Each question below assumes that any previous question has been answered with a yes.

  1. Is ille ever used alone as that is used in this sentence?

    That is a good idea.

  2. Is illīus ever used alone as of that is in this sentence?

    The idea of that alone was worth something.

  3. Is there an ambiguity in this sentence?

    Illīus hominis fīlium laudābant omnēs.

    I have in mind these two readings:

    (a) All praised that man's son.
    (b) All praised the son of the man of that.

    By (a), Illīus qualifies (determines) and agrees with hominis.

    By (b), Illīus refers to an object other than hominis. Maybe we have been referring to a woman as illa, who has married a man, who has a son by a former marriage, who was in general favor.


I am not asking whether any Latin speaker would have used the quoted sentence to mean (b). I am only asking whether (b) could or could not be ruled out as a matter of grammar. If I knew Latin better, I might have tried to come up with a more plausible (natural sounding) example.

What gave me the idea of (b) is the genitive forms of German personal or demonstrative pronouns, such as seiner for er or deren (derer) for die, as in:

Wir wollen seiner gedenken.
Erinnert euch derer, die nicht mehr unter uns sind.

The German examples are from this and this Web page.

The Latin sentence is from page 124 of Beginner's Latin Book by William C. Collar and M. Grant Daniell (1887).


1 Answer 1

  1. Yes, the boundary between adjective and substantive nouns is often unclear in Latin and Greek. So adjectives can generally be used like substantive nouns, and demonstrative pronouns like ille are adjectival and can be used like substantive nouns as well. So ille can be "he" or whatever pronoun fits the antecedent. Similarly—or the other way around—, nouns like amicus and senex can also be used like adjectives: senator amicus "a befriended senator", servus senex "and old slave". Or "a friend who is a senator", "a servile old man": it makes no difference in Latin.

  2. Yes, by all means, if the word that illius refers to (its antecedent) is inanimate in English, then you can translate it with "of that".

  3. There is at least theoretical ambiguity, yes. It could be "the son of the man of that/her/him" (illius can be masculine, feminine, or neuter in Latin), or "the son of that man". However, I suspect illius would be read adjectivally in your example by 99% of readers, for "the man of that/her/him" is semantically unlikely. In other sentences, though, it can very well be used in the way you are looking for.

P.S. The genitive eius is routinely used to mean "of him/her/it, his/her/its", and so is eorum/earum "of them, their".

It may interest you to know that Latin does in fact use words that look like the genitives of possessive pronouns instead of the genitives of personal pronouns: mei, tui, sui should and can mean "of my, of your, of his/her/its (own)", from the possessive pronouns meus, tuus, suus; but they are in fact often used to mean "of me, of you, of him/her/it(self)", in constructions where the genitive does not indicate something possessed but rather something else (called the genitivus obiectivus). So tuus amor mei would mean, "your love of me", where I am the object of your love, and you the one who holds possesses this love (although I'm not sure whether the Romans would use both pronouns in the same nominal group).

This is fairly close to the German construction, which also used possessive pronouns, rather than demonstratives. Note that the German construction is to a limited extent also possible in Dutch. Cf. also English a friend of mine.

Maybe mei etc. aren't etymologically from meus etc.: I seem to remember that they might not be. But they do look like possessives.

  • If I recall correctly, mei etc. are from the possessive pronouns, supplanting earlier mis, tis, etc.
    – Anonym
    Jul 26, 2018 at 5:04

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