The Wikipedia section on ablative absolute gives these examples.

urbe captā Aenēās fūgit.
Ovidiō exule, Mūsae planguntur.
Caesare cōnsule...
īrā calefactā, sapientia dormit.
dominō absente, fūr fenestram penetrāvit.

These (other than 'Caesare cōnsule') seem to fit the mold 'that done' in that we get a substantive followed by a modifier. (Please excuse the terminology if either 'substantive' or 'modifier' is reserved for something narrower or more technical in Latin grammar.)

  1. Am I right to think that 'mutatis mutandis' is also of the same mold, except that the substantive ('mutandis') comes after the modifier ('mutatis')?

  2. If yes to 1, what is motivating the reverse order? That is, why not say 'mutandis mutatis' after all the other examples? Does a rule say, for example, that a gerundive must come second?

  3. If no to 1, how else then should I understand the phrase?

  4. Please give other examples of an ablative absolute made of a passive perfect participle followed (or preceded) by a gerundive, if available.

  • For 4, would it help at all to give occurrences of a passive perfect participle and a gerundive used together but not in an absolute ablative? I'm not sure if occurrences like tunica inuiolata seruanda est (Celsus, De Medicina make a difference here.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 10:43

1 Answer 1


Latin word order is free, and the parts of the absolute ablative can be in either order. One order might be more common than the other, but tendencies should not be taken as hard rules. To me capta urbe is as valid as urbe capta. Therefore my answer to 1 is yes.

Regarding 2, I see no particular reason for the reverse order. What looks weird to me is Wikipedia's choice to put all examples in the same order.

It should be noted that in some cases the roles of the two parts of the absolute ablative are not clear. If in mutatis mutandis the substantive is mutandis and the modifier mutatis, it reads "having changed what had to be changed". If you reverse the roles, it reads "by changing what had been changed". Both readings are reasonable. Context and word order can help with ambiguities like this, but word order is not very reliable.

For item 4, Ennius (in a fragment of a tragedy, quoted by Cicero in de Divinatione) writes:

me Apollo fatis fandis dementem inuitam ciet

I take the bold part to mean "having said what had to be said". One can regard fatum as a noun, but it nevertheless originates from the past participle of fari. There is also ratis infandis in Argonautica by Gaius Valerius Flaccus. I found no other hits, but that is no proof of non-existence.

(Unrelated to the actual question, I disagree with the punctuation in Wikipedia. I would never separate an absolute ablative with a comma. However, I recognize that punctuation as we know it is not a classical thing and comma rules in Latin are style preferences more than strict grammatical rules.)

  • If mutatis is the substantive, wouldn't mutatis mutandis look like Caesare cōnsule? This latter I want to see as Caesar being consul. On this model, we'd get what-has-been-changed being what-needs-to-be-changed. As if our attention were first directed to the existence of changed objects and only then to the fact that these changed objects were those (formerly) needing change. This seems to me decidedly less intuitive than mutandis serving as the substantive. This way, we are told that there were things needing change and next that they have been changed.
    – Catomic
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 7:44
  • I seem to be arguing that if it is not clear which of mutatis and mutandis is the substantive, that is from a syntactical consideration only; but that when one considers the semantics, one cannot help having a preference. I have only very limited Latin, and am writing out my thoughts in the hope that someone may point out any glaring error in them. Thanks.
    – Catomic
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 7:50
  • @Catomic I agree that semantically the standard reading is the most sensible one. However, the other one is not utterly unreasonable and especially syntax gives no strong preference. Sometimes unintuitive things happen in Latin, and I wanted to warn people away from narrow-mindedly accepting the first reading that comes to mind without consideration of alternatives.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 8:44

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