi curae"; early high german: "bistu ein knecht berufen, sorge dir nicht" literally "slave called (you were), do not care."; An apposition would mean he is already a slave, but not his calling was to be a slave. Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 18:28
  • 1
    "would mean he is already a slave" ... which is exactly what this Bible verse means, as should be clear from the next line: Qui enim in Domino vocatus est servus, libertus est Domini: similiter qui liber vocatus est, servus est Christi. Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


Pater medicus laborat.

Similar constructions do exist in Latin. Here are two examples from Allen & Greenough:

êius mortis sedētis ultōrēs (Mil. 79) , you sit as avengers of his death.

litterās Graecās senex didicī; (Cat. M. 26), I learned Greek when an old man. [Here senex , though in apposition with the subject of didicī , really states something further: viz., the time, condition, etc., of the act (Predicate Apposition).]

Allen & Greenough call such nouns "predicate nouns" and seem to call the construction "predicate apposition". Their terminology seems to conflate predicate nouns that belong to the primary predication, such as in servus es, and predicate nouns that are part of a secondary predication, such as servus vocatus es. An example of the former use of predicate nouns is:

cōnsulēs creantur Caesar et Servīlius (B. C. 3.1) , Cæsar and Servilius are elected consuls.

In that sentence, creantur is a required complement of the verb and not a secondary predication.

As for the sentence, "Pater medicus laborat," it may not be not be an idiomatic way to express: "The father works as a physician." I don't think there is a natural semantic harmony between "toiling" and "being a physician" to indicate how these two predications are linked. The sentence might convey "The Father toils away, being a doctor" which does not have a clear pragmatic meaning out of context.

One thing to recognize about predications in Latin is that they can often by expressed by participles (and some adjectives) independently of the main verb. Some people call this the "dominant participle" construction or the "ab urbe condita" construction when applied to participles. This construction is very frequent with ablative absolutes, but is not limited to it.

Woodcock's A New Latin Syntax on page 35, Section 50, says:

Note. As an adjective, participle, or appositional noun may be used predicatively without being in the absolute construction, the Ablative Absolute may not be needed if the epithet applies to a noun or pronoun which plays an integral part in the syntax of the sentence. E.g. the normal Latin for 'They hate Caesar as leader' is Caesarem ducem oderunt and not Caesare duce, eum oderunt; similarly the Latin for 'With the city captured, the soldiers proceeded to plunder it' is Urbem captam milites diripiebant, and not Urbe capta, milites eam diripiebant....

Thus construction cannot be used with a present or past participle form of sum, since no suitable forms of this verb exist. This lack is understandable for this use, since the subject of sum would always be an integral part of the matrix predication and take its case from its use in that matrix predication. A good example of this is litterās Graecās senex didicī ("I learned Greek being and old man/as an old man/while an old man/when I was an old man.")(also quoted above from Allen and Greenough).

If the noun that is shared by the two predications is in the nominative in the matrix predication, as in the above example, then the adjective, participle, or appositional noun used in the dominant construction will also be in the nominative. This usage also illuminates the use of some nominative adjectives, rather than adverbs, to express the situation of the subject while performing an action, such as the following quoted from page 71 of Wilcox's book:

Crasso et Antonio L. Philippus proximus accedebat. "L Philippus came next to Crassus and Antonius. Cic. Br. 173.

eum ego a me invitissimus dimisi. "I sent him away most unwillingly." Cic. Fam. 13, 63.

This structure is also used in English, but perhaps to a lesser degree. For instance,

They came home tired

They left excited at the prospect of what was planned

Notice that that last sentence tends to express the inner state of the people leaving; whereas, the similar sentence "they left excitedly" tends to express the visible manner in which the people left.

What does one call a construction like;

The father works as a physician.

I think the status of the word "as" in this use and how it governs the following noun or pronoun in English is disputed. For example, in a sentence such as "The father needs to work the same way as me/I," there is some confusion among educated speakers as to what pronoun to use. This confusion impacts how we should view the function of "as," its part of speech, and the construction it forms.

Now I now "medicus" would be the predicate noun here, but I saw in the German dictionary of Grimm that he called the German "als" which is equivalent to our English "as" the "demonstrative als", probably it is used for further explanation on the verb, adjective, noun or anything.

I think there is also some confusion about what case to use with this usage of als in German, perhaps because als has many uses that might theoretically imply different underlying structures. Wiktionary says:

Als in the sense of “as, like” is claimed by some traditional grammars to require the nominative case: Er verkleidet sich als spanischer Stierkämpfer. (“He dresses himself up as a Spanish bullfighter.”) This may indeed be the most common usage in reflexive constructions, such as in the example given (although als spanischen Stierkämpfer is acceptable). The mechanical use of the nominative, however, is often ungrammatical by any standards of common usage: Sie kannte ihn schon als jungen Mann (“She knew him already as a young man”; the nominative als junger Mann would be odd and indeed would suggest the meaning that she knew him when she was a young man). Thus, the same general rule applies as given above.

