Pronouns I, Intransitive
Verbs with the Dative
St. Isidore, bishop of Seville
in the early seventh century, observes that pronouns are used “to
prevent the repetition of the noun from giving offence”. (Isidore
was recently appointed by the Pope as patron saint of the internet.
His close contemporary, the widely travelled Irish monk Columbanus,
quite apart from his important role in the dissemination of Hiberno-Latin,
is patron saint of motorcyclists.)
Joseph Priestley (see also
the Fetutinae to Chapter 6) remarks in his sixth lecture on
The Theory of Language and Universal Grammar (1762) that “Pronouns,
being nothing more than commodious substitutes for nouns, are not entitled
to a distinct class among the different kinds of words, but might all
of them be ranked under the heads of substantives, or adjectives; only
the universal irregularity of their inflexions makes it necessary to
give them a distinct consideration”. Notwithstanding Priestley’s
observation on their “universal irregularity”, nevertheless, as
with verbs, nouns and adjectives, there is a considerable degree of
uniformity in the way that the various Latin pronouns decline; learning
the forms of one pronoun will make learning those of another easier.
Most people learn the paradigms
for adjectives gender by gender, i.e. the full masculine declension,
then the feminine, then the neuter. This is logical, since the paradigm
for each gender of an adjective corresponds closely or exactly to the
paradigm for a particular noun-class which has already been learned.
The pronouns introduced in this chapter and the next are rather less
closely comparable to particular noun-classes, while having rather more
similarity between genders. It may, therefore, be easier to learn these
pronouns “across” (i.e. hīc, haec, hōc, then
huius, huius, huius etc.) rather than “down”,
gender by gender.
The distinction between
hic “this” and the three words for “that” (ille,
is, iste) should be maintained throughout the course. In
practice, however, Roman authors did not observe it strictly. At
Tristia 4.10.53, for example, Ovid says of his three predecessors
in the genre of elegiac poetry: successor fuit hic (sc.
Tibullus) tibi, Galle, Propertius illi (sc. Tibullus).
Do not confuse the nom. masc. sing. form hic with the cognate
adverb hic “here” (i.e. “in this place”).
As with their English equivalents,
meus, tuus, noster and vester are not usually
linked to other adjectives by means of a word for “and”; for example,
“I see my lazy pig” is porcum meum pigrum video. This is
also true of pronominal adjectives; for example, “I see this lazy
pig” is porcum hunc pigrum video.
Pronouns often took precedence
over nouns, as in e.g. ego uxorque “my wife and I”. Cardinal
Wolsey’s ego et rex meus in letters to the Pope and foreign
kings (see Shakespeare Henry VIII III.2) was idiomatic Latin,
but no doubt a calculated insult to Henry all the same.
Addressing Jupiter and the
other Olympian deities at Martianus Capella Marriage of Philology
and Mercury 3.325, the personified Grammar draws attention to many
irregular word-forms, and asks why ego has only the one form,
but Minerva interrupts her for fear that she may bore her audience.
It may seem obvious that ego has no vocative (most people talk
to themselves in the second person), but the ancient grammarians repeatedly
take pains to point this out, and Virgilius Maro Grammaticus, without
doubt the most eccentric of all grammarians, reports that Terrentius
and the splendidly named Galbungus wrangled over the point for fourteen
days and fourteen nights. (Like Virgilius, they may have been 7th-cent.
Irish monks.) Bodl. Gr. Inscr. 3019 is a 3rd century AD Greek
schooltext which includes declension of the pronouns “I”, “this”,
“he” and “that”, all of them containing the vocative (always
the same as the nominative).
A 19th century German commented
that “The British, who rule the Ocean and despise other European nations,
express the Latin ego by ‘I’, always capitalized”.
Unlike most other adjectives,
pronominal adjectives do not generally refer to quantity or quality,
and do not therefore have comparative or superlative forms. ipse
is an exception, having the wonderfully expressive superlative ipsissimus
(or ipsimus), used by slaves referring to their master in comedy
and similar low genres, perhaps in imitation of the same idiom in Greek
comedy. Since the Spanish mismo and the French même
are both derived from ipsissimus, it is reasonable to assume
that that form was firmly established in colloquial Latin. (Spanish
also has the magnificent doubly superlative form, mismísimo.)
The Italian pronoun/pronominal
adjective stesso is derived from iste and ipse
“that man himself” and its position in relation to the definite
article determines its sense in much the same way as with mismo
Latin has quite different words
for “my-”, “your-”, “himself” etc. and for “the
same”, and yet both Spanish and French use the same word for both,
the distinction being determined by position. Hence el puerco mismo
and le cochon lui-même both mean “the pig itself”, whereas
el mismo puerco and le même cochon both mean “the same
pig”. Latin cannot use the same word in different senses dependent
on its position in relation to the definite article, which it lacks.
Classical Greek has an exact parallel with the Romance languages: τὸ
χοιριδίον (to auto choiridion “the same pig”) and
χοιριδίον αὐτό (to choiridion auto “the
Unlike Spanish and Italian,
Greek can express “the pig itself” equally well by putting
“itself” before the article (αὐτὸ τὸ χοιριδίον [auto to choiridion]);
même le cochon permits yet another sense, “even the pig”. English
draws on both senses of αὐτός (autos); e.g. “tautology”
(the saying of the same thing, unnecessary verbal repetition), “automobile”
(a thing able to move [by] itself).
