In English one can write either of these to indicate a height difference:

Marcus is taller than Gaius by a head.
Marcus is a head taller than Gaius.

I am looking for an idiomatic way to translate "by a head" in this context. I found good adjectives for "tall" in my previous question. A simple start is to drop the measure and write simply:

Marcus procerior est quam Gaius.
Marcus Gaio procerior est.

To indicate by how much someone is taller than someone else, one should use an ablative of measure (ablativus mensurae). That is, tribus metris longior and chiliogrammate gravius are the correct ways to say "three meters longer" or "a kilogram heavier". In this case, this approach leads me to these:

Marcus capite procerior est quam Gaius.
Marcus Gaio capite procerior est.

I am not sure if these would be parsed correctly and especially if this would be idiomatic classical Latin. One could read capite as an ablative of respect (ablativus respectus), leading to the interpretation that Marcus has a taller head than Gaius. This is not what I want to say.

Perhaps one could clarify "by a head" to "by the length/height of a head". I could use mensura or altitudo to produce:

Marcus mensura capitis procerior est quam Gaius.
Marcus Gaio altitudine capitis procerior est.

This is my best guess. How should I translate "by a head" in this context? I prefer classical Latin, but I do not require it.

3 Answers 3


For the construction of a phrase it is good praxis to look at what classical authors (especially Cicero) did. I haven't found a comparative use of the adjective procerus. However, the phrase "to be taller" could be expressed with altitudine superare (see, for instance, Liv. 30,10,13: altitudine aliquantum onerariae superabant and 43,19,9: [Perseus] altitudine muros superaret) or maior altitudine (see Plin. nat. 8,95,1: maior altitudine in eodem Nilo belua hippopotamius).

In this way, translating "By a head" with capite couldn't be interpreted by no means as an ablativus limitationis. Following the precedent examples and Cic. nat. deor. 2,92 (sol multis partibus maior atque amplior quam terra universa est), your phrase should then better be translated with:

Marcus capite Gaium altitudine superat


Marcus capite maior quam Gaius altitudine est

  • 4
    To be helpful, an undoubted comparison of procerus occurs at Suet. Aug. 73, usus est calceamentis altiusculis, ut procerior videretur.
    – Tom Cotton
    Jan 15, 2017 at 16:10

You need to say taller not 'by a head', but 'by a neck'.

Ovid, Met. 3.181: . . . collo tenus supereminet omnes

Ovid has the same expression collo tenus in Met. 2.275, where the adjacent text is doubtful, but the meaning clearly the same.

  • collo tenus supereminet omnes means "she rises above all as far as the neck", which doesnt' express properly an ablativus mensurae.
    – qwertxyz
    Jan 15, 2017 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Alessio, I would say that 'as far as [her, the] neck she overtops all', is equivalent to 'even at neck-height she is taller than all', or 'head and shoulders above all the others'. Translated more fully, [the nymphs, seeing a man’s face], . . . cluster round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others.
    – Tom Cotton
    Jan 15, 2017 at 16:02

This isn't classical Latin, but I'll mention it anyway since it might be of interest to someone. Jerome, when he translates "head and shoulders above the people" in 1 Samuel 10:23, writes et altior fuit universo populo ab humero et sursum.

"Head and shoulders above" is a common expression in English, and it refers to this verse.

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