6

If I wanted to talk about "the death of Caesar", I wouldn't think twice about using the genitive (mors Caesaris). But if you asked me what sort of genitive this is—possessive, partitive, or objective—I wouldn't be able to tell you.

These distinctions seldom actually matter in practice, but there's one important case when they do: with personal pronouns. The possessive genitive uses the form meus/tuus -a -um, while all other genitives use the form meī/tuī.

In particular, would "my death" be mors mea, or mors meī? Equivalently, would "your death" be mors tua, or mors tuī?

This came up in the translation of a tattoo.

  • Here is a similar question: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/1306/… – brianpck Aug 24 '18 at 20:43
  • @brianpck Yep, I actually linked that one in the question! That one's about when to use meī with a possessive/subjective, though, while this one's about whether a specific instance counts as possessive/subjective or not. – Draconis Aug 24 '18 at 22:27
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Another use of the genitive that you've left out is subjective genitive, which is what this is. These are discussed in, e.g., Gildersleeve and Lodge, Latin grammar §363. Allen and Greenough, New Latin grammar §243, Note 1 treats them, not unreasonably, as a species of possessive genitive (where what is 'owned' is an action or state of being).

Death implies the action of dying, and Caesar is the one who performs that action here; he's like the subject. For the personal pronouns (1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person reflexive), subjective relations, like possessive relations, use the possessive adjectives. So 'my death' = mors mea.

4

An unlearned but hopefully useful answer. Searching a large corpus of texts gives:

As brianpck pointed out in the comments, the low number of hits for the mei and related cases does not necessarily mean that this is a valid case. As he points out, these two words could appear in a different grammatical sense, e.g. with mei being an adjective and not a pronoun, which is the sole interest of the question. I'm still of the opinion that the dramatic difference in occurrence is helpful as supportive evidence to cnread's answer (and not alone).

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    Unfortunately, this is problematic on two levels: (1) the search results aren't filtered to just Latin, (2) more to the point, I guarantee that 99% (if not 100%) of the mei/tui/sui results are possessive adjectives, not pronouns. For instance, the first Latin result for mors mei reads mors mei praesulis. – brianpck Aug 24 '18 at 20:41
  • @brianpck (1) solved. I made the proportions even stronger though. Regarding (2), even if filtering for pronouns case only, would the huge differences in hits make the answer to reverse very unlikely? – luchonacho Aug 25 '18 at 7:54
  • My point was actually that the huge difference should be even more huge (i.e. verging on 0 hits) for pronouns used in this way. In other words, mors mei means "the death of my...", not "the death of me." – brianpck Aug 25 '18 at 17:15
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    Correct, but it's very easy to interpret this answer as giving evidence that "mors mei" is uncommon but admissible, when in fact it is never used for "my death." – brianpck Aug 26 '18 at 17:15
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    @brianpck oh, I understand now. Yes, you are totally correct on that. I will update to point this out. – luchonacho Aug 26 '18 at 17:24

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