Consider the following sentence (a little contrived, but you can imagine a better example...):

Do you like their friends? -I only like her friends.

The obvious word-for-word translation does not preserve this distinction:

Diligisne amicos eorum? -Modo eius amicos diligo.

Modern languages deal with this ambiguity in various ways, e.g. French:

Tu aimes bien leurs amis ? -J'aime bien seulement ses amis à elle.

My question: Does Latin have a similar way to indicate the gender of the antecedent of such pronouns as eius when it is ambiguous?

  • 2
    How far are you willing to go to indicate the gender? Would a relative clause work? Modo eos amicos, quas ea habet, diligo.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 3, 2016 at 19:46
  • Use a noun, an adjective, or a relative clause.
    – cmw
    Dec 3, 2016 at 21:17
  • Thanks for the answers so far: based on comments, it looks like there isn't a way (like in French) to specify the gender of a genitive pronoun without recasting?
    – brianpck
    Dec 4, 2016 at 23:03
  • @brianpck, that indeed seems to be the case. Without recasting I see no way to work around the gender neutral singular genitive of Latin pronouns. (I'm happy to be corrected if someone can propose a way!) Not all languages can do that anyway, but it is a bit surprising that Latin can't.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 5, 2016 at 6:18
  • There's nothing like "ses... à elle" in Latin?
    – Quidam
    Nov 18, 2019 at 8:51

2 Answers 2


I don't think it can be expressed as conveniently as in English, but there are some ways. Singular genitives in Latin pronouns tend not to make a difference between genders.

  1. The easiest way around without more context is to use a relative clause:

    Modo eos amicos, quas ea habet, diligo.

  2. Using a name or a noun also makes it very clear, but the choice of words depends on contest:

    Modo puellae amicos diligo.
    Modo Mariae amicos diligo.

  3. In some cases you might be able to rely on the order of introduction:

    Ecce puer et puella. Diligisne amicos eorum?
    – Modo huius amicos diligo.

    In this last example I would read hius as "her" and illius or eius as "his".

  4. If you are not afraid of changing the meaning a little, more avenues open:

    Eosdem amicos diligo atque ea.
    "I like the same friends she does."


There is always a possibility of ambiguity when using the genitive singular of pronouns (which, incidentally, never refer to the subject of the sentence). Consequently, there's a natural temptation to look for an equivalent in Latin that doesn't actually exist, as you are doing here. The simple answer is to use an unambiguous noun as in, for example,

An te iuvat eorum amicos novisse? — Immo, iuvat amicos puellae tantum.

If you are in a particularly discursive mood, there's nothing at all wrong in qualifying your response in some kind of subordinate clause, but it is as well to bear in mind that discourse tended to be more terse and pithy when oral than when written, and to choose your approach appropriately.

  • 1
    Surely you want -ne here rather than an, since this is a simple direct question?
    – TKR
    Dec 4, 2016 at 19:46
  • I wrote an as beginning a single direct question, but I'd have no objection to -ne.
    – Tom Cotton
    Dec 4, 2016 at 22:10
  • 1
    As far as I know, an does not begin a single direct question, but introduces either an indirect question or the second alternative of a direct question (whose first alternative is either stated or implied).
    – TKR
    Dec 4, 2016 at 22:42
  • I suppose that it depends on how the conversation has been going — as it were, as inferring from something preceding. If not, then -ne; or end with annon. It's not an end-of-the-world matter!
    – Tom Cotton
    Dec 5, 2016 at 7:02
  • Oh, certainly not! Just a point of clarification.
    – TKR
    Dec 5, 2016 at 17:04

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