I subscribe to a "Latin word of the day" email, which sends me a random vocabulary word and an example sentence every day. Last night's email had this:

pecco, to sin.
Nemo accusator caret culpa; omnes peccavimus.

The translation seems to be "no accuser is free from guilt; we have all sinned".

But I'm confused by the nemo at the beginning. I'm used to nemo being a noun; if I were translating this sentence into Latin, I would have used nullus here instead.

Is it correct to use nemo as an adjective like this? If so, what's the difference in meaning—that is, what would be different if I used nullus instead here?

1 Answer 1


While it's mostly used as a noun, nemo may rarely be found as an adjective. The Vulgate reports the following phrase by Jesus:

Ait autem: Amen dico vobis, quia nemo propheta acceptus est in patria sua.

(Lucas 4:24)

The Italian Treccani Vocabulary translates the sentence with nemo as an adjective: nessun profeta è gradito in patria, "no prophet is welcome in ther own land".

Given that in the comments it has been suggested the above sentence may not be the best example, here's a better one from Cicero:

Nemo doctus umquam dixit mutationem consilii esse constantiam.

Perhaps one could translate this as "no one that has been instructed ever said...", but the most natural meaning here is "no man of culture", with doctus being a substantive and nemo an adjective - see the entry for doctus in L&S.

I can't back this up, but since nemo is the contraction of ne+hemo (where hemo is an archaic form of homo), I guess it could be exploited to highlight the humanitas involved - as in, nullus works for objects and animals as well, nemo does not. But really, there isn't much difference.

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    I would actually read that nemo as a noun: "Nobody is accepted as a prophet in their own land."
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 19, 2019 at 17:32
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    @JoonasIlmavirta: this kind of thing is known as nomina coniuncta. It does not, as far as I can think, have an actual English equivalent, so we interpolate words to make the meaning in Latin clear in the English, as you and Sumelic indicate.
    – Tom Cotton
    Mar 19, 2019 at 17:39
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    +1. I agree that the example looks ambiguous, but the general answer is backed by L&S, see meaning II.A.
    – Rafael
    Mar 19, 2019 at 17:40
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    The form of this verse in Greek, "Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ" might be relevant to the grammar of the Vulgate version, since the Latin seems to be a word-for-word translation. I don't know whether "προφήτης" could be interpreted as anything but the subject there.
    – Asteroides
    Mar 19, 2019 at 17:47
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    @Rafael Can you post the support found in L&S in another answer? A separate argument in support of the same conclusion should be given as a new answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 19, 2019 at 17:55

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