This question is about the Greek equivalent of sentences like

I do not fear the Greeks, but I do fear the Romans.

Socrates didn't write dialogues, but Plato did.

These sentences use or imply the same verb in both parts of a parallel construction, of which the first is negative and the second is positive.

These sentences can be translated literally as

  1. τοὺς μὲν Ἕλληνας οὐ φοβοῦμαι, τοὺς δὲ Ῥωμαίους φοβοῦμαι.

  2. Σωκράτης μὲν διαλόγους οὐκ ἔγραψεν, Πλάτων δὲ ἔγραψεν.

What I'm wondering is whether the second verb can be left out, to give

  1. τοὺς μὲν Ἕλληνας οὐ φοβοῦμαι, τοὺς δὲ Ῥωμαίους.

  2. Σωκράτης μὲν διαλόγους οὐκ ἔγραψεν, Πλάτων δέ.

It seems that this is possible at least sometimes. Searching the TLG for "δέ." at the end of a sentence yields some relevant examples:

ἔστιν δὲ τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι περὶ μυθολογίαν καθαρμὸς ἀρχαῖος, ὃν Ὅμηρος μὲν οὐκ ᾔσθετο, Στησίχορος δέ (Plato Phaedrus 243) "for those who have sinned in matters of mythology there is an ancient purification, unknown to Homer, but known to Stesichorus" (tr. Fowler)

εἰσὶν οὐ πόρρω τῶν εὐελπίδων, χείρους δ’ ὅσῳ ἀξίωμα οὐδὲν ἔχουσιν, ἐκεῖνοι δέ (Arist. Nic. Eth. 1117a) "they come very near to those whose bravery rests on a sanguine temperament, though inferior to them inasmuch as they lack self-confidence, which the sanguine possess" (tr. Rackham)

(The last example isn't a μέν ... δέ, but it's the same idea.)

These examples make me think that at least 4 above is good Greek. I'm still not sure about 3, though, because in that sentence the δέ is not final, and it's much harder to search for cases of this construction with non-final δέ.

So, are there examples like 3, with non-final δέ? And more broadly, how productive, restricted, or idiomatic is the use of verb elision as in 3-4, as opposed to repeating the verb as in 1-2? Are there pragmatic or other constraints on this construction? Since this is a somewhat difficult question to get a handle on, I'd also be interested in answers that simply give potentially relevant examples.

  • 2
    My intuition, weak though it is, would not prefer your (3) either. P.S. I believe ellipsis is perhaps more appropriate than elision.
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


A lot of grammars describe the characteristics of sentences involving the particles μέν and δέ. A good example of that is A Greek Grammar for Colleges by Herbert Weir Smyth. In spite of a detailed analysis of the subject, he didn't address this specific question. The same goes for a lot of other grammars, which leads me to believe that it wasn't that common in practice as it is in English.

However, one grammar that did speak about this specifically said the following:

From μὲν-δὲ, come the forms ὁ μὲν-ὁ δὲ-, or ὅς μὲν-ὅς δέ-, which we have already seen in §126. Similar distributives are formed with the help of the same particles, for the various adverbial relations; and indeed not only the demonstrative and relative forms, but also the indefinite forms are so employed: ποτὲ μὲν—ποτὲ δὲ—sometimes sometimes—, or once—again-; and so also with τοτὲ and ὅτὲ (§116. n. 9). So further τῇ μὲν—τῇ δὲ—, or πὴ μὲν—πὴ δὲ—, in one way—in another, etc. ἔνθα μὲν—ἔνθα δὲ—, etc. In respect to all such distributives it is to be remarked, that sometimes such a formula stands without a verb in reference to a preceding proposition; where consequently μὲν in itself alone seems to have an affirmative sense, something like our indeed, forsooth; e.g, πάντας φιλητέον, ἀλλ' οὐ τὸν μὲν, τὸν δ' οὐ, "one must love all, and not the one indeed, but the other not;" παρῆσαν οὐχ ὁ μὲν ὁ δ' οὔ, ἀλλὰ πάντες," they were present, not the one forsooth, and the other not; but all."
(Phillip Buttman, Buttmann's Larger Greek Grammar, (1833) pg. 427, emphasis added)

He also has the following example in §126:

τὸν μὲν ἐτίμα, τὸν δὲ οὔ, the one he honoured, the other not
(pg. 347)

Although he speaks of the omission of the verb, he seems to be referring specifically to what he calls the "distribution of objects" or "distributives" in their various forms as demonstrative, relative or indefinite. It seems that such forms involve the help of pronouns or adverbs, as opposed to sentences that use the μὲν-δὲ combination without such helpers, such as:

Ἰδού, ἐκσέσεισαι ὑπ' ἄλλου μὲν οὐδενός, ὑπὸ σαυτοῦ δέ.
(Epictetus, Discourses, Book 4, chapter 9, section 11, line 1)

One thing to note about these constructions is the positioning of μέν and δέ. In the example sentences you posted, the objects that were being contrasted were separated by the verb. However the preference seems to have been to place the objects closer together, as Smyth notes:

Position of μέν (and δέ).—μέν and δέ are commonly placed next to the words they contrast, and take precedence over other postpositive particles. But when two words belong closely together, μέν and δέ are placed between. Thus, when nouns with the article are contrasted, μέν and δέ stand after the article; if the nouns depend on prepositions μέν and δέ stand after the preposition and before the article. (sec. 2914)

The following might also be of interest to you. It doesn't involve a complete omission of the verb, but involves either a participle or periphrasis instead:

Disparity or disjunction of the Clauses

  1. One of the opposed clauses may be expressed by the verbum finitum, while the other either takes the form of a participle or a periphrasis; as, ταῦτα καλῶς μὲν πρᾶξαι δόξας, σφόδρα δὲ ἁμαρτάνεις.

  2. Sometimes a periphrasis intervenes; as, Il. β, 494 Βοιωτῶν μὲν Πηνέλεως καὶ Λήϊτος ἦρχον—511 οἰ δ' 'Ασπληδόνα ναῖον ἰδ' Ὀρχομενὸν Μινύειoν, τῶν ἦρχ’ Ἀσκάλαφος καὶ Ἰάλμενος.

(William Edward Jeff, A Grammar of the Greek Language (1842), pg 373)

  • 1
    Thanks for the examples! The type of τὸν δὲ οὔ is indeed a common one, which it hadn't occurred to me to mention in the question. That type makes intuitive sense to me in a way that the examples I quoted in the question don't -- in e.g. ...ὃν Ὅμηρος μὲν οὐκ ᾔσθετο, Στησίχορος δέ, the δέ-clause seems to lack a focused element, which is weird (unless δέ itself is the focus). Your Epictetus example is interesting in that ὑπὸ σαυτοῦ is arguably focused there, which is unusual for elements preceding μέν or δέ.
    – TKR
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 17:52
  • You're welcome. I meant that the omission of the verb in μὲν-δὲ sentences doesn't seem that common. Commented May 3, 2020 at 19:28

I came across this sentence in Plato (Symposium 206c):

τίκτειν δὲ ἐν μὲν αἰσχρῷ οὐ δύναται, ἐν δὲ τῷ καλῷ.

And it cannot beget on the ugly, but on the beautiful.

This μέν...δέ sentence omits the verb (δύναται) in the second part of the sentence and uses δέ to make up for it. So your third example sentence, with a non-final δέ, seems to be permitted in Greek usage.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.