I cannot find any mention of a "demonstrative als" and am surprised at that terminology mentioned in the question. This linked site seems to just call als a conjunction in this usage. It lists three related meanings that also work for some English uses of "as": (1) gives a more detailed explanation of the antecedent (e.g., "We, as modern people, believe"), (2) stressing the goal or purpose of an action (e.g., "That serves as a warning"), and (3) indicates a similarity ("treat as a friend"). There is no reason a priori to expect that Latin has one structure that will work for all these meanings of "as."

I think some linguists view a phrase like "works as a physician" as simply introducing a secondary predication about the subject. The idea expressed is that the subject both works and is a physician in that capacity. Sometimes the secondary predication is semantically and syntactically essential. Sometimes it is not. How the two predications work together depends on the context and varying nuances of what "as" can convey, as explained above.

  • What a through, well researched anwswer. I ask pardon for the rather late reply, but I wanted to do some further research. The term "demonstrative als" ist not my terminology but the way Jacob Grimm named it in his "Deutsches Wörterbuch". If you like you can have a look under the respective article for "als". He mentions that as most languages and classical ones, German used to abstain from it. He cites examples like "Des starb er mensche niht got." - "Thereof he (Jesus) died a man and not (as) a god". As you alluded, we can say "He was elected king." in English instead of "... as a king". Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 2:33
  • Another one is: "Gott sitzt König immerdar.", "God sits (as) king always.". When it comes to its grammatical evaluation he seems to consider it an elliptic aposition of "substantive + seiend". Turkish for example expresses all of those "as"-instances whith "olarak" - "being". The Herbert Weir Smyth seems to indicate the same conception of Grimm for Greek saying "ὤν must be used when it has the force of in the capacity of.". Although the examples he mentions are primary, most just plain double accusatives fortified by the ὤν. Like ὁρῶ μέγαν (ὄντα) τὸν ἀγῶνα. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 3:03
  • So I wonder whether there is some analogus phrase to our matter at hand i.e. like "sedetis ultores ...". Perhaps as an insight tpwhat brought this to my attention is my comparison of Italian and Arabic in that regard. In Italian it really struck me because "come" does both of what the distinction of "as, like" does where "lavoro come dottore" might mean "He works like a doctor." or "He works as a doctor.". One expressing similarity one actuality. This distinction is of course new and partial since "as" has preserved something of its likening function "He eats as his father", i.e like him. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 4:06
  • Which is rather similar to what evolved in German "als, wie", with the simple form of "als(o)" which is a shortened combination of "all+so" having survived in poetic, elevated speech. "Er lebt so ein Gott.", "He lives as, like a God.". This is distinction is why I dismissed Sebastians comment below because "Feminas ut deas colit." would mean he worships them likened unto Gods and not actually as Gods and it seems a bit literally translated to me. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 4:14
  • Finally in Arabic: In classical language either a simple nominative is used or an adverbial accusative stemming from the same ellipsis of "kâinun" the participle for thecopulative verb "kâna" meaning "to be" whhich governs the accusative for the predicate. In summary it seems the most prevalent mode of expression in most tongues, especially in antiquity. I suspect that the Western European languages helped each other conflate these. Naming it "secondary ppredicate" I found enlightening and am currently investigating Grimm's terminology, searching what he drew on when naming it demonstrative. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 4:29

I seriously doubt that Pater medicus laborat is a proper translation of "my father works as a doctor." It seems too literal, the Latin laborare is generally not used to talk about a calling, profession, employment, etc. A more idiomatic expression would be medicus est or medicinam factitat/exercet (cf. Cic. Clu. 63/178).

Pater medicus I would say is an apposition, i.e., pater medicus laborat = "my father the doctor works." I would not say it is a predicate noun because laborare is indeed not a copula.

  • 1
    Sebastian thank you. I do not see how your remark of the lexic unfitness resolves the issue. Indeed it is my extemporaneous literal translation. Take a sentence like "Patrem deum putat." which I think can reasonably translated to "He sees the father as a god.". Perhaps something like "Feminas deas colit." "he venereates women as godesses". It cannot be appositional as it would mean something different. Consider this Bible verse: "servus vocatus es, non sit tibi curae". For he who is called by the Lord as a slave is the Lord's freedman" according to Holman. Not you, the slave are called ... Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 16:50
  • 1
    @RuhMuhaccer But these are very different constructions, and surely none would fit the description "double subject" (but the passive "pater deus putatur" would). Putare is a copulative verb, the feminas example seems incorrect to me (should be ut deas), and the bible verse is a simple noun + verb. Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 19:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.