In English you use the phrasal verb there+[to be] to mean something different than just an object being placed somewhere visible or known to the speaker and/or listener (i.e., there).

The same happens with Italian c'è and its corresponding plural and other tenses. In Spanish there is even a special "impersonal" conjugation of the verb haberhay— for that meaning (even when in English one would use the plural form there are). Hay has very little use apart from this meaning, and no other verbs have such impersonal form, that I'm aware.

My gut feeling is that in Latin one should preferably use est, while exsistit and even ecce + esse (possibly elided) could be of some use in certain contexts.

My question is: Could you provide any examples, either Classical or from the Vulgate, that convey something like this meaning of there is in a natural way? I'm interested in both affirmative and interrogative sentences, and if there is any rule of thumb as for what (if anything) makes something different than est (ecce, exsistit) preferable. Any additional grammatical insights and/or partial answers are also welcome.

  • 6
    Side comment: believe it or not, the other day I had a dream where I had no other language than Latin to communicate with someone specific. In my dream I used exsisto, knowing that it wasn't quite natural. Esse came to my mind only a few hours after waking up.
    – Rafael
    Jul 11, 2018 at 14:06
  • 5
    Dreaming in Latin. That is on another level!
    – luchonacho
    Jul 11, 2018 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


The next time you get into that dream, use a plain est. Here is an example from Caesar:

Flumen est Arar, quod per fines Haeduorum et Sequanorum in Rhodanum influit…
(Commentarii de bello Gallico I.12)

There is a river called the Saone, which flows through the territories of the Aedui and Sequani into the Rhone…
(W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 1869)

For introducing simple things like this, the most idiomatic way I know is to use est. Using ecce gives emphasis, which is often unwanted. The point is to say "there is a river", not "lo and behold, a river".

For questions, you can use estne for "is there". Here is an example:

Estne adhuc aliquid mali in orbe mecum?
(Lucius Annaeus Seneca iunior, Hercules Oetaeus 1399–1400)

Is there still anything bad in the world with me?
(my quick translation)

There are also examples of estne with a dative of possession, but I guess those would not usually correspond to an English question with "is there".

  • 1
    "Arar is a river, which..." is just as well possible methinks.
    – fdb
    Dec 19, 2019 at 11:21
  • 1
    Just to add, Latin for beginners mentions explicitly at least twice (in #86 footnote 1, and #96 foot note 4) that in order to use esse in the sense of there is, it should come before the subject, and even as the first word in the sentence. "Est in vîcô vir bonus" = There is a good man in the town
    – d_e
    Aug 23, 2020 at 18:42

In the first sentence of St. Augustine's Confessions:

"...et sapientiae tuae non est numerus."

The English translation by John K. Ryan renders this as:

"and to your wisdom there is no limit."


After doing some research, including reading the discussion linked in the comments below, I don't prefer Ryan's translation of "sapientiae tuae" as dative. Augustine is echoing the psalms, whose corresponding parts seem to be genitive and are translated as such in the Douay-Rheims, which also employs "there is no" for "non est", to tie these two discussions together at least superficially:

http://vulgate.org/ot/psalms_144.htm verse 3

http://vulgate.org/ot/psalms_146.htm verse 5

I prefer a translation like "of your wisdom, there is no measure."

  • 2
    I would take this as a dative of possession, actually, even though "there is" works for it in English. (In other words, I'd translate it as "your wisdom has no limit".)
    – Draconis
    Dec 18, 2019 at 0:58
  • Didn't we discuss this very passage on here recently?
    – fdb
    Dec 19, 2019 at 11:19

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