Ablative (Latin)

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In Latin grammar, the ablative case (in Latin, cāsus ablātīvus) is one of the six cases of nouns. It has at least fifteen documented uses. Generalizing their function, however, ablatives modify or limit verbs by ideas of where (place), when (time), how (manner), etc. Hence, the case is sometimes also called the adverbial case; this can be quite literal, as phrases in the ablative can be translated as adverbs. E.g. magnā (cum) celeritāte, literally "with great speed", may also be translated "very quickly."


1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Singular -e / -ī
Plural -īs (-ābus) -īs (-ōbus) -ibus -ibus (-ubus) -ēbus


Ablative proper[edit]

Some uses of the ablative descend from the Proto-Indo-European ablative case.

  • Ablative of place from which describes active motion away from a place. Nouns, either proper or common, are almost always used in this sense with accompanying prepositions of ab/ā/abs, "from"; ex/ē, "out of"; or , "down from". E.g. ex agrīs, "from the fields"; ex Graeciā ad Italiam navigāvērunt, "They sailed from Greece to Italy."
The whole to which a certain number belongs or is a part. E.g. centum ex virīs, "one hundred of the men"; quīnque ex eīs, "five of them."
  • Ablative of separation implies that some person or thing is separated from another. No active movement from one location to the next occurs; furthermore, ablatives of separation sometimes lack a preposition, particularly with certain verbs like careō or līberō. E.g. Cicerō hostēs ab urbe prohibuit, "Cicero kept the enemy away from the city"; Eōs timōre līberāvit, "He freed them from fear."
  • Ablative absolute describes the circumstances surrounding an action. E.g. Urbe captā, Aenēās fūgit, "With the city having been captured, Aeneas fled."
  • Ablative of personal agent marks the agent by whom the action of a passive verb is performed. The agent is always preceded by ab/ā/abs. E.g. Caesar ā deīs admonētur, "Caesar is warned by the gods."

Instrumental ablative[edit]

Some uses of the ablative descend from the Proto-Indo-European instrumental case.

  • Ablative of instrument or of means marks the means by which an action was carried out. E.g. oculīs vidēre, "to see with the eyes". This is equivalent to the instrumental case found in some other languages. Special deponent verbs in Latin sometimes use the ablative of means idiomatically. E.g. Ūtitur stilō literally says "he is benefiting himself by means of a pencil"; however, the phrase is more aptly translated "he is using a pencil."
  • Ablative of manner describes the manner in which an action was carried out. The preposition cum (meaning "with") is used when (i) no adjective describes the noun (cum cūrā, "with care") or (ii) optionally after the adjective(s) and before the noun (magnā (cum) celeritāte, "with great speed").
  • Ablative of attendant circumstances is similar: "magno cum clamore civium ad urbem perveniunt" ("they reach the city to the great clamour of the populace")
  • Ablative of accompaniment describes with whom something was done. Nouns in this construction are always accompanied by the preposition cum. E.g. cum eīs, "with them"; Cum amīcīs vēnērunt, "They came with friends."
  • Ablative of agent is a more generalized version of the ablative of personal agent, used when the agent is an inanimate object. In this case, the preposition ab/ā/abs is not used. E.g. rex a militibus interfectus est "the king was killed by the soldiers" with personal agents, but impersonally it reads rex armis militum interfectus erat "the king was killed by the weapons of the soldiers."

Locative ablative[edit]

Some meanings of the ablative descend from the Proto-Indo-European locative case.

  • Ablative of place where marks a location where an action occurred. It usually appears with a preposition, such as in.
  • Ablative of time when and within which marks the time when or within which an action occurred. E.g. aestāte, "in summer"; eō tempore, "at that time"; Paucīs hōrīs id faciet, "within a few hours he will do it."

Other ablatives[edit]

Other known uses of the ablative include the ablatives of cause, of comparison, of degree of difference, of description, and of specification. Not all ablatives can be categorized into the classes mentioned above.


Some Latin prepositions, like pro, take a noun in the ablative. A few prepositions may take either an accusative or an ablative, in which case the accusative indicates motion, and the ablative indicates no motion. E.g. in casā, "in the cottage"; in casam, "into the cottage".[1]

The mnemonics "PASS DICE" and "SIDSPACE" help us to remember all of the common prepositions that use the ablative. They are: pro, ab, sub, sine, de, in, cum, and e(x) and the rest:-

This "aide memoire" was taught in schools when Latin was on the curriculum:-
A, ab, absque