Where e appears in the
stem of is, ea, id, it is short, except that, in
the genitive singular, eius, ei is a diphthong.
The term “reflexive” is
derived from reflecto, reflectere, reflexi,
reflexum 3 “bend back”.
Personal pronouns are the most
conservative word-type in English: the equivalents to eius and
ei (genitive and dative singular of the pronoun [“his”, “her”
and “its”, “to him”, “to her” and “to it”]), to se
(“himself”, “herself” and “itself”), and to suus
(“his own”, “her own” and “its own”) are the only instances
of gender-marking being retained at least partially in English when
it is not found in Latin (“of/to whom”, “of/to which”).
idem is a compound of
is and the suffix -dem. The substitution of n for
m in some forms (eundem, eandem, eorundem,
earundem) is made to facilitate pronunciation. Note that the
i in the masc. sing. nom. idem is long, but short in the
neut. sing. nom. and acc. idem.
The distinction between reflexive
and non-reflexive pronouns is the same as that between reflexive and
non-reflexive pronominal adjectives; see on suus and eius.
That Caesar’s dying words
were et tu, Brute? (“You also, Brutus?”) has no authority
earlier than Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s source, Suetonius (Life
of Julius Caesar 82), maintains that he said nothing after Casca
struck the first blow, but he does add that there are those who maintain
that, seeing Brutus about to strike, he said καὶ σύ, τέκνον; (kai su, teknon?
“You also, my child?”): that he should speak Greek when dying unexpectedly,
in pain and disillusionment, may be a dramatic indication of the power
of Greek over the Roman élite by this time, but Cassius Dio reasonably
maintains that the sheer number of his assassins left him unable to
say anything (Roman History 44.19).
Be careful to distinguish the
genitive pronouns mei, nostrum, nostri, tui,
vestrum, vestri, sui from the identically spelled
forms of the pronominal adjectives (meus, -a,
Aulus Gellius Attic Nights
20.6 points out that the distinction between the genitive pronouns
nostri and nostrum etc. was not properly understood, let
alone strictly observed.
Be careful to distinguish between
the reflexive pronoun, as in “I kill myself”, and the intensive
(non-reflexive) pronoun (pronominal adjective) “myself” etc.,
as in “I myself kill the pig”; see below, on ipse.
Separate forms of sui
for singular and plural are not needed, since the number will be indicated
by the subject to which they reflect back.
cum is always suffixed
to the personal pronouns me, nobis, te, vobis
and se, and often also, until the end of the 1st century BC,
to the relative pronouns quo, qua and quibus (“with
whom”, “with which”; see Chapter 18). The Romans themselves were
puzzled by this irregularity.
Grammarians generally suggested
that it was more euphonious to say e.g. mecum than cum me,
but, for an endearingly absurd attempt to explain the suffix as a device
to avoid an accidental obscenity, see Cicero, Orator 154 (speculation
that cum nobis sounded like cunno). He mentions this sound
combination again at Letters to his Friends 9.22, where he refers
also to the shock effect of an ex-consul’s question in the Senate:
hanc culpam maiorem an illam dicam? (“Am I to call this fault
greater or that one?”), with its accidental echo of landica,
a rather coarse term for “clitoris”. Quintilian likewise
suggests that cum hominibus notis loqui “to speak with well-known
people” is preferable to cum notis loqui (Education of the
Phrases such as cum mecum,
found occasionally in late texts, may seem bizarre, but they led to
the modern Spanish conmigo, Portuguese comigo etc.
There is perhaps a hint of
disapproval in the OED’s comment on the prefix co-:
“It is sometimes prefixed to words of L. [Latin] origin which are
already compounded with com- (con-), as co-connexion,
The Romans considered many
of the intransitive verbs discussed in this chapter and the next to
be transitive verbs which, for whatever reason, have their object in
a case other than the accusative. Cicero shows unease about such idioms
when he quotes quisnam florem liberum [for liberorum]
invidit meum? “Who has envied [me] the flower of my children?”
from an old tragedy. He comments that this seems to be bad Latin [invidere
is regularly constructed with the dative] but, since invidere
is a compound of videre, the object might be expected to be in
the accusative; hence, although normal usage requires the dative, he
concludes by persuading himself that florem is a fine example
of bold poetic license (Tusculan Disputations 3.9).
It is perhaps a symptom of
this unease that, for example, potior (see Chapter 18) can be
constructed with either the genitive or the ablative, fido and
confido (but apparently not diffido) can be constructed with
the ablative as well as the dative, and that meminisse
and oblivisci both sometimes take an accusative object.
As well as giving English such
terms as “noxious” and “innocent”, nocere “to harm”
led via Norman French, to “nuisance” (cf. French nuir “to
nubere was associated
with nubes, nubis fem. 3 “cloud”, because a Roman
bride covered her face with a veil.
suadere “to urge”
and persuadere “to persuade” involve pointing out that a
course of action is “pleasant” (suavis, suave).