I was recently doing a translation of a phrase like the following:

You can see everything without blinking.

Here was my briefly considered attempt:

Omnia sine nictatione videre vales.

I was relieved that nictatio has some attested forms, but it led me to consider: is there a standard way (i.e. without major recasting) to translate this kind of construction while still using a verb? I can think of a few phrases where this would be useful, such as:

He spoke without looking around him.

Of course I could recast:

Loquebatur nec circumspiciebat.

Loquebatur oculos servans.

My question: Is there a Latin construction for "without X-ing" that doesn't require significant recasting of the sentence?

  • 2
    The first thing that comes to my mind is sine nictando, but I don't know if this use of the gerund is idiomatic.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 15:38
  • Regarding #1 in the text of the new bounty notice, I'm inclined to believe that something like 'Go ahead without looking back' and 'Now do it without looking' would be expressed as 'Go ahead, and don't look back' and 'Now do it, and [but] don't look', using a positive command and then a negative command (prohibition) connected to it by neve/neu. Further, if, as Gildersleeve & Lodge state, sine + gerund(ive) is rare, it may well be that a non-negative declarative statement such as 'He does it without looking' would likewise be expressed as simply, 'He does it but doesn't look.'
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 8 at 2:14
  • In short, I suspect that there's no single idiomatic translation of 'without -ing' in (classical) Latin; rather, the proper translation will very much depend on the context/structure of the sentence (command, negative sentence, etc.)
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 8 at 2:15

2 Answers 2


If the main clause contains a negative, a subordinate clause introduced by quin and containing a subjunctive may be equivalent to 'without —ing.'


nullum adhuc intermisi diem quin aliquid ad te litterarum darem, 'Up to now, I've let not a single day pass without dropping you some sort of letter.' (Cic. Att. 7.15.1)

Update: As another example, there's this lovely bit from the In Vatinium (39):

quod si ipse, qui te suae dignitatis augendae causa, periculo tuo, nullo suo delicto, ferri praecipitem est facile passus, tamen te omni honore indignissimum iudicat, si te vicini, si adfines, si tribules ita oderunt ut repulsam tuam triumphum suum duxerint, si nemo aspicit quin ingemescat, nemo mentionem facit quin exsecretur, si vitant, fugiunt, audire de te nolunt, cum viderunt, tamquam auspicium malum detestantur, si cognati respuunt, tribules exsecrantur, vicini metuunt, adfines erubescunt, strumae denique ab ore improbo demigrarunt et aliis iam se locis conlocarunt, si es odium publicum populi, senatus, universorum hominum rusticanorum,—quid est quam ob rem praeturam potius exoptes quam mortem, praesertim cum popularem te velis esse neque ulla re populo gratius facere possis?


The only attested use of gerund of nicto which I found is from the s. 10 p.C., by a certain Eugenius Vulgarius (Monumenta Germaniae Historica Poetae Latini Medii Aevi 4/1, Berlin 1899, p. 414): Delectae plebi tradit nictando iuvamen. So we shall not intend this construction as the "standard way". I would rather translate with a modal ablative or, if you want to retain the verb, with an ablative absolute, though I don't found anything in that sense from Latin authors:

Omnia immotis palpebris videre vales

Omnia firmis palpebris videre vales

Omnia immobilibus palpebris videre vales

Omnia stantibus palpebris videre vales

Omnia palpebris non coeuntibus videre vales (cfr. Plin. nat. 23,49,3)

Omnia palpebris quietis videre vales

You can use either superciliis or ciliis instead of palpebris.

  • 4
    Yes, I agree. I'll just add that, not only is the gerund of nicto very rare, but so is the use of the gerund with sine. According to Gildersleeve & Lodge' grammar (§433), sine + gerund(ive) is used once in Varro (LL 6.75) and in Donatus (Ter. And. 391).
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 18:08
  • 4
    Thanks for the samples: to be clear, my question was more about a general approach to translating "without + verb" rather than that particular sentence. I would consider an ablative absolute an excellent way of recasting in many cases, but I was hoping something closer to English syntax could be proposed.
    – brianpck
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 18:08

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