I'm reading Phaedrus's version of Aesop Fables via Ørberg's Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. In Phaedrus, III. 7 (The Dog & the Wolf) :

[Wolf:] "Quanto est facilius mihi sub tecto vivere, et otiosum largo satiari cibo!"

Ørberg wrote a marginal note:

est = esset

In my sense, indicative est is even more acceptible than esset. What's the grammar of this subjunctive esset?

I consider quanto an exclamatory adverb (How easier it is!), but I find nothing about imperfect subjunctives used with exclamatories.

I also noticed, in an English translated version, it is translated as "... it could be!" Is the imperfect subjunctive intended here to express the wolf's regret for the past (It could be easier but it was not)?

2 Answers 2


Allen & Greenough, New Latin grammar, §437, a:

The Indicative is sometimes used where the English idiom would suggest the Subjunctive:—

longum est, it would be tedious [if, etc.]; satius erat, it would have been better [if, etc.]; persequī possum, I might follow up [in detail].

In the case of your passage, then, the note that est = esset is for the benefit of those who may be confused as to why an indicative is used instead of the subjunctive that they would expect in this context.

  • 1
    This sure answers the question I would have about this passage, but, it seems to me, not the one that was actually asked here. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 20:00
  • @SebastianKoppehel. Upon rereading the question and my answer, I see that this is a very fair criticism. I'll work on an expanded/edited answer. Thanks.
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 1:48

In the simplest sense, the subjunctive is used to express hypothetical ideas.

So here the wolf is imagining not what is, but what could be.

This type of sentence is called a statement of "general truth", ie something that is true in general and often such statements use the imperfect subjunctive. There are stylistic elements to whether an author uses the present or subjunctive in such situations.

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