So I too was confused about the difference between suus and eius, and came across this question and its great answers.

TL,DR; suus refers back to the subject of the main clause as the possessor, whereas eius refers to someone else:

Canem suum videt

"He sees his (own) dog", versus:

Canem eius videt

"He sees his (= someone else's) dog".

So far, so good.

Thinking further about the two words, I realized that suus is basically an adjective and as such, agrees in case, number, and gender with the noun it's attached to; whereas eius acts as a noun, the genitive of is/ea/id, so it's by definitition always in the genitive (otherwise it couldn't express possession); only the adjascent noun takes the case the sentence calls for (see canem in the examples above).

The adjective suus/sua/suum can appear on its own and act as a noun (substantive), inflected in the appropriate case:

Suum videt

"He sees his own (dog, or any other unspecified masculine/neuter thing)"

But we cannot say:

*Eius videt

to express "He seems somebody else's (dog, or any other unspecified masculine/neuter thing)"

because eius is not in the accusative and cannot express a direct object of videō/vidēre, (I might be wrong here, please correct).

Similarly, eius can't stand on its own where a nominative is called for. So we can say:

Canis eius est melior

"His dog is better"; we must use eius and not suus because the subject of est melior is the dog, not the owner, right? Maybe I'm wrong here becasue there's no main/subordinate clause involved...?

So the question is: How would we tranlsate "His is better", without specifying what the possessed thing is? I believe we cannot say

Eius est melior

because again, the subject calls for a nominative.

So perhaps it can be:

Ille eius est melior

("That unspecified thing of him is better")

although I'm not sure if this is idiomatic Latin.

3 Answers 3


Actually, I'm not sure that you cannot say ejus est melior. Gildersleeve and Lodge, 3rd edition, at #362, Remark 3, say "Sometimes the governing word [of a genitive] is omitted where it can be easily supplied."

They go on to give some examples, ad Opis for "at Op's (temple)", Flaccus Claudi for "Claudius's (slave) Flaccus", and Hectoris Andromache for "Hector's (wife) Andromache".

I guess the sticking point is "where it is easily supplied". If you are going to use the genitive of a pronoun, then two things need to be supplied. "His is better" means that the reader needs to know (1) who "he" is, and also needs to know (2) what the governing word is, in our case "dog". So twice as much care is needed to use ejus as is needed to use Opis, Claudi, or Hectoris.


I keep looking for more examples like the ad Opis which Gildersleeve and Lodge cited, and I've convinced myself that they are at best really rare in the PHI corpus.

I want to say that they are more common in ecclesiastical Latin, but the only examples I've bumped into since you asked this question (and made me start thinking about it) are:

(a) 2 Corinthians 12:5, pro eiusmodi, for a (man) of this type

(b) Cyprian's martyrdom, Acta, 3-6: CSEL 3, 112, multa turba convenit ad Sexti, secundum praeceptum Galerii Maximi proconsulis, a great crowd gathered at Sextus's [villa] in accordance with the order of the proconsul Galerius Maximus.

(c) Augustine's Ennarationes in psalmos, Ps. 95: Si de tuo dares, largitio esset; cum de illius das, restitutio est, If you would give from your own, it would be largess; since you give from his, it is restitution.

If I run into more examples, I'll update them here.

But all this got me thinking, how would we say this in a common idiom? I think the answer lies in part in the huge (by English standards) wealth of pronouns that Latin has: Hic-haec-hoc, ipse-ipsa-ipsum, iste-ista-istud, istic-istaec-istuc, ille-illa-illud, illic-illaec-illuc.

I often see these used where I might expect a meus or tuus instead.

So mine is good, but his is better could very well be hic valet, sed illic praestat.


Another example, Mt 14:31: Modicae fidei, quare dubitasti? O (thou) of little faith, why hast though hesitated?

  • 2
    I'm not sure that the examples "Flaccus Claudi" and "Hectoris Andromache" need to be analyzed as elliptical constructions, but "ad Opis" is certainly relevant
    – Asteroides
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 2:07

It's not a perfect match, but I found this in Seneca (De Beneficiis 5.11.6):

Beneficium est quod quis non sua causa dat sed eius, cui dat; is autem, qui sibi beneficium dat, sua causa dat; non est ergo beneficium

A benefit is something that a man gives, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the one to whom he is giving. But he who gives a benefit to himself gives for his own sake; this, then, is not a benefit.

I put the relevant part in bold. It seems fairly close to putat canem suum bonum, sed eius meliorem esse.

Here, though, the missing word is easily inferred from the main clause. I wonder though if it would not be more normal in Latin for the first canem to be elided and the second expressed.


Please note that your examples are either ungrammatical or only grammatical if understood elliptically: Eius videt may be wrong (but citation needed …), but so is "he sees his." And "his is better" is only understandable if some context is implied, e.g. "My dog is good, but his is better." It sure does not mean "he's got something that is better" (which might perhaps be rendered as habet, quod est melius).

If that context exists, then you can easily repeat the word in question: Canis meus est bonus, canis eius autem melior. Could we leave out the noun in the second part here? I'm not sure, but I think not.

As for ille eius – or you should rather say illud eius – this literally means "that of his," but note that it is common to say illud Ciceronis etc., and the meaning is "that claim, expression, saying of Cicero's." I would understand illud tuum, illud eius &c; in the same way.

  • That's why I put an asterisk before Eius videt; I wasn't implying it is grammatical. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 23:17
  • Also, there is no example that is actually "He sees his" (period); you need to skip the part in parentheses and read to the end: "He sees his dog". Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 23:19
  • But thanks for the detailed answer! Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 23:20

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