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The three adjectives omnis, cunctus, and universus appear to be essentially synonymous. They are often used in the plural. The entries in L&S suggest very strong similarity, but I find it unlikely that they would be exactly identical in all uses. (They are metrically different, but such poetic considerations do not interest me here.)

Are there any differences between these words? Is there a situation where choosing between these adjectives can lead to three different meanings? I am mainly interested in classical Latin, but insights about later use are of course welcome.

  • I remember hearing that cuncti meant omnes but with a stated or implied exception, though I can't remember where I heard it. – Anonym Aug 22 '17 at 16:42
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Certainly there are differences between the three, which I hope the following will demonstrate with sufficient clarity.

The roots of universus indicate 'turned into one', which describes a group formed from [objects] for a single purpose; homines universi in servitium ducti sunt, 'the whole population was led into slavery'.

Derived from coniunctus,cunctus is used in much the same fashion as universus, but can be used of a rather more disparate collection; milites civesque cuncti in forum procucurrerunt, 'soldiers and civilians ran as one towards the forum'.

Referring to a group whose members are substantively the same, omnis has the additional sense of 'every', especially in the singular, which is not an appropriate use of either universus or cunctus. It can also be used distributively in that sense: for instance omnibus mensibus, 'every month'.

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