In the 2. sententiae antíquae exercise of the page 86 of Wheelock's Latin steht:

Ipsí nihil per sé sine eó facere potuérunt.

My attempt to translate to my native Spanish goes

Ellos mismos no han podido hacer nada por si mismos sin el.

Translating it to English:

Themself have not been able to do anything by themself.

I am enigmatic about the apparent pleonasm of having both Ipsí and per sé.

  • 1
    "Themself have not been able" This isn't grammatical in English.
    – cmw
    Dec 3, 2023 at 20:05
  • @cmw That is my English, very basic.
    – Dolphínus
    Dec 3, 2023 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, both translations might indeed be a bit pleonastic since both ipsi and per se are translated to very similar sets of words in both English and Spanish. However, per se and ipse have unambiguously distinct meanings in the original Latin sentence:

  • Ipsi, which acts as a pronoun here, simply means they with an emphasis on the uniqueness of the group of people being mentioned.
  • Per se means by themselves, by their own effort. It doesn't modify they, but the action that they are doing.

The two terms have nothing to do with each other, it's just that their translations happen to (almost) collide.

Appropriate translations of the sentence would go like this:

Without him, they have not been able to do anything by themselves.

Sin él, no pudieron hacer nada por sí mismos.

Notice how ipsi is translated to they / ellos, dropping the nuance that the Latin word carries in order to avoid repeating the themselves / mismos that came from translating per se. You could do otherwise and try to keep the original meaning intact:

Without him, they themselves have not been able to do anything by themselves.

Sin él, ellos mismos no pudieron hacer nada por sí mismos.

But this is ugly. I wouldn't expect this clumsy wording from any decent English/Spanish translation of a Latin book.

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