The latin aphorism, penned by Alcaeus of Mytilene,

in vino veritas

does not contain any predicate. I assume that esse is implied but I haven't come across any other aphorisms leaving out verbs.

Is it ok to leave out the verb esse if it is implied?

e.g. Nocere facile, prodesse difficile instead of Nocere facile est, prodesse difficile

Can you also leave out other verbs?

e.g. Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum instead of Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto

  • 3
    Alcaeus was a Greek poet and didn't know Latin. Wiki says the first word-for-word use of the phrase is by Erasmus.
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 15:27
  • 1
    @TKR Primary sources would certainly be interessting to read! Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Pinkster 2015 mentions the following observable trends regarding the omission of esse.

  • it is more frequent with the 3rd person than in the 1st or 2nd;
  • it is more frequent with present indicative forms;
  • it is more frequent in simple nominal sentences etc. (see pp. 201-204 for more details).

Stolz and Schmalz add that the omission of esse is regular in proverb-like statements ("Sprichwörter und Sentenzen," see para 198:a).

Rubio 2009 goes even further by saying that

"The absence of a copulative verb, especially in proverbial expressions and in apodiptic statements, is a common trend in Latin of all periods, but in the Latin Bible this is simply the norm" (p. 218; empaphasis mine - Alex B.).

On the other hand, Cabrillana 2007 (la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Spain) argues that even though the ellipsis of esse and some other verbs (monstror, appareo, exsto etc.) is common in the contexts mentioned above, it is "not always the most frequent."

In the same study, Cabrillana reports cases of verbal ellipsis with verbs "having а full semantic content in concrete constructions."


Yes to the first, usually no to the second.

In Latin, esse can almost always be dropped if the meaning is clear. This is even true when it's connected to another verb form, like in a perfect passive captus [est] or a passive periphrastic delenda [est].

Linguistically, this is called zero copula, and also appears in e.g. Russian. Consider also English headlines, such as "Event [is/was] disrupted by geese" or "Parliament [is] in session again". Looking through a list of Latin sayings, esse is omitted in several others: amicus Plato [est], sed magis amica veritas [est]; ars longa [est], vita brevis [est], etc.

Other verbs generally can't be omitted in the same way; if no verb is apparent, I automatically assume a form of esse.

  • Can esse also be left out if it's used in the subjunctive? What about the temporal aspects; is the left out esse always in the present or could it be for example in its imperfect? Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 15:52
  • @stendarr it could be, as long as it's clear — which it usually isn't, since you mark the verb to change tense or mood, and you can't do that with the verb missing. Still I can imagine scenarios where it would probably work.
    – hobbs
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 18:34

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