In English one can say:

Without you I would not be here.

This is roughly the same thing as:

If you had not helped, I would not be here.

The exact wording depends on context. In the second example the irreal condition (which is not met) is expressed by a conditional clause, whereas in the first one it is expressed by a prepositional phrase. It occurred to me that I do not recall seeing the first kind of construction in Latin.

Are there examples of an irreal condition expressed by a prepositional phrase in classical Latin? The basic example would be:

Sine te hic non essem.

Or more generally:

Sine X fieret Y.

The verb can by anything. I find sine to be the most likely preposition in this use, but it can be any. I am looking for an irreal conjunctive (imperfect or pluperfect) where the condition (which is not met) is expressed not by a conditional clause but by a prepositional clause. I would prefer examples concerning present time (conjunctive perfect), but past (pluperfect) is also possible.

I have no clue how to search for structures like this, so the best I can do is to ask whether someone here has seen this.

2 Answers 2


Here's an example from Cicero, Academica 1.24 (it even uses the preposition sine). The general parallelism of the ideas introduced by neque...neque makes it clear that the prepositional phrase is equivalent to or encapsulates an 'if' clause:

de natura autem (id enim sequebatur) ita dicebant ut eam dividerent in res duas, ut altera esset efficiens, altera autem quasi huic se praebens, eaque efficeretur aliquid. in eo quod efficeret vim esse censebant, in eo autem quod efficeretur tantum modo materiam quandam; in utroque tamen utrumque: neque enim materiam ipsam cohaerere potuisse si nulla vi contineretur, neque vim sine aliqua materia; nihil est enim quod non alicubi esse cogatur. sed quod ex utroque, id iam corpus et quasi qualitatem quandam nominabant—dabitis enim profecto ut in rebus inusitatis, quod Graeci ipsi faciunt a quibus haec iam diu tractantur, utamur verbis interdum inauditis.'

...for matter would not have been able to cling together on its own if it weren't held fast by some force, nor would there be able to be a force without [i.e., if there weren't = nisi essent] some matter.

Update: In Gildersleeve & Lodge, Latin grammar, this subject is discussed in section 593, 'Other Forms of the Protasis.' Subsection 3 states, 'The Protasis may be involved in a modifier.' Although this is pretty vague, all three examples that are cited (one of which is actually the passage from the Academica that I've used) involve prepositional phrases. The other two are:

  • Cicero, Pro Milone 29:

    fecerunt id servi Milonis...quod suos quisque servos in tali re facere voluisset, 'Milo's slaves did what every man would have wanted his own slaves to do in such a situation.'

    Here, G&L say that in tali re is equivalent to si quid tale accidisset, 'if any such thing had occurred.'

  • Lucretius, De rerum natura 5.18:

    at bene non poterat sine puro pectore vivi, 'But it wouldn't have been possible to live well without a pure heart.'

    Here, sine puro pectore = nisi purum pectus esset, 'if the heart weren't pure.' (As is not uncommon, the imperfect indicative of possum is used in place of the subjunctive for a contrafactual condition.)

  1. The first example that came to my mind was, VG Ioh 15:5:

    Sine me nihil potestis facere / without me you can do nothing

    It is put by John in the mouth of Jesus preaching. This, of course, does not meet the Classical requirement...

But then I started searching for sine+nihil, restricting the search to something concrete...

  1. Google gave a number of sentences, most of them short, one of them attributed to Horace (I cent. BC):

    Sine labore nihil / without work [there is] nothing

    Wikiquote argues that the original is

    Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus / Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work (Horace, Book I, satire ix, line 59)

  2. Perseus, in turn, led me to Cic. Mur. 9:

    [talking about Lucius Lucullus] maximo in bello sic est versatus ut hic multas res et magnas sine imperatore gesserit, nullam sine hoc imperator / in a most important war he so behaved himself that he performed many glorious exploits without the commander-in-chief; but the commander-in-chief did nothing without him

    At first it made me doubt, but nullam sine hoc imperator stands by itself as an example of what you are looking for, since imperator is nominative, nullam in accusative, and the fact the verb is gesserit seems pretty obvious: imperator sine hoc nullam gesserit, if parsed in a more modern-day-Western-friendly word order.

  • If Joonas is looking for a protasis expressed with a preposition, these examples work. None of them are counterfactual, though.
    – brianpck
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 14:41
  • @brianpck I did want it to be specifically counterfactual, but I'm starting to wonder whether the question was overly ambitious. It's quite interesting if the construction as I envisioned it isn't attested.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:12
  • @JoonasIlmavirta this exceeds either my English, my vocabulary, or my grammar knowledge, I admit. Why is not nullam rem sine Lucullo imperator gesserit not counterfactual? Would something like istam rem sine Lucullo imperator non gesserit counterfactual?
    – Rafael
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:26
  • @brianpck, the previous comment is also for you (honest question, I'm puzzled!)
    – Rafael
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:27
  • 1
    @Rafael I think it's factual instead of counterfactual, but it's subtle. It seems to say "the commander did nothing without him" (the commander indeed did nothing without his help), not "the commander would not have done anything without him" (the commander did something, which would have been impossible without his help). The "commander did nothing" is factual, as he really (according to the author) did not do anything. The statement "I would not be here without you" is counterfactual: it actually means that I am here. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this well.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:37

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