Comparison of adjectives and adverbs, and saying yes or no

"The ambassadors of Gaul came together to give thanks to Caesar." is what it says. The supine gratulatum is accusative, of course, and Caesar is its accusative object, after the preposition ad. Convenire is a verb of motion, and where the motion is "to" calls for the accusative. It is not a passive participle; they did not come to a thanked Caesar, but to thank him. The supine also has an ablative, which is used in an instrumental sense. To get this, simply drop the s from the participle. Mirabilis, -e means wonderful. Dico, dicere, dixi, dictum means to tell. Therefore, mirabile dictu means wonderful in the telling. Mirabile visu means wonderful in the seeing. Mirabile amatu means wonderful in the loving. The ablative supine is used, naturally, when the ablative case is called for by the construction. And now for something completely different!

Sometimes you want to compare things on the basis of their qualities. For example, Pike's Peak is high, Long's Peak is higher, but Mt. Elbert is highest. These degrees are called positive, comparative, and superlative. In Latin, we'd say: Pike's Peak est altus, Long's Peak altior, sed Mons Elbertus altissimus. Altior is declined altior, altioris, altiori, altiorem, altiore in the singular, altiores, altiorum, altioribus, altiores, altioribus in the plural for masculine and feminine. The neuter has altius and altiora in the nominative and accusative, as usual. Altius is not declined as if it were second declension! This is the regular way to compare adjectives, but you may also see the adverbs magis (more) and maxime (most) used as in English. In the superlative, the doubled consonant can be -ll- or -rr- as well as -ss-. Incidentally, picus is a woodpecker, and pica is a magpie, birds not peaks. The Spanish generalissimo comes to mind.

Again as in English, some adjectives compare irregularly, like good, better, best. In Latin, this is bonus, melior (melius), optimus. Going the other way, we have malus, peior (peius), pessimus. In size, magnus, maior (maius), maximus and parvus, minor (minus), minimus. Multus has plures (plural only, of course), plus or plura (depending on gender, m/f or n), and plurimus. Pluribus in e pluribus unum is from plures. peior was later spelled pejor, from which we get "pejorative".

Posterior, hinder, has no positive. The superlative is postumus, last. Some people think this is posthumous, but it isn't. Postumus was an actual Roman given name, when a son was expected to be the last. Sometimes he wasn't. Celerius is the neuter singular accusative of the comparative of celer, celera, celerum (fast) , and can be used as the adverb faster. All comparatives can be used as adverbs in this way, which increases your vocabulary in one great burst. Participles, being adjectives, also compare. For example, amans, amantior, amantissimus.

When you compare one thing to another, you use the word "than." In Latin, this is quam, and you are already familiar with it. When the noun after quam would be in the nominative or accusative case (which is frequent), quam can be omitted, and the noun put into the ablative. For example, puella puero altior est - the girl is taller than the boy. The other way round, puer puella altior est, means the opposite. Puella can't be nominative and the subject of est, or it wouldn't make any sense - the girl is a taller boy? Meus culter longior est tuo: my knife is longer than yours; or meus culter longior est quam tuus.

Adverbs also compare. Pulcher gives us pulchre, beautifully, which goes to pulchrius and pulcherrime. Facilis gives us facile, easily, then facilius and facillime. Tuto gives us tute, safely, then tutius and tutissime. Celerissime means as fast as possible. You see that the comparative and superlative are fairly easy to recognize. A favorite expression of Augustus' to say that something was done quickly, was celerius quam asparagi cocuntur. Coquo, coquere, coxi, coctum is to cook or boil, asparagus is "asparagus". Note how neat and expressive the Latin passive is in sentences like this. By the way, coquunt = cocunt.

Latin has no simple words for the unqualified "yes" or "no" that is so common in English. Yes can usually be expressed by an adverb such as certe, certainly; vero, truly; ita, thus it is; etiam, even so; sane, indeed or truly, or by making a short positive statement like est, it is. No is expressed by minime, "leastly"; haud, not at all; nullus, none, or by making a short negative statement like non est. Saying yes or no takes a little thought in Latin. The word haud is used as an emphatic non. Non does not mean "no" in Latin. There was a verb that meant "aye", aio, but this was used for assent in voting more than as a "yes".

The phrase for today is: Id dictu quam re facilius est, from Livy, the historian of Rome. For once, you should already know all the words. This statement is so true about most things that it is a proverb.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 24 June 1999
Last revised 4 October 2000