The Pronouns

by William Harris
(the text is published with the permission of the author)


The pronouns were so named by the Roman schoolmasters because they were in a way nouns, and yet they were not nouns, but stood "for nouns", hence were called in Latin: pro nomine "for a noun" . But the real difference is not really conceptual, it is totally practical. The pronouns have a bewildering array of odd forms, blind ends and complete non sequiturs. They are indeed another class of declension, a class unto themselves, and the best way I can introduce you to them is to ask you to read carefully the descriptions below and the examples. Look over the forms, try to see some order in their array, and then re-study my comments in this section. You can learn them by rote or by heart, but in fact you will see them so frequently as soon as you get to reading a real text, that you will find they are less of a problem than you might think at first sight.

1) The pronouns as a class cover a variety of concepts:

a) The personal words, "I, you, he, she, they." These are very ancient forms and clearly go back to the Indo European stage of linguistic development. I could explain them to you in terms of Historical Linguistics, but the explanation would be more complicated than the phenomenon, which is complicated enough already. If you wonder why the word ego "me" switches root in the plural to nos "us", compare the English, and note that "we" can be either Inclusive or Exclusive, which really are very different ideas.

In form we find unexpected and irregular Nominative Singulars, the Genitive Sing. in -ius, the Dative Singular in -i-, which formsoccur only here. The rest is pretty reasonable and follows the standard noun formations. (If interested in the historical background of the pronouns, consult C D Buck's Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin for a full treatment in terms of Historical Linguistics.)

              CLASS: Personal Pronoun    ego 
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              ego                   nos
Genitive                mei                   nostrum
Dative                  mihi                  nobis
Accusative              me                    nos
Ablative                me                    nobis
Of course "we" is not really the "plural" of "me", despite Menander's "What is a friend? Another ME."! The concepts are really different and quite naturally the word-stems are also different.
               CLASS: Personal Pronouns   tu
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              tu                    vos
Genitive                tui                   vestrum
Dative                  tibi                  vobis
Accusative              te                    vos
Ablative                te                    vobis
There is also a Reflexive Pronouns , se "...self" which is in common use:
               CLASS: Noun     Declension, 
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              (ipse ipsa ipsum)      Same as sg. for plur.         
Genitive                sui     
Dative                  sibi                     
Accusative              se                     
Ablative                se
b) The "who" words follow a different pattern. First you must note that qui "who...." is somewhat different from quis "who....?", since the second word is used in questions and the first is not. (If you want terms, qui is Relative Pronoun, while quis is InterrogativePronoun, but be sure you get the meanings differentiated before you resort to these terms.)

 Here the differences of form are in the subject singular with an unexpected -i-(Relative) beside -is (Interrogative) , the possessive singular in -ius, the neuter singular in -d (*quod/quid), and from there on it's clear sailing in the singular. In the plural only the form quae "which things" as a neuter plural is new as compared with the straight -a of all other neuter plurals in all noun and adjective classes.

 The "Relative" pronoun is like English "who..." without implying a question (your voice does not raise). There are three "genders", Masc. Fem. and Neut., which are given in that order in the tables below. A single entry indicates that all forms are the same:

                 CLASS: Relative Pronoun qui "who..."
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              qui quae quod         qui quae quae
Genitive                cuius                 quorum
Dative                  cui                   quibus
Accusative              quem quam quod        quos quas quae
Ablative                quo qua quo           quibus
(One can almost hear the faint echoes of generations of schoolchildren reciting in unison their quaint ditty:
"qui quae quod cuius cuius cuius cui cui cui...".)

 But in the Interrogative Pronoun ("who...?"), the Masc. and Fem. are the same, as in this table:

               CLASS: Interrogative Pronouns quis "Who...?"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              quid  quid             (as above forms)
Genitive                cuius            
Dative                  cui                 
Accusative              quem quid                   
Ablative                quo
c) The numbers are not too odd , and perhaps all I should note is that there is no plural to unus, nor singular to duo, thereby depriving the teacher of one of the oldest jokes in the trade. (The parallel in the factory is telling the neophyte to go fetch a left-handed monkey wrench...) After the numeral tres = 3 they don't inflect except when turned into regular adjectives Class I.
               CLASS: Numeral   unus "one" 
Nominative              unus                     
Genitive                unius                  
Dative                  uni                 
Accusative              unum                   
Ablative                uno
d) There is a special set of words used for persons, usually called The Demonstrative Pronouns, since they point at (demonstrare) a person actively. They are:
         is             hic              ille           iste
Is (fem. ea, and the neuter id), "he/she/it" is rather colorless much like English "he, she, it". It merely refers and has no special emphasis.

