Some time ago I asked about the missing imperative of velle. The answer indicated an old imperative (or indicative) second person singular form, vel, and that this word became a conjunction. I am familiar with the verb velle and conjunction vel, but the connection between them is not entirely clear. (It had never even occurred to me that the two words might be related.)

Could someone explain how velle gave rise to vel? What benefit is there in viewing vel as a verb form? I am not sure if I can formulate a sensible question, but I would like to understand the relation between velle and vel better.

1 Answer 1


The interpretation of the origin of vel from a second person indicative of volo is proved by the comparison with the Umbrian "heris - heris", 2. pers. from *herio = volo (Hofmann – Szantyr p. 501). You can compare even the modern Greek "θέλεις - θέλεις" or the Italian "vuoi - vuoi", which have the same meaning of the second person indicative of volo and in that case could be translated with "either - or" (Thumb, p. 173).

The origin from an old imperative of volo is formally and semantically impossible (Jacobsohn, p. 344), and it is more likely that the form "vel" derives from *vell < *vels due to proclisis (Jacobsohn, p. 348). For other hypothesis, see Walde – Hoffmann p. 743.

The semantic development started from an interrogative form ("do you want?" "if you want"):

Plaut. Aul. 452: etiam intro duce, si vis, vel gregem venalium

Cic. Planc. 79: agitur studium tuum vel etiam, si vis, existimatio, laus aedilitatis

Cic. Tusc. 3,18: qui sit frugi igitur vel, si mavis, moderatus et temperans

Catull. 55,21: vel, si vis, licet obseres palatum

Then it became gradually widespread into the disjunctive form ("or if you want", "if you prefer"):

Plaut. Pseud. 31: lege vel tabellas redde

Plaut. Poen. 1382: utrum vis est, vel leno vel Lycus

His connection with volo is thus expressed by the possibility of choice between the two terms.


J.B. Hofmann – A. Szantyr, Lateinische Syntax und Stilistik, München 1972.

H. Jacobsohn, Got. Ōgs, Lat. Vel, "KZ" 45, 1913, pp. 342-348.

A. Thumb, Handbuch der neugriechischen Volkssprache, Straßburg 1910.

A. Walde – J.B. Hoffmann, Lateinisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, II, Heidelberg, 1954.


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