Nihil and Nīl

Basic Uses of Nihil

Nihil is among “the indeclinable nouns used only as nominative and accusative singular.” (AG, 103a)

Nīl is a contraction of nihil and is likewise indeclinable

Both should be translated nothing

  • I gave him nothing: nihil eō dedī.
  • She gave me nothing: nīl mihi dedit.
  • Nothing is needed: nihil necesse est.

Declined Uses of Nihil

The genitive nihilī or nīlī and ablative nihilō are rare constructions, from an imagined noun nihilum

Nihilī and nīlī appear in statements that describe a genitive of value

Their use is colloquial, and rare

  • O, that I cared nothing for this being done by you: utinam ego istuc abs tē factum nīlī penderem.
  • Out of nothing comes nothing: ex nihilō nihil fit.

The Essential AG: 103a

Famous Phrase: omnia mutāntur, nihil interit (everything changes, nothing perishes)

[Ovid, Metamorphoses, XV.165]



Wow, this one is brilliant. I was looking for flaws, chips, inconsistencies, but she beat me at every turn.

This is (roughly) a retooled, more-accessible version of William Whitaker. I was going to point out that some of the basic entries didn’t include specific meanings, but then I noticed that if you click individual words a drop reveals even more variants. Very impressive. Even if the basic entry doesn’t help, the site permits ‘notes’ to flesh out unique uses and technical idioms.

I plan to try a reading with this as an alternative to Perseus next quarter. I’ll offer a follow-up post at that time.

What it lacks : cases. Still, it makes the gender and basic entries immediately accessible, giving it a strong advantage over other Latin reading tools. If I have one other criticism, it’s that the site is too humble looking. Put a big, bold summary up top so visitors can see quickly how useful this is.

Princeton’s Classical Language Instruction Project (CLIP)

The idea behind this project is admirable, though a great deal hangs on the quality of readers. I have mixed feelings about the readers  here, but I won’t disparage particulars.

Here are the ones I like:

There’s a choral version of the proem to Homer’s Iliad. It’s gorgeous.

The readings of Tacitus and Propitius are also authentic. The reading of Plato is slow, but believable.

Contrary to Fact Conditionals

Contrary-to-Fact Conditionals

Summary of Construction

“In a statement of a supposition impliedly false, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive are used in both protasis and apodosis. The imperfect refers to present time, the pluperfect to past.” (AG, 517)

(imperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect subjunctive) [present contrary-to-fact]

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (pluperfect subjunctive) [past contrary-to-fact]

Basic Variants


  • If he were living, you would hear his words: sī vīveret, verba eius audirētis.
  • If he were of same mind, would he have dared to lead out the army? hīc sī mentis esset suae, ausus esset ēdūcere exercitum?


  • Unless you had lost it, I should not have recovered it: nisi tū āmisissēs, numquam recēpissem.

Indicative Constructions

The indicative may appear in the apodosis of contrary-to-fact conditionals “to express what was intended, or likely, or already begun.” (AG, 517b)

  • These are rare conditionals: very rare with present and infrequent with past constructions.

(imperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect indicative)

  • If it were allowed, the mothers were coming: sī licitum esset, mātrēs veniēbant.

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (pluperfect or perfect indicative)

  • If you had not prevented me, I had almost finished: nī mē arcuissēs, sum paene perfectus.

Indicative constructions are somewhat more common with impersonal verbs and the second periphrastic.

(Note: in the first construction, the apodosis precedes the protasis.)

  • He could not have become a sage, if he had not been born: nōn potuit fierī sapiēns, nisi nātus esset.
  • If he were a private citizen, he ought to be appointed: sī prīvātus esste, is erat dēligendus.

Mixed Constructions

Mixed contrary-to-fact conditions will offer mixed references to time and succession.

In these constructions, pluperfect actions are prior to imperfect actions.

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect subjunctive) + (pluperfect subjunctive)

  • If my judgment had prevailed, you would this day be a beggar, and the republic would not have lost so many leaders: sī meum cōnsilium valuisset, tū hodiē egērēs, rēs pūblicaque nōn tot ducēs āmissiset.

(imperfect indicative) → (pluperfect subjunctive)

  • I was just reaching a place of safety, had not the fierce people attacked me: iam tūta tenēbam, nī gēns crūdēlis ferrō invāsisset.

