Why is there is (it) in the following phrase from Ørberg's Lingua Latina per se Illustrata, page 118?

Ōstium sīve ōs flūminis dīcitur is locus quō flumen in mare īnfluit.

Literally: By Ostium or os of the river is called [it] place where river in sea flows in.


In this case, is, ea, id is a demonstrative pronoun (like hic, haec, hoc; ille, illa, illud; etc.).

Allen & Greenough §297 says the following about is, ea, id:

Is is a weaker demonstrative than the others and is especially common as a personal pronoun. It does not denote any special object, but refers to one just mentioned, or to be afterwards explained by a relative. Often it is merely a correlative to the relative quī:

vēnit mihi obviam tuus puer, is mihi litterās abs tē reddidit (Att. 2.1.1), your boy met me, he delivered to me a letter from you.

eum cōnsulem quī nōn dubitet (Cat. 4.24), a consul who will not hesitate.

Your sample sentence demonstrates this correlation with a relative pronoun. You could translate as:

The [or: "that"] place by which a river flows into the sea is called the ostium [doorway] or os [mouth] of the river.

  • 1
    +1! When I started writing my answer, I thought you'd be working on yours. And I guessed correctly that you'd take a different approach. :) I hope the different wordings of the same idea are useful... – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 26 '18 at 18:57
  • Out of curiosity, what would you call the English pronoun "it" as opposed to a demonstrative pronoun (if you are making such an opposition)? – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 26 '18 at 18:59
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    I think it would be called (paradoxically) a personal pronoun, but I'm not sure. – brianpck Feb 26 '18 at 21:30
  • That would make sense. It is syntactically practically a personal pronoun, much like a neuter counterpart to "he" and "she". – Joonas Ilmavirta Feb 26 '18 at 21:35

This is a case where a word-by-word translation is misleading. If you translate is as "that", it makes more sense. And here you could translate it as "the".

In Latin you can use is like an adjective (e.g. is locus), but in English you can't (e.g. "it place" doesn't make sense, but "the place", "that place", or "this place" does).

The word is is not strictly necessary in the sentence, but it adds emphasis and gives a clear antecedent for the relative pronoun.

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