Question: does Latin have a grammatical mechanism to disambiguate the ambiguous use of `his' in the third of the three following English sentences?

Person A wrote a book.
Then person B wrote a book.
Then person A wrote a book review of B's book,
wherein he compared his book with his.


  • In English, a solution is of course to replace the latter "his" with the two words "his own". The question is whether Latin has a mechanism which somehow uses the same possessive pronoun, but "inflected" in different ways.

  • More generally, even though this is a Latin-language-forum: what other languages do you know which have a mechanism for this particular disambiguation?

2 Answers 2


Two key mechanisms of disambiguation come to mind:

  • Using hic (latter) and ille (former) is one way. Simple example: "A and B meet. The former eats, the latter drinks." — A et B conveniunt. Ille est, hic bibit.
  • The pronoun se/suus usually refers to the subject of the sentence. Simple example: "B wrote a book. A compares his own book with B's." — B librum scripsit. A librum suum cum libro eius comparat.

Unfortunately there are cases where se/suus refers to something other than a subject. The risk of misinterpretation is larger than usual in your story, but I guess that is inevitable if you want to use pronouns only. On the other hand, "comparing X with Y" does not change much if X and Y are interchanged.

Despite the caveat, I think the distinction is best made with the pair suus/eius. Here's how I'd translate your story:

Aeneas librum scripsit.
Deinde Brutus librum scripsit.
Deinde Aeneas contemplationem libri Bruti scripsit,
in qua librum suum cum libro eius comparavit.

There are better translations for "review" than contemplatio, but I decided to let the original translation stay here as its beside the point. For a more on book reviews, see this follow-up question.

Incidentally, the specification "same gender" in the question is irrelevant for Latin here. The the form of the pronoun suus depends on the thing possessed, not the possessor, and the genitive eius is the same for all three genders. English makes a distinction between "his" and "her(s)", but Latin doesn't.

Regarding other languages: Many languages have something similar to the Latin suus. Italian has "suo", Swedish has "sin", Finnish has "-nsA", but there are syntactical differences between the languages. However, to make the distinction clear in any language, I would simply repeat B's name on the last line.


Yep, it's called the reflexive adjective, suus, -a, -um. It declines like an adjective and goes with the noun it's modifying.


  • Marcus reads a book. Marcus librum legit.
  • Marcus reads his [i.e. someone else's] book. Marcus eius librum legit.
  • Marcus reads his own book. Marcus suum librum legit.

For the full set of rules on reflexives, see Allen & Greenough on the topic.

  • I agree that suus/eius is the best way to go here. (I had the feeling someone else might be typing up an answer, too. A whopping difference of 19 seconds...)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:56
  • @JoonasIlmavirta 19 seconds is too funny! How odd that we both must have seen it at the same time, yet it had already been on the site for 30 minutes.
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 17:07

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