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Ablative Revisited Posted by on Jun 29, 2020 in Intro to Latin Course, Latin Language

Salvete Omnes,

This summer I am looking forward to hearing your request for translations and reviewing portions of texts that you are interested in – however before doing so – I wanted to revisit a post I wrong almost seven years ago on the Ablative to include more examples and information for this new journey. So let us begin!

There are many cases within the Latin language including the Nominativethe Accusativethe Genitive and the Dative. The last case is called the ablative which has many functions and purposes. This guide consists of all the popular and somewhat unpopular uses of the ablative within Latin literature, epic, and poetry.

It should be noted that the ablative case is unique is not found in many other language, but the genitive and dative may pick up some of these functions and purposes.

Ablative of Separation
Nouns in the ablative that are used with accompanying prepositions of ab/ā/abs, “from”; ex/ē, “out of”; or , “down from”.  E.g. ex agrīs, “from the fields”


Ablative Absolute
The circumstances surrounding an action. The ablatives of a participle, capta, and a noun (or pronoun), urbe, are used to form a substitute for a subordinate clause defining the circumstances or situation in which the action of the main verb occurs E.g. Urbe captā, Aenēās fūgit, “With the city having been captured, Aeneas fled.”


Ablative of Origin or Source
A type of ablative of separation, but it is used ( without a preposition like: a, ab, e, ex, etc.) with verbs (with past participles) indicating origin, descent, or source: E.g. nātus genere nōbilī  “born from/of a renowned family” — i.e. ‘of a renowned family’


Ablative of Instrument or Means

The means by which an action was carried out and may be paired with a verb in some form. Essentially the ablative is taken as a “with” or “by” _____. E.g. oculīs vidēre, “to see wit the eyes”.


Ablative of Agent
The person or object that does a deed – this is very close to an Ablative of instrument or means but is usually differentiated by the fact that an agent is a person or group of people. E.g. rex armis militibus interfectus est “the king was killed by the soldiers” with personal agents ( as armis is inferred since all soldiers have weapons) , but litterally it reads rex armis militum interfectus erat “the king was killed by the weapons of the soldiers.” In both sentence cases – armis is the ablative of agent/means


Ablative of Time “When” or “Within which”
The time when or within which an action occurred. The way to identify this one is to keep a look at for word dealing with time, season, years, etc. When they have been found – check if they are in the ablative.  E.g. aestāte, “in summer”; eō tempore, “at that time”; Paucīs hōrīs id faciet, “within a few hours he will do it.”

Ablative of Comparison
The second object being compared, Y is bigger than X, is put in the ablative.E.g. Haec via longior illä est. This road is longer than that one. (illa is the ablative in this case).

Ablative of Degree of Difference
This is very similar to ablative of comparison, but there are not two objects being compared, but only one word of measurement (little, big, small, few, great,etc.) in the ablativebE.g. Paulö post discëssit. He left a little later. (“afterward by a little bit”). Also consider that some deponents take an ablative noun for this very reason.

Ablative of Specification or Respect
Sometimes, the ablative is used to specify in what respect a statement may or may not be true. E.g. Rex nomine erat. He was king in name (only).

The Locative Ablative
With the names of cities (Rome, Athens, Sparta, Brundisium, Alexandria etc) and small islands (Sicily, Crete etc.), the prepositions ad, ab and in are not used. Places from which: name in the ablative without ab. E.g. Brundisio– from Brundisium OR Athenis– from Athens, Sicilia– from Sicily. Place in which– this is the locative, and rules vary. (First and second plural, plus third plural- use the ablativeE.g. Athenis– in Athens, at Athenis ORSardibus– in Sardes, at Sardes. Now for the locative ablative – I will say that I was a bit confused and really worry about this one, but unless you are studying Herodotus, Xenophon or Thucydides in great detail – locatives are not seen very often.

Ablative of Cause
The ablative is often used to explain why something is done, or its “cause.” E.g. Hoc fëcï amöre vestrï. I did this from (out of, because of) love of you.

Ablative of Description
A noun in the ablative, accompanied by an adjective, can be used to describe the qualities by which a person is characterized. This is sometimes combined with Ablative of Source or Origin. E.g  Diodōrus, uir summā grauitāte, maximē īrātus est. “Diodorus, a man of the utmost dignity, became extremely angry.”  OR E.g senex cānīs capillīs et ueste sordidā  “A man with white hair and unclean garments”

The Ablative of Price
An ablative used to indicate the resources (monetary or other) employed in a purchase: E.g multō aurō hanc aulam ēmī. “I bought this pot at the cost of much gold.”


The Ablative with Deponent Verbs
An instrumental ablative is used with utor, fruor, potior, fungor, uescor, and their compounds: E.g hīs uerbīs ūsī sunt. “They employed these words.” E.g mālunt ōtiō et pāce fruī. “They prefer to enjoy leisure and peace.”


A Great Printout for the Ablative can be found here which I highly recommend keeping on hand until you are able to identify ablative cases on your own.

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About the Author: Brittany Britanniae

Hello There! Please feel free to ask me anything about Latin Grammar, Syntax, or the Ancient World.

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