Latin has such a long history that at some point some native — or otherwise very fluent — speakers surely have disagreed about what is correct and grammatical Latin. I would like to know if such disagreements have survived in literature.

Let me formulate the question more precisely. (Partial answers or interesting observations about the topic are welcome as answers, though; I don't mean to discourage anyone from answering.) What is the earliest written record of grammatical disagreement, like "This other author wrote that plenus comes with ablative but he is wrong since it should always come with a genitive attribute"? Ideally I would like to see a situation where two grammarians disagree on some point and the later writer is aware of the disagreement.

  • Totally OT, but once I read there were such disagreements between local variants of 1st century Hebrew. – Rafael May 13 '16 at 21:51
  • Legendum, "something to be read." became the title of various collections, Legenda "things to be read." By 1200 this was commonly treated as a Feminine nominative singular, "a legend." – Hugh May 29 '16 at 16:19
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    It's late (3/4C), but are you familiar with the Appendix Probi? – TKR Jun 9 '16 at 18:35
  • @TKR, I had never heard of that, but that Wikipedia article was an interesting read. I suppose that counts as a written record of some kind of grammatical disagreement. That would make a nice answer, even if it doesn't hit the nail exactly on the head. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 9 '16 at 19:05

There were plenty of discussions, and a record of some them has survived.

Pronunciation and orthography

We have really a lot of specimens of this, for example from Cicero, Catullus, Quintilian, Varro. Also consider that emperor Claudius tried to reform the alphabet – this must have definitely spurred many discussions between erudite people and grammarians.

Velius Longus (7.58 s. K.) says that "there's controversy about whether equus must be written with one or two u".

Augustin (Conf. 1.29) was ironic about the fact that at his time it was more important to pronounce homines according to grammar rules [i.e. with h voiced] than to love them according to the law of God.

Catullus (c. 84):

Chommoda dicebat, si quando commoda vellet dicere, et insidias Arrius hinsidias. et tum mirifice sperabat se esse locutum, cum quantum poterat dixerat hinsidias.


At least indirectly, the Appendix Probi mentioned in comments. Also the fragmentary Dubius sermo of Pliny the Elder (which according to naturalis historia 1.228 was badly criticized by grammarians); this was not only about lexicon but also other aspects of language.

Cicero (Fam. 16.17) criticizes a solecism from Tiro (thanks @TheHonRose):

I see what you are about: you want your letters also to be collected into books. But look here! You set up to be a standard of correctness in my writings—how came you to use such an unauthorized expression as "by faithfully devoting myself to my health"? How does fideliter come in there? The proper habitat of that word is in what refers to duty to others—though it often migrates to spheres not belonging to it. For instance: "learning," "house," "art,,' "land," can be called fidelis, granting, as Theophrastus holds, that the metaphor is not pushed too far.


Here too we have plenty; consider that there was even a major split among grammarians between analogists and anomalists. Quintilian (1.5.14) talks about the "pexus pinguisque doctor" (!) who dared refuse the irregular but commonly used adsentior (the "correct" form would be adsentio).

Cicero tells us that analogists wanted to abolish the genitive in -um for all 2nd declension nouns, while he and the other anomalists wished to preserve it in frequently used genitives like nummum, sestertium, triumvirum, deum. Similar positions about "-asse" for "-avisse".


As for the first occurrence, you'll find them as early as the IV century BCE in Greece – for example the controversy between analogists and anomalists began in Greece and was later adapted to the Latin language.

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    Can you give more precise references and quote or summarize some examples? Examples (in addition to assentio(r)) of actual disagreements would make this answer great. – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 1 '16 at 11:22
  • I added some more examples, but I don't have anything as spicy as assentior at hand... you should find something good in Quintilian, maybe also Gellius. – user786 Sep 1 '16 at 12:13
  • Just one example, but in this letter, Cicero criticises Tiro's (apparent) use of faithfully (fideliter) - so, yes, there were disagreements. perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/… – TheHonRose Sep 4 '16 at 23:40
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    @TheHonRose thank'you! I'll add it in the answer – user786 Sep 6 '16 at 14:46

In the ancient Rome, the Romans mostly spoke Greek. Latin was more a language for the people with high standards. People did often listen to Latin, because they came together at the Forum (the center of the city) where the politicians read their texts.

Also the texts of poets were read there. Poets had their 'own gramatical rules'. They put words in other orders, gave them a different suffix... They emphasized important things in their texts by doing so.

I don't think people really thought about those things. There wasn't something like 'wrong'... They knew that the writer made that 'mistake'.

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    Welcome dzerk. Unfortunately, though there is likely to be some truth to this, your post is largely tangential to the question. There have been disagreements over Latin grammar through history – at least after Rome fell – but the only way to interpret your answer in a way that makes it actually address the question is "there weren't any in Ancient Rome, so there weren't any ever". This site isn't like a typical discussion forum; we expect answers to directly address the question asked. I hope this makes sense; please leave a comment here if you have concerns or questions. – Nathaniel Jun 9 '16 at 17:10
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    Yes, welcome @dzerk. I must say that I disagree with your statement In the ancient Rome, the Romans mostly spoke Greek. In my reading of history, Rome was founded by a tribe called the Latins, whose language is called Latin. The Greeks did create settlements in Italy, which Rome eventually had to contend with. In parting, I suggest including links to sources in your answers, to back up what you're saying. – andy256 Jun 10 '16 at 5:56
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    Although upper class Romans were familiar with the Greek language and often employed Greek speakers in their households, they, the Romans, still knew how to speak Latin. After all, their literature was written in Latin and their monuments and tombs were inscribed in Latin. – user16622 Jun 17 '16 at 13:36
  • As far as discussion of grammatical disagreements among ancient Roman authors, I suggest you consult the "Attic Nights" of Aulus Gellius. Aulus Gellius compiled many short anecdotes of a paragraph or so in length which discussed a wide variety of topics. – user16622 Jun 17 '16 at 13:39
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    Welcome @dzerk The Romans spoke, learnt and wrote Latin. When they came into contact with Greek culture - firstly in Magna Graecia in Italy, later in mainland Greece - they recognised an older and more sophisticated culture than their own, and borrowed large elements from it, including language, mythology, art and literature. The Roman conquest of Greece brought many (educated) Greeks to Rome as slaves, who frequently became tutors, secretaries, librarians etc to the elite, who also sent their sons to, for instance, Athens as we send our children to university. But they still spoke Latin. – TheHonRose Sep 7 '16 at 16:43

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