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Learn Latin: Translate Latin’s Ablative of Comparison with Comparative Adjectives

written by: John Garger • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 8/2/2012

In this last article in the series, we explore using the ablative of comparison instead of the conjunction “quam" to give more information when making comparisons using comparative adjectives.

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    In the first article in this series, we saw that the conjunction “quam" can be used in Latin to convey that some person or object possesses a quality that is greater than another person or object being directly compared in a sentence. For example:

    Caesar est longior. (Caesar is taller.)

    Caesar est longior quam ille vir. (Caesar is taller than that man.)

    In the second article in this series we saw how when coupled with a superlative adjective, “quam" functions adverbially and indicates that a person or object possesses the highest degree of some quality. For example:

    Caesar est longissimus. (Caesar is tallest.)

    Caesar est quam longissimus. (Caesar is as tall as possible.)

    In this third and final article of this series, we will discuss an alternative method to using “quam" to form and translate comparisons when using comparative adjectives. Here, we will learn about the Ablative of Comparison and its function as a means to provide more information to a reader or listener of Latin when using comparative adjectives.

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    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."

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    Conclusion

    Comparative adjectives need not always use “quam" to make direct comparisons of two persons or objects. The Ablative of Comparison can substitute when the person or object being compared is in either the nominative or accusative case. Sometimes, Latin students have trouble spotting the Ablative of Comparison because they have become accustomed to looking for “quam" when a direct comparison is being made.

    To help with recognizing the Ablative of Comparison, look first for “quam." If “quam" is not present, look to see if the person or object being compared is the subject (nominative case) or direct object (accusative case) of the sentence. If it is either, look for a word close by in the ablative case. If found, see if a direct comparison makes sense. Otherwise, continue translating the Latin sentence normally.

Making Comparisons in Latin with Adjectives: Quam and the Ablative of Comparison

The first article in this series discusses the use of 'quam' when making comparisons with comparative adjectives. The second article show how to translate 'quam' when used with superlative adjectives. The third and final article discusses proper translation of the Ablative of Comparison.
  1. Using Quam with Latin Comparative Adjectives
  2. Leaning Latin: How to Translate Latin Superlative Adjectives Using Quam
  3. Learn Latin: Translate Latin’s Ablative of Comparison with Comparative Adjectives