The ablative and genitive of quality (ablativus qualitatis and genetivus qualitatis) are similar. One can describe a high mountain as mons magna altitudine or mons magnae altitudinis. Is there any difference between ablative and genitive in such use? Should different cases be used in different situations, or are they completely interchangeacle?

This might be related to the difference between the ablative and genitive of price.

1 Answer 1


I think that this is largely a question of style, and the appropriateness of such expressions depends also on context. At its simplest, it might be mons altissimus: a very high mountain. A strict pedant might well stress that it is in fact the mountain that is large and, if this be judged by height, insist on magnus mons altitudine, rather than mons magnae altitudinis.

The context is important to word order in this sort of thing. It may be more suitable, for instance, to distinguish between 'a mountain that is very high', mons altissimus and 'the highest mountain', altissimus mons, discarding all consideration of a complex epithet. This is the kind of thing with which teachers years ago of Latin prose composition used to tease and torture their pupils (I speak here from bitter experience!), though it at least taught them to analyse very carefully exactly what they were trying to express.

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    Can you elaborate on how this "depends on context"? Can you give some examples where one should be preferred over the other?
    – brianpck
    Nov 26, 2016 at 3:20
  • Yours is such a large question that there's not enough space here for a proper answer. In the UK at any rate, prose composition is (or used to be) studied deeply and was never a matter of merely learning the basic rules of syntax. Latin is like any other language: there are different ways of expressing yourself on any topic. If you seriously want this to be explained, I suggest that you look for books instructing in a more sophisticated approach than elementary treatises on prose-writing in Latin — or ask a specific question, if you are in difficulty.
    – Tom Cotton
    Nov 26, 2016 at 14:46
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    This is a link to a free-to-download PDF: 6shared.xyz/ebook/383048-Latin-prose-composition (Hardie's Latin Prose Composition) which may be of interest to you.
    – Tom Cotton
    Nov 26, 2016 at 15:03

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