Indirect Discourse

Follow these steps to convert contrary-to-fact conditionals into indirect discourse.

  • The protasis always retains its tense.
  • The apodosis, if active, takes the infinitive fuisse with the future active participle.
  • The apodosis, if passive, takes the periphrasis futūrum fuisse ut with the imperfect subjunctive.
  • Indicatives become perfect infinitives.

Examples of Indirect Discourse

(imperfect subjunctive) → (future active participle + fuisse) [active]

  • Let Asia think of this, that no disaster would not be hers, if she were not held by this rule: illud Asia cōgitet, nūllum ā sē calamitātem āfutūram fuisse, sī hōc imperiō nōn tenērētur.

(imperfect subjunctive) → (futūrum fuisse ut + imperfect subjunctive) [passive]

  • They thought that unless reports of victory had been brought, the town would have been lost: nisi nūntiī dē victōriā essent allātī, exīstimābant futūrum fuisse utī oppidum āmitterētur.

Other Constructions

The future active participle with eram or fui may replace an imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive in the apodosis of the contrary-to-fact conditionals.

  • They would have abandoned their fields, if he had not sent them a letter: relicitūrī agrōs erant, nisi ad eōs literrās mīsisset.

The present subjunctive appears in both protasis and apodosis of poetic contrary-to-fact conditionals.

  • If his companion had not warned him, he would have rushed on: nī comes admoneat, inruat.

The Essential AG: 517a

Famous Phrase: sī tacuissēs, philosophus mansissēs (if you had remained silent, you would have remained wise)

[i.e. chatter reveals stupidity; attributed to Boethius]



Uses of Iam

Origin of Iam

“Of uncertain formation” (AG, 215.6)

Summary of Use

Iam is an adverb and may be translated now, already, at length, or presently

“With negatives, iam means no longer.” (AG, 322b)

Iam may modify any tense.

  • With the imperfect or pluperfect, iam is ingressive, marking the start of past action.


  • I have already said before: iam anteā dīxī.
  • There is no longer room for mercy: nōn est iam lēnitātī locus.
  • This has come to be a practice: hōc iam erat īnstitūtum. (ingressive iam)

Nunc versus Iam

Nunc merely notes the present, the immediate, the pressing.

Iam adds “a reference to the previous time through which the present state of affairs has been or will be reached.” (AG, 322b)

Iam will mark a transition between the previous and present; nunc only considers the present.


Etiam (viz. ‘et iam’) is an adverb and may be translated also, even, yes

Etiam usually precedes the verb it modifies, making it more emphatic than quoque, which usually follows

  • He acts not only with words, but also with force: nōn verbīs sōlum sed etiam vī ēgit.
  • Are you well? Yes, indeed I am: Agis benē? Etiam egō.

Etiamsī (viz. ‘etiam sī’) begins a concessive clause and should be translated even if

  • Even if you have nothing to write, write anyway: etiamsī quod scrībās nōn habēbis, scrībitō tamen.

Iamdiū and iamdūdum are adverb and should be translated for a long time

These take present verbs in Latin, but perfect verbs in English translation.

  • For a long time I have not know what you were doing: iam diū īgnōrō quid agās.
  • I have long been urging you: tē iam dūdum hortor.

Where they take imperfect verbs in Latin, iamdiū and iamdūdum denote “an action continuing in the past but begun at some previous time.” (AG, 471b)

  • I had been weeping for some time: iamdūdum flebam.

The Essential AG: 322b

Famous Phrase: etiamsī omnēs, egō nōn: even if all others [abandon you], I will not.

[Jesus to Peter, Matthew 26:33-4]


Licet Constructions

Uses of Licet

Summary of Use

licet is an impersonal verb, appearing only “in the third personal singular, the infinitive and the gerund” (AG, 207)

licet takes the dative whenever it governs a finite phrase or clause

licet also offers the dative (or rarely an accusative) to the subject of this phrase

licet may be translated it is allowed, is permitted, may be done

Summary of Forms


  • licet / licēbat / licēbit / licuit / licuerat / licuerit


  • liceat / licēret / licuerit / licuisset

Et Cetera

  • licēre / licuisse / licitum est / licitūrum est / licēns

Basic Uses


  • No bathing in the fish-pond: lavāre in cētārium nōn licet.
  • They ask that they may do this: rogant ut id sibi facere liceat.
  • You speak as though it were not permitted: loquēris quasi nōn licēret.


