An Introduction to Latin’s Ablative of Comparison
The ablative case is the most versatile case of the Latin language. In fact, it functions in so many ways, some common and some obscure, that a Latin student could easily dedicate several weeks or months to learning its varied uses. Here, we will discuss the Ablative of Comparison and see how it functions as an alternative to using “quam" with comparative adjectives.
It is often the case that something being compared with a comparative adjective is either the subject or direct object in a sentence. This is true in both Latin and English. This is so often the case in Latin that the Romans had a kind of shortcut to making comparisons that eliminated the need to use “quam" as a conjunction coupled with a comparative adjective.
When making a comparison with a comparative adjective, “quam" helps the listener or reader know that something is about to be directly compared to something else. “Quam," therefore, functions in much the same way that “than" functions in English.
However, using the Ablative of Comparison eliminates the need for the word “quam" when the thing being compared is either the subject of the sentence (in the nominative case) or is a direct object (in the accusative case). For example:
Caesar est longior illo viro. (Caesar is taller than that man.)
Caesar est longior quam ille vir. (Caesar is taller than that man.)
Notice that Caesar is being directly compared to “that man." By putting “vir" in the ablative case, we have eliminated the need to use “quam" to make the direct comparison. Notice that the second sentence that uses “quam" has exactly the same meaning. Here is another example:
Hic vir erat magis idoneus illo viro. (This man was more suitable than that man).
Hic vir erat magis idoneus quam ille vir. (This man was more suitable than that man).
Notice, again, that by using the Ablative of Comparison in the first sentence we have eliminated the need to use “quam." However, also notice that the second sentence that uses “quam" has exactly the same meaning as the first sentence.
The Ablative of Comparison is, of course, not restricted to declarative sentences. Interrogative sentences are possible too. For example:
Quis in Roma est longior Caesare? (Who in Rome is taller than Caesar?)
Quis in Roma est longior quam Caesar? (Who in Rome is taller than Caesar?)
Notice once again that the two Latin sentences above translate into English in the exact same way. The first sentence places “Caesar" in the ablative case and uses the Ablative of Comparison to ask who is taller that Caesar. The second sentence places “Caesar" in the nominative case and uses “quam" to directly compare Caesar to “who."