I'd like some clarification on which cases are appropriate during the use of the word "quam" with comparatives. I'm teaching Jenney's First-Year Latin (1990).

In Lesson 37 (page 426 of the 1990 edition), the book tries to explain the use of the comparative adjective with quam. The "quam" section follows the partitive genitive with comparatives/superlatives and precedes the section on ablative of degree of difference with comparatives/superlatives.

The "quam" section explains that the words on either side of the "quam" need to have the same case. It provides a couple of examples:

  1. Nullius virginis pulchrioris quam illius memini. (I remember no maiden more beautiful than she.)
  2. Regi multo clariori quam tibi paret. (He obeys a king much more famous than you.)

In the first example, the verb takes a genitive object, which explains why "pulchrioris" and "illius" are both genitive. In the second example, the verb takes a dative object, which explains why "clariori" and "tibi" both need to be dative.

The Jenney text doesn't explain the format, and thus my students immediately assumed that any time "quam" shows up, the neighboring words will be dative or genitive. The clever ones even tried to connect the "quam" section with the preceding partitive genitive section, which is not appropriate in either of the given sentences.

Thus, my perplexation began. Not two pages later, the Lesson 37 Practices ask us to translate into Latin these two sentences:

The book's questions:
1. I am more like you than he.
2. I am more like you than him.

My hypothesized translations:
1. Similior tu quam is sum.
2. Similior te quam eum sum.

I would suspect that the "you" would need to be a predicate nominative in the first sentence.
I would also suspect that the "you" in the second sentence be a predicate nominative that switches to match the "eum" due to the "both sides of quam need to match" rule.

However, here are the answer-key's translations:
1. Similior tui quam ille sum.
2. Similior tui quam illius sum.

Why are they using the genitive? Why don't both sides of the "quam" agree?

Thank you!

2 Answers 2


I think I understand the root of your confusion, and the simple answer to your question:

Why don't both sides of the quam agree?

Is this: They do agree.

  1. I am more like you than he.

A first point is that similis usually takes the genitive (though it can also take the dative), e.g. "similis eius" = "similar to him." When in doubt with quam, you can always translate the first part first: "I am more similar to you."

Similior tui sum.

Now we must translate "than he." Here we have to remember the prescriptivist tendencies of Latin grammars (to which, truth be told, I can be sympathetic): "he," being in the nominative, is contrasted with "I," which is understood in Latin. Perhaps this will make it clearer:

Similior tui sum [ego] quam ille.

Removing the optional "ego" and rearranging the words a little bit, we get:

Similior tui quam ille sum.

...though honestly this order strikes me as more awkward.

  1. I am more like you than him.

In this sentence, something very different is being said: "I am more like you than [I am like] him." "Him" is opposed to "you" (not "I"), so they will both be in the genitive. We begin again with our base sentence of "I am more like you":

Similior tui sum.

We then add "quam" + opposed word, which will be in the genitive:

Similior tui quam illius sum.

Other comments:

  1. A predicative nominative occurs when you have a copula joining two nominative nouns. That's a lot of fancy jargon for a pretty simple case: "Caesar est imperator." As you can see, this is different from the present case.
  2. "Both sides need to match rule": This is not a great way of conceptualizing the rule and can lead you into trouble. The better rule is "both compared (pro)nouns need to be in the same case." Consider for instance: "Pulchriorem non cognosco ego quam te." As we saw above with "ego," a compared pronoun can even be left out.
  3. Dative/Genitive: Neighboring words will not always be genitive and dative, and it would be unfortunate if the book gave that impression. The previous example I gave was for accusative, and the nominative seems to be the most common of all, e.g. "Fortior es quam ego."
  • Not sure if I am correctly identifying the source of your confusion, so feel free to comment if anything is unclear
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:11
  • I have the same impression on the source of confusion and was planning to write a similar answer. Your rule "both compared (pro)nouns need to be in the same case" is much better than the simplistic one given in the book. +1.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 16:13
  • 2
    Thanks for the quick answer! Looking at your explanation, I definitely ought to have known the sentence structure already (maybe I shouldn't be teaching this stuff). I didn't know that similis takes the genitive and that was throwing me off. Would a raw translation of "similis eius" be "similar of him," but the more conversational meaning be "similiar to him?" Also, does there exist a set category of adjectives that will take a case like this, or maybe should I be able to determine it intuitively from the definition?
    – BrennickC
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 16:59
  • @BrennickC I don't think it's very useful to think of a "raw translation," but yes that works, just as you could think of "memini tui" as "I remember of you." Here are some more examples of adjectives with the genitive.
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 17:03
  • @brianpck It could be my non-expertise speaking, but I've found that using intermediate "raw" translations can help to highlight and explain the uses of cases to students who aren't used to having the idea of cases. For example, saying "nomen mihi est Fred" means "my name is Fred" could be misleading for those learning a language. Conversationally, that's what you mean, but using "the name to me is Fred" as an intermediary helps to point out how different cases can convey a meaning that wouldn't be intuitive to English-speakers.
    – BrennickC
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 0:08

The two parts of the exercise are two different statements.

The first holds the speaker (the subject) to be more like the addressee than someone else is. This becomes obvious if you add ‘is’ to the end of the sentence: ‘I am more like you than he is’. The second holds that he (the speaker) is more like the addressee than he (the speaker) is like someone else: ‘I am more like you than [I am like] him.

The answer given by @brianpck is all perfectly correct, but I hope that the rest of this section in your textbook explains the rest of the minefield that anyone trying to translate ‘than’ must navigate. It is necessary to know the circumstances in which quam can be used : I hope that you will find the following observations useful.

  1. Instead of the nominative or accusative with quam, the ablative of comparison is used : Cicero erat eloquentior Hortensio; and especially in negative sentences : nihilo erat ipse Cyclops quam aries prudentior.
  2. Quam is necessarily used where an ablative of comparison would cause ambiguity : terra maior est quam luna or dico terram maiorem esse quam lunam.
  3. If the comparison is made in attaching a negative clause to the antecedent by means of a relative pronoun, the ablative is used, never quam : Punicum bellum, quo nullum maius Romani gesserunt.
  4. Quam generally follows comparative adverbs, except for certain idiomatic adverbs : spe, opinione, exspectatione, aequo (these are the most common, but several others occur) : spe omnium celerius.
  • For the first point, do you mean "ablative of comparison is more common"? I've definitely seen quam + nom/acc with an adjective.
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 17:53
  • 1
    I should have said, not 'instead', but 'as well as'.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 18:02

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