Let's start with some example sentences:

This is the house where I was born.
Ecce domus ubi natus sum.

This is the house in which I was born.
Ecce domus in qua natus sum.

Both sentences are understandable in both languages, but I'm not sure if both are grammatical and, if so, whether they are identical. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure how to compare the English "where" and "in which"; I have developed some intuition over the years, but there is no analogous comparison in my native language. My question concerns Latin, but comparison to or discussion of English is welcome, too.

Based on a quick look at uses of ubi, it seems that it is more commonly used in other meanings, but sometimes as a relative pronoun as in the examples. My question only concerns this use of ubi.

Here is a bunch of related questions: What is the difference, if any, between ubi and in quo/qua as relative adverbs1? How do I know which one to pick? Of both can be used in some cases, is there a difference in meaning? Are there situations that require ubi and others that require in quo? Can I always safely use in quo and forget about ubi as a relative pronoun? I know this is a whole bunch of questions, but I hope it gives a better idea of what I'm after than just the bolded one.

1 A previous version of this question spoke about ubi and in quo/qua as relative pronouns. However, they are not that, they are relative adverbs. One can regard the relative pronoun qui/quae/quod in ablative and with in as a relative adverb. Perhaps ubi is more commonly interrogative than relative when referring to place, but I have seen it used similarly to in quo/qua.

  • 1
    As David brings up in his answer, I think the wording is flawed. "Where" is an adverb, not a pronoun: in this case I believe the term is a "relative adverb"
    – brianpck
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:16
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    @brianpck I changed the wording. Both ubi nor in quo are indeed relative adverbs (although ubi is perhaps more commonly interrogative when referring to place). Does the question make more sense now?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:31
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    I'm not good enough with the technical terms: I think ubi is a relative adverb, quo is a relative pronoun, and in quo is a relative adverbial prepositional phrase...so I guess the current wording works :)
    – brianpck
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:36
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    @brianpck I just hope it's clear enough now, whether or not it triggers hair-splitting terminological remarks. :) The original wording was indeed flawed.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 30, 2017 at 20:04
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    @brianpck I don't think the line is so clear. Ubi often behaves more like a locative pronoun than as a pure adverb; e.g. in something like Q. Ubi est? A. Est domi. it literally stands in for a locative noun. Either way, it is in origin a pronoun (quo + bi).
    – Anonym
    Jun 30, 2017 at 22:13

1 Answer 1


Well, it is a simple answer to the question itself...ubi is not a relative pronoun, even if it is sometimes used as one. Ergo, it is always safe to simply use in quo, as, when translated idiomatically into English, simply means 'where'. However, I believe the question you are asking is more akin to whether you can use ubi and in quo interchangeably. As far as I know, you can use them interchangeably in this particular context, but you will never be wrong if you simply use the actual relative pronoun as opposed to the adverb.

Also, on a side note, I believe the example sentences you gave translate more like, "Behold, the house where I was born". Or, if you wish to imply a main verb 'est', "Behold, this is the house where I was born". Ecce is typically an interjection that means "behold" or "there!", or, more colloquially, "check it out!".

  • Thanks! Do you know in which contexts I can use both in quo and ubi? (I think it's a fairly universal phenomenon to sometimes use interrogative pronouns as relative ones, and perhaps this can be seen as a case of that. Unfortunately the amount of attestations of ubi was prohibitively large and I couldn't see how common the relative use is.) Also, good point about ecce.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:11
  • When you say "you will never be wrong if you simply use the actual relative pronoun," you seem to be implying that in quo is always correct, even in cases where ubi is not. Am I understanding you correctly? It's not clear to me if you think they are always interchangeable.
    – brianpck
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:18
  • As far as I know, you can use it in any case where 'in quo' is also appropriate. I haven't combed through several texts looking for this particular thing, so I cannot attest to the frequency of either, but I have seen both be used. In terms of translation, they have the same function, although one is a relative pronoun, and the other is simply an adverb.
    – David
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:19
  • @David If that is your contention, why don't you just say "they are interchangeable"? Your answer says "they are interchangeable here, but...", which obscures the point. I'm not sure I agree with that, but for now I can bring up a quibble: the relative pronoun obviously has to be changed to agree in gender/number with its antecedent.
    – brianpck
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:23
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    @brianpck To clarify: I am 80% sure that they are entirely interchangeable and I am sure that the relative is always going to be, at the very least, grammatically correct. Therefore, I added a caveat to my answer to account for the small amount of doubt I have, lest the grammar gods smite me for my lapse of judgment. For all intents and purposes, you may take my answer as "They are interchangeable, as long as you use the correct relative pronoun". Sorry about the confusion. And if you have a different opinion, I would love to hear it...I am certainly not the world's foremost expert on this.
    – David
    Jun 30, 2017 at 19:32

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