The self-exercises in CAPVT VIII of Wheelock's Latin (7th Edition) include the following sentence (#11):

Litterās ad virginem scrībit.
He is writing a letter to the maiden.

I'm confused about the use of ad (+ acc.) here. The chapter mentions that ad is used in the sense of "to, up to, near to with verbs of motion", but scrībit doesn't appear to be such a verb. Why do we not use the dative case instead? I would have expected this:

Virginī litterās scrībit.

Are the two constructions interchangeable in this context?

3 Answers 3


Writing a letter to someone does fit the description you mentioned. It has to travel physically to the recipient. Famous collections of letters usually use ad in their titles. We might understand this as implying "sent to" or "to be sent to."

Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, ad Atticum

Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium

On the other hand, within the text, the dative is common. This makes sense, because a letter is also intended for a person, one of the principle uses of the dative case. For instance, the very first letter in Ad Atticum begins with these words: Cicero Attico salutem. And we often find phrases like tibi scripsi. In fact, sometimes we see the dative and ad being used together:

litteras quas ad Pompeium scripsi tibi misi.
Cicero, Ad Atticum 3.9.3

At least in Cicero, it looks to me that ad is more common than the dative.

Epistulam quam ad Brutum ... scripsi misi ad te. Ad Atticum 12.18.2


In a context like this both ad virginem and virgini are possible. I don't know whether there is a difference in nuance, but certainly nothing severe for such a simple use.

Perhaps someone else can provide more details. I will also see if I can find anything more on this later, but now I have a plane to board.


The two constructions are not really interchangeable, though confusing them is hardly much of a crime. Your example litteras ad virginem scribit might offend a pedant, who would prefer the dative (reserving the ad + acc for use with a verb such as misit) but would more readily accept ad virginem scripsit when the action was in the past.

The main difference is that ad + acc. refers to a physical event (as in sending a letter), whereas the dative indicates some kind of benefit (as, for the information of . . .). The correct interpretation is usually clear from the context.

With that in mind, an introduction such as Ad M. Brutum to Cicero's letters can be seen simply as a title to what follows. A greeting such as salutem within the same, immediate context merely confirms this.

If, on the other hand, the writer refers to his own action — past, present or furure — of writing, then the dative is appropriate. For example Caesari scripsi de Bruto indicates what the writer said in another letter, where litteras ad Caesarem de Bruto misi means that he sent a letter of which Caesar was the recipient.

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