Consider this example:

Ecce Marcus et Gaius. Hic canit, ille auscultat.
Here are Marcus and Gaius. The latter sings, the former listens.

When there are two or more things one could refer to, hic often means "the latter". The first of two can then be referred to with ille or is unless I am mistaken, but ille seems to be at least more common. I am not sure whether is is possible and when so, but I would like to figure that out.

Is there a difference between is and ille in references like this? That is, can I use is instead of ille here, or would it mean something else? In case of two (here Marcus and Gaius), would is refer to Marcus or Gaius, our would it not refer clearly to either one?

I think the usual latter/former pair is hic/ille, but I am unsure of the role of is. I am not sure it has any role like this at all.

This came up when I wrote an answer to a pronoun ambiguity question yesterday.

  • 1
    Linking my previous answer. I'm refraining from voting for the time being, but I do think it should be closed as redundant unless you were to demonstrate your speculation, i.e. what gives you the impression that you can substitute is for ille in this construction.
    – cmw
    Dec 5, 2016 at 8:03
  • 3
    I'm with @C.M.Weimer: hic/ille is a pretty established construction, and I think it might be better to ask "is it possible?" rather than "what's the difference?"
    – brianpck
    Dec 5, 2016 at 16:29
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    From the intro of Captivi, is is used immediately after hic with the same antecedent and no kind of opposition: "senex qui hic habitat Hegio est huius pater. / sed is quo pacto serviat suo sibi patri, / id ego hic apud vos proloquar"
    – brianpck
    Dec 5, 2016 at 16:52
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    @brianpck, at the time of asking I was unsure whether the correct pair of hic is ille or is. I reformulated the question somewhat, and I hope it is better. (In fact, C. M. Weimer's answer to the other question lists a third pronoun to refer further back than hic and ille, and I am tempted to make a separate question about that. We already have an answer, but I would much like to have a specific question about just that extension.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 5, 2016 at 18:18
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    @Quidam This question is not quite about is/ille/hic as "he", but about the reference to a number of previously mentioned things which may or may not be people. A separate question "What is the difference between is, ille, and hic as 'he'?" would be nice to have. It could of course link here. This question is only about multiple references, but most uses of these pronouns only have a single reference and the game is different.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:35

1 Answer 1


You may be able to find nouna...nounb, isb...sed illea, but that's an unusual pairing, and you'd probably want to read it more literally, i.e. "he did X, but the former/latter did Y."

The most common pairing is nouna...nounb, hicb...illea. Allen & Greenough §297 have this to say about is in this usage:

Is is a weaker demonstrative than the others and is especially common as a personal pronoun. It does not denote any special object, but refers to one just mentioned, or to be afterwards explained by a relative. Often it is merely a correlative to the relative qui. [Emphasis mine.]

They give an example of this usage (from Att. ii. 1. 1):

venit mihi obviam tuus puer, is mihi litteras abs te reddidit | your boy met me, [and] he delivered to me a letter from you.

As you can see, this isn't quite the same usage or strength. A glance through Gildersleeve and Lodge doesn't even hint that is could be used in place of hic/ille. Your best bet is to stick with the standard construction unless you're familiar enough with why there might be an exception (and my gut is telling me it's rather colloquial).

  • I still have troubles to summarize the difference between "is" and "ille" to mean "he". Can you be less implicit with the "as you can see". It's not so obvious for a beginner like me.
    – Quidam
    Nov 18, 2019 at 8:47
  • @Quidam This question doesn't directly look at that specific difference. Which part are you confused on, and I can clear that up.
    – cmw
    Nov 21, 2019 at 4:15

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