In a question about Augustine, this quotation is given:

Frustra itaque nonnulli, immo quam plurimi, aeternam damnatorum poenam et cruciatus sine intermissione perpetuos humano miserantur affectu, atque ita futurum esse non credunt
— Augustine, Enchiridion, §112,

It is quite in vain, then, that some—indeed very many—yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. (translation source)

This use of quam as a mere intensifier ("very") of a superlative surprised me. Perhaps I have seen it before, but I do not recall doing so. Is this normal in (classical) Latin?

To be clear, I am not inquiring about quam + superlative as used in e.g. "as many as possible" or "as many as I could find", both of which are common enough, nor about using it as an intensifier with a positive (which is possible though probably uncommon).

I could not find a description of this use in Lewis & Short.

  • Ahah, the answer you seek appears to be at the very bottom of your link.
    – Anonym
    Oct 22, 2018 at 22:23
  • @Anonym: Well, that isn't with superlatives?
    – Cerberus
    Oct 23, 2018 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


I think I have three examples, one modern and two medieval: they were found with o quam + the specific superlatives in the search box.

De Maximiliani Romanorum. Imperatoris ... laudibus ... epistola; By Paul von Oberstein (quire Giij; no page numbers)

o quam pulcherrima laus, quam ingens gloria Bohoemici nominis
O, how very beautiful the praise, how vast the glory of the Bohemian Name.

a medieval/early modern devotional work:

Ex his adverte o anima devota, quam pulcherrima, quam gloriosissima sit Maria mater domini Jesu.
From these notice, o devoted soul, how very beautiful, how very glorious is Mary mother of the Lord Jesus

Notizia Fioretina (1720); forms of address 1002 -1014.

'Quam gloriosissimus Avunculus noster Otho Major,
How most glorious a Patron our Otto Major,

  • 2
    Ah! Your answer has quotations where quam is translated as "how", which I would call an interrogative. The "very" in those translations comes from the superlatives themselves. Even so, I think you've put us on the right track: I think quam in 'my' Augustinian quotation is indeed the same quam, to be translated as "indeed, how very many". That makes sense; I wonder why I didn't see it. Perhaps it was the slightly liberal translation "indeed very many" that somehow led me astray.
    – Cerberus
    Oct 23, 2018 at 1:17
  • 1
    @Cerberus But is this quam 'how' really an interrogative? No question has been asked and no answer is expected.
    – Anonym
    Oct 23, 2018 at 17:03
  • @Anonym: Well, I think that's what it and the word "how" are normally called, but I would say it hovers in between interrogative adverb and conjunction (as many words do). In either case, it introduces an (elliptical) clause. So in the o, quam pulcherrima laus example, the original construction from which this elliptical use is derived is probably something like o, [mirabile est] quam pulcherrima laus [sit/est], or similar. So in Augustine, it is probably best thought of as [mirabile est] quam plurimi, "it is amazing how very many", which can then be liberally translated as "very many".
    – Cerberus
    Oct 23, 2018 at 17:45

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