Syntax: ablative Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in Latin Language

The overall value of the ablative is to indicate the external circumstances, the relationship between the process and the external thing.

Latin ablative represents the mix of three primitive cases: the ablative, the instrumental-sociative and the locative. Latin unified the old values ​​of these three cases into one, except the few remaining locative cases.

This is the case of many adverbials of time/place, whose specific values ​​are given either by the use of prepositions or by the semantic context.

Let’s see what are the most important uses of the ablative, distributing them in the three major areas of significance that it can have: ablative proper (separative ablative), instrumental ablative and locative ablative.


Ablative (proper)

The ablative expresses a starting point, separation, distancing, in the proper sense or figurative sense. It is often used with prepositions ab, ex, dē, and without them with minor place names and nouns such as domus (home) and rus (field).

The most common uses are:

  • Starting point ablative: it expresses the starting point (answer to the question unde) in place, time or figurative sense.

                   Caesar dē Galliā profectus est.
                  Ā pueritiā.

This starting point ablative can be found as a second term of an adjective in comparative degree of superiority:

                  Mārcus doctior Petrō est.

Likewise, this is the Latin ablative used to express the agent complement when it is a person:

                 Legātus ā Pompeiō in Hispaniam missus est.

This is also the ablative used to express the material of which something is made, the matter (title)of a book or  the topic of conversation, etc..:

                  Pōcula ex aurō.
                  Dē inmortalitāte disputāvimus.
                  Dē imperiō Cn. Pompeī ōrātio.


  • Separation ablative: it is the starting point ablative, but applied to certain verbs and adjectives expressing distancing, separation, deprivation. It can be used with or without a preposition:

                   Rōmānā mulieribus carēbant.
                  Aristides expulsus est pātriā.
                  Inops ab amīcīs.
                 Abstinere ā voluptatibus.


  • Origin ablative: it is the starting point ablative applied to verbs such as nasci (to born) and to participles such as ortus, prognatus, oriundus, etc. indicating descent and filiation. It may appear with prepositions (very often) or without preposition:

                Nōbilī genere natus.
                Homo ā sē ortus.


Instrumental ablative

The instrumental ablative expresses essentially the circumstances accompanying the verbal action during its development, and they may be the means, the company, the instrument, the cause, the mode, etc.. The most important specific values ​​are:


  • Instrument: points to the mean or instrument used to perform the verbal action. It is hardly used with personal names (in that cases we usually use per + accusative), except when referring to beings who are passive instruments: slaves, soldiers, etc..:

                   Militibus mūrum fossamque perdūcit.
                   Gladiīs pugnātum est.
                   Cornibus taurī sā tutantur.

In post-classical Latin the use of cum preposition for instrumental ablative was extended:

                  Herbam cum fuste ēvellere.


  • Cause: it indicates not only what triggers the state or verbal process (in which case it would be a origin ablative with prepositions ex, de, ab ) but the cause accompanying the verbal developmental during its process:

                  Lacrumō gaudiō.
                  Timōre dēfūgērunt.
                  Hostēs metū oppidum deseruēre.


  • Price: it expresses at what price something is bought, sold, rented, done, etc..:

                   Ēmī virginem trīginta minīs


  • Company: points to the company of who performs the action and what are the circumstances (ablative mode) that accompany the action. It is usually constructed with the preposition cum:

                 Cum patre venit.
                 Vīdī quantō meō dolōre!
                 Legibus agere.
                 Summō furōre cupere.

In military parlance, the company supplement can be without cum when it designates military units with which  an action is performed:

                 Dux profectus est omnibus copiīs.


  • Quality: it is used to express the quality of a person generally, rarely it expresses quality of things. It usually takes no preposition:

                  Mulier eximiā pūlchritudine.
                 Capillō sunt prōmissō Britannī.

Remember that it also exists a quality genitive.


  • Qua complement (time and place): referred to the place, the instrumental ablative without preposition expresses the place where a journey is performed (in the case of natural sites per + accusative is preferred):

                 Ibam forte Viā Sacrā.
                Diversīs itineribus in castra sē recepērunt.

In the case of time, without preposition, ablative expresses the time taken to do something:

                 Sex diēbus hostēs expulit.
                Trōiam decem annīs cepērunt.


  • Relation ablative: also called ablative of limitation, reference or point of view, expressed in relation to what or in what limits a claim is valid:

              Vincere aliquem gloriā.
              Doctrīnā Graecī nōs superant.


Locative ablative

The ablative is used with locative value, answering the question ubi in local and temporal sense (‘where, when “), provided that such nouns have not preserved the old locative case (most of them).

The locative ablative is used with and without the preposition in:

  •   No preposition is used with minor place names that have no locative:

                  Athēnīs vīxī.


  • Used with in preposition with major place names and common names (except the few common names that retain the locative form):

                  Dux in Italiā manēbat.


Common names can avoid the preposition when they themselves already have a place meaning (loco, parte, regione, etc.) or a time meaning (hieme, aestate, die, nocte, Idibus, etc.):

                Prīmā lūce militēs cum hostibus proelium commisērunt.
                Nostrī inīquō locō pugnābant.


Finally, the locative ablative also uses sub (under) preposition:

                 Sub terrīs habitāre.
                 Sub monte consīdere.

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