Keller's Learn to Read Latin says:

Prepositions that take the accusative emphasize the idea of motion toward, into, around, and through.

Prepositions that take the ablative indicate one of the three functions of the ablative (separation, association/instrument, location). A few prepositions can take either case, and their meanings differ according to which case they take.

and there is even a figure showing that prep. + accusative is used for "motion towards", and prep. + ablative for location and "motion from" (i.e. "separation" in the above quote).

enter image description here

I was wondering if the following "prep. + accusative"'s are used for location, "motion toward, into, around, and through", or something else?

If location, why is location not mentioned for accusative in the quote above?

ante (prep. + acc.) before; in front of

post (prep. + acc.) after; behind

apud (prep. + acc.) at, near; at the house of, in the presence of, among

inter (prep. + acc.) between, among; during

  • 3
    You might need a better grammar. It's not a hard and fast rule.
    – cmw
    Apr 13, 2023 at 12:50
  • 2
    what is a better grammar?
    – Tim
    Apr 13, 2023 at 14:44
  • 2
    There are plenty of primers available, but for questions of this depth, it's good to cross check with Gildersleeve and Lodge or Allen and Greenough. If you want to look more deeply at semantics, you could also check out Woodcock's A New Latin Syntax.
    – cmw
    Apr 13, 2023 at 14:58
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    I do want to point out though that a careful reading of the above text shows your mistake, not Keller's. These prepositions emphasize, not indicate, motion. And I don't have this textbook, but I don't presume he (they?) states that this as a hard and fast rule, but rather gives a general indication, right?
    – cmw
    Apr 13, 2023 at 14:59

3 Answers 3


The idea that accusative means motion toward, ablative means location or motion away from, can be a good rule of thumb. There are some prepositions, like in and sub, which can take either case; in these cases, the rule of thumb tells you which usage is which. But it is not a universal rule of Latin grammar.

As you say, prepositions like apud take the accusative but don't necessarily have anything to do with motion. Other prepositions have nothing to do with location at all, such as sine. And some can indicate either motion or position, but take the same case either way, such as trans.

In the end, this can be a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, but you'll still need to learn the case used for each preposition individually.


In the picture you posted, there are three categories: accusative (motion toward), ablative (location), and ablative (motion from). I think these categories help us understand the prepositions in the picture. The prepositions in the picture fit nicely into these categories.

But not every preposition fits nicely into these categories. As you pointed out, the prepositions ante, post, and apud do not fit into these categories. These words indicate location, and they take the accusative case. The same is true for intra, extra, infra, supra, and prope.

So I think the categories that you talk about are very useful for memorizing the meanings of words in the picture. In particular, they help us learn the meanings of words like in, sub, and super, which can take the accusative or the ablative.

The picture you posted, by the way, is a good way of remembering the meanings of common prepositions. One can start by remembering the pentagon, and then recall all five prepositions that are written inside/outside of the pentagon.


it's a temporal thing to comment motion... physics (its change of meaning), dynamics (its change of meaning!), alchemy and chemical "reactions", political "movements", "revolutions"...

the drawing of the picture is good but the words untrue; the meaning of the cases is not motion, and prepositions are their modifiers in space and sense: they don't add motion. the sense of motion is only given by the phrase and meaning—most times by the verb first—, so, 'ab urbe condita', 'exuere armis', 'de manibus effūgit', 'ex innocentia nascitur dignitas', 'ad Caesarem venērunt'. when prepositions are particles in verbs and other words they show the same: they work as facing, local, spatial or temporal modifiers

ex doesn't have to mean 'from within', it is just the contrary peer of in, that doesn't have to mean 'in', as you know; see the phrase 'out of love'. de doesn't have to mean at all 'down from'; and ab doesn't have to mean that, is not the only one meaning that, and preposition is not needed to mean that, see the examples above

prepositions don't "govern" names; prepositions—poor name for words that may be also adverbs and conjunctions—are with cases by custom and mood: see the sundry uses in hellenic (varying in dialects and time) and old english

the accusative and ablative are spatial (time also) and real (res 'thing'). accusative to, for, through, throughout; and ablative from, by, out, of. the spatiality made them likely for prepositions and these fit well with the reality. the accusative is some that some faces or addresses ('o tempora'), mode ('acutum cernere'; and see the particle -im), quantity (seen as adverb, 'multum pluit', 'tertium consul'), length, heigth, breadth; so as you can see the meaning is not motional; and most times it is not true to say it is locational

the dative and genitive are real, essential (essentia 'being'), habitual (habitus 'property, feature'), belonging. dative to, for; genitive of. show: 'John's (g.) six-wheels (g.) car is given to Laura (d.) for her need (d.)'. the 'habits' of car are all the genitives and datives and we see the change of belonging (or 'habit') from John to Laura

more, 'the city of Liverpool (g.)', 'in the name of justice (g.)', 'hoc est mihi argumento (d.)'. city is had by Liverpool, name by justice; some receives as argument some. otherwise the meaning is of refering: 'what city? Liverpool' 'what name? justice'. in the other side: 'they gave city to Liverpool (d.)', 'he gave it (d.) justice as name (d.)', 'sunt nobis mitia poma', 'homini cum deo similitudo est', 'mihi nomen est Marcus'

so we see the two pairs meaning two fields of things

and we see that the two pairs accusative-dative and ablative-genitive mean sundrily 'end' and 'outset, start, beginning, origin'. in the ablative distance, absence, temporal, real or local cause, so the idea of spatiality (time included). the genitive means 'habit', 'real' origin or reality, no spatiality here. 'simulacrum ex auro' (likeness out of gold), 'simulacrum auri' (likeness of gold; or, gold's likeness)

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