  • let all terrors menace me: licet omnēs mihi terrōres impendeat.

this use may have concessive force, appearing where one would expect a concession with ut

  • if concessive, it should be translated ‘though all terrors might menace me’


Licet may take–

  • the simple infinitive
  • the infinitive with accusative subject
  • the infinitive with dative of interest
  • the subjunctive, usually without ut (concessive licet)

The Essential AG: 207, 527

Famous Phrase: videlicet (contraction of videre licet, it is permitted to see)

[further contracted and anglicized as viz. expressing ‘plainly,’ ‘namely,’ or ‘as follows’]


Uses of Ultrā

Uses of Ultrā

Origin of Ultrā

originally an ablative singular of the adjective ulter, beyond

Summary of Use

Ultrā takes an accusative; it may be translate it beyond, on the other side

Basic Uses


  • They live on this side of the Po and beyond: cis Padum ultrāque vīvant.


  • She counted more than that number: ultrā eum numerum numerāvit.
  • She dares the incredible: audet quem ultrā fidem.
  • Her ways are immoderate: modī ultrā modum sunt.

The Essential AG: 221.28

Famous Phrase: nōn plus ultrā (beyond which there is nothing)

[a superlative; e.g. the Pillars of Heracles were the nōn plus ultrā of the ancient West]


Tumbling Down the Vel

Uses of Vel and -ve

The Origin of Vel

“an old imperative of volō” (AG, 324e)

Summary of Use

Vel is usually a disjunction; it should be translated or

Vel often occurs in the pairing vel…vel; this may be translated either…or or simply or

Vel may also appear “as an intensive particle with no alternative force” (324g)

Basic Uses


  • He toured three or four towns: vel tres vel quattuor urbēs ambulāvit.

Intensive Particle

  • He gave the very least: dedit vel minimus.

Vel versus Aut

Formally, aut presents exclusive choice, vel present inclusive choice

  • Give me liberty, or give me death: dā mihi aut lībertātem aut mortem
  • She spoke like this of fortune or glory: tālis loquēbātur vel fortūnā vel glōriā

She may have spoken like that of fortune and glory, but she could not be given both liberty and death.

  • This distinction isn’t strictly followed, so give it minimal concern

The Suffix -ve

Vel may also appear as the suffix -ve, holding the same force as vel

  • He will come within in two or three hours: duabus tribusve horis veniet. 
The Essential AG: 324e

Famous Phrase: vel sim (or the like)

[i.e. vel similia, a disjunctive phrase corresponding to the conjunctive et cetera]


Ad Incipiam

The Origin of Ad

“obscure and doubtful” (AG, 219)

Summary of Use

Ad takes and accusative; it may be translated to, toward, at, near

Ad precedes its noun, with exceptions in poetry

Basic Uses


  • She came to the city: ad urbem venit.
  • She came to him: ad eam venit.


  • They danced until the ninth hour: saltābant ad nōnam hōram.
  • They assembled on the [appointed] day: convēnērunt ad diem.


  • He spoke in this way: loquēbātur ad hunc modum.
  • He was sentenced to death: condemnāvit ad mortem. (ad of penalty)
  • He went into politics: adiit ad rem pūblicam.
  • Besides, he was dead: ad hōc periit.  
  • It is fit for the ways of war: aptus est ad rem bellum. (ad of fitness)
  • It is useful to us for this thing: nōbis ūtile est ad hanc rem. (ad of use)

Ad versus In

“With the name of a country, ad denotes to the borders; ininto the country itself.” (AG, 428c)

  • He came to Italy: ad Ītaliam venit.
  • He came into Italy; in Ītaliam venit.

The temporal uses ad and in are identical.

  • They wandered until nightfall: ad noctem errāvērunt.
  • They wandered until nightfall: in noctem errāvērunt.

With Gerunds and Gerundives

“The accusative of the gerund and gerundive is often used after the preposition ad, to denote purpose.” (AG, 506)

  • You summon me to write: mē vocās ad scrībendum.
  • You live to outdo your crimes: vīvis ad vincandum nefas.


Ad may be used to form numerous verbal compounds, or the prepositional compounds adversus (against) and adversum (towards)

The prepositions take an accusative; most of the verbs take an accusative.

The Essential AG: 221.2

Famous Phrase: ad fontes (to the source) [motto of the Renaissance humanists]