(Where only two forms are given below, they are Masc/Fem. respectively, and the Neuter is the same as the Masculine.)

               CLASS: Demonstrative Pronouns (non-emphatic) 
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              is ea id              ei eae ea
Genitive                eius                  eorum earum 
Dative                  ei                    eis
Accusative              eum eam id            eos eas ea
Ablative                eo ea eo              eis
Hic ( fem. haec, neuter hoc) however does have a special meaning, something like the sub-standard English usage of "this-here". It refers to a nearer object, the one nearer the speaker or viewer, and is regularly paired with ille (below) which refers to someone further away.
               CLASS: Demonstrative Pronouns (nearer....)
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              hic haec hoc          hi hae haec
Genitive                huius                 horum harum
Dative                  huic                  his
Accusative              hunc hanc hoc.        hos has haec
Ablative                hoc hac               his
And in turn ille (fem. illa, neut. illud), is approximately like English sub-standard: "that-there". These two words , hic and ille, are often used in matched pairs, when they refer to the near and then the farther person or thing. This is a useful distinction, and Latin makes full employment of it.
               CLASS: Demonstrative Pronoun (farther...)
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              ille illa illud       illi illae illa
Genitive                illius                illorum illarum
Dative                  illi                  illis
Accusative              illum illam illud     illos illas illa
Ablative                illo illa             illis
(It should be noted that the forms of hic, which look unique as pronouns,are merely a contraction of an obsolete hi-ce, with a pointing-out (deictic) particle -ce fused on. So *hi-ce is "this here"in fact! The -c persists in the singular but is lost in the plural forms, except for the neuter plural haec . Older Latin can still have horunc for horum-ce (Gen. Pl.), and hosce (Acc. Plur.)

e) A dozen additional words are made up from the qui, quis, quid base, and you you will find these in a standard grammar all listed together. They are quite specific in meaning ("anyone, whosoever, is there any?, any.. .you please, who in the world, anybody at all, whoever you wish, each one." Best learn these as you come across them in a text, rather than try to memorize them first.

 The problem is that these words all look pretty much alike, and it is difficult for the beginner to remember which is which. Only practice and extensive reading helps this quandary, although I would urge you to single out quisque "each one" as essentially different from the others in meaning, and absolutely unguessable unless you know it for sure. Quisque hoc sciat bene "let each person know this point well"....maybe memorize that. But the forms are merely quis + que, Gen Sg. cuius + que, etc. The forms are no trouble, it is the meaning that is so different from the rest of thse "who" words.

The "reflexive" pronoun, ipse "himself, herself, itself...." follows the patterns of ille fairly closely, as does the common pronoun idem "the same.." which is shortened from an original *is-dem, so it follows that idem will have the forms of is ea id, with a final -dem tacked on.

            CLASS: Pronoun  ipse "..self"
                       SINGULAR              PLURAL 
Nominative              ipse ipsa ipsum       ipsi ipsae ipsa
Genitive                ipsius                ipsorum ipsarum
Dative                  ipsi                  ipsis
Accusative              ipsum ipsam ipsum     ipsos ipsas ipsa 
Ablative                ipso ipsa             ipsis
f) The pronoun root qu- is found in many other Latin words, e.g. quo (where / how), ubi, from *quo-bhi (where, when), qua (in what direction) .

But with a different sense we have quam "than", which is used in comparisons much like the English "than". (This is an alternate to the regular way of making a comparison, using the "comparative" form of the adjective with the Ablative for the compared item.) Look these over carefully.

Make special note of quam "than" as used with adjectival comparative forms, continuing the case of the compared pair:

 Hic est altior quam ille "he is taller than the other one", a very different use from the comparative joined with an "ablative of comparison" as in:
ille est altior Marco "he is taller than Marcus".
But the meanings of these two entirely different constructions are the same.

Next Topic
Previous Topic

William Harris'Grammar Content
Latin Descrptive Grammar Main Page

Latin Language Main Page
Orbis Latinus Main Page

This page is part of Orbis Latinus
© Zdravko Batzarov