Colloquial Omission of Verbs

In colloquial and poetic language, common verbs like dīcō, faciō, agō and the like are often omitted.

  • What does this aim at: quō hōc [spectat]?
  • You will know a lion by his claws: ex ungue leōnem [cōgnōscēs].
  • What shall I say of this: quid [dē hōc dicam]?
  • The songstress thus spoke in replay: haec contrā cantrix [inquit].
  • Then Cotta said: tum Cotta [inquit].
  • Where are you from, and where are you of to: unde [venīs] et quō [tendis]?

Sum, as a copula, is omitted quite frequently where it is a present indicative or present infinitive:

  • You are his wife: tū coniūnx [es].
  • What need of many words: quid multa [verbōrum est]?
  • What then? Am I the boldest of all: quid ergō [est]? audācissimus ego ex omnibus [sum]?
  • The best things are rare: omnia praeclāra rāra [sunt]?
  • Hear first what must be accomplished: accipe quae peragenda prius [sunt].

As you might imagine, omission of sum will be especially popular in proverbs and sententiae, where clever identities and definitions are made all the time, making a est or a sunt all too predictable.

The Essential AG: 319a

Colloquial Omission of Pronouns

Pronouns are omitted all the time, because Latin conjugation makes them somewhat redundant. Where the pronoun does exist, it is either emphatic or explanatory (especially necessary with third person verbs).

  • I speak: loquor
  • It is I that am speaking: ego loquor
  • We have killed Caesar: occidīmus Caesarem.
  • We, the glorious Senate of Rome, have killed Caesar: nōs, Senātus clarus Rōmae, occidīmus Caesarem.
  • You might have supposed she was gone: crēderēs eam abīre. [general statement]
  • Maybe you thought her gone, but I knew exactly where she was: tū crēderēs eam abīre, sed ego ubi adeō quō esse cognōvī. [terrible string of hiati there, pardon me for being no poet]

With third person verbs, omission of the subject will often imply a general (sometimes gnomic) statement:

  • They say he was once a woman: dīcunt eum fēminam olim fuisse.
  • The herdsman claim they are innocent: pastōrēs dīcunt eōs innōcentēs esse.
  • One doesn’t simply walk into Mordor: in Mordōrem nōn simpliciter iter facit.

Passive verbs omit implied subjects as well:

  • They fought long and hard: diū atque ācriter pūgnātum est.

The Essential AG: 318a-b