As I understand it, the usual verb for learning in Latin is discō. Looking at Lewis & Short on Perseus [link] it seems like this is attested with an accusative (in the sense "to learn NOUN"), with an infinitive or accusative & infinitive (in the sense "to learn to VERB"), with a relative clause (with the sense "to learn that RELATIVE CLAUSE"), or in absolute construction.

An important sense (in English at least) seemingly absent here is "to learn about NOUN".

Is this expressed with the accusative, and I'm just missing it from the examples, or is it expressed by some other construction (e.g. with an alternative case, a preposition, or a different verb)?

  • 2
    You can do a corpus search for the obvious candidate discere de and see if something relevant comes up. I don't have the time to type up an answer now, so I don't mind if someone turns this thought into an answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 17:05
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    Plautus, Stichus, line 400 and Terentius, Eunuchus, line 262 both look promising, from the link commented by @JoonasIlmavirta .
    – gaufridus
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 7:34
  • That does look very promising. I'd forgotten that de's primary sense was "concerning" rather than "from" (which makes sense seeing as that one's somewhat redundant with the ablative). If I get a chance I may self-answer on that basis, but if someone else writes it up first I'll happily accept it
    – Tristan
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


It's tempting to think that disco + de is the way to go, as the comments suggest, but a note of caution there: the de first two examples given in the comments (Stichus 2.2.75 = 400 and Eunuchus 2.2.31) more likely indicate source, not subject matter (despite what Lewis and Short say), though in later Latin ab or ex is used instead.

However, by Cicero, we see disco + de with subject matter, as in De Oratore 2.33.143:

haudquaquam id est difficile Crasso, qui et, quod disci potuit de iure.

Sutton and Rackham translate it as follows:

That is easy enough for Crassus, who has learned all there is to be learned about law.

You see it in the reverse, too, i.e. teaching de + subject matter, as in Caesar, De Bello Gallico 6.14.6:

multa praeterea de sideribus atque eorum motu, de mundi ac terrarum magnitudine, de rerum natura, de deorum immortalium vi ac potestate disputant et iuventuti tradunt.

Edwards translates this as:

Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their lore to the young men.

De + an ablative is also, of course, the main way to indicate subject matter in books about a topic, like Lucretius' De Rerum Natura or Cicero's De Natura Deorum.

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    If, on the other hand, "learn about" is used in the sense of being informed about something, finding out about something, e.g. "When the Helvetii learned about Caesar's arrival" etc., then certior fieri de alqa re or alqam rem cognoscere would be more appropriate. Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 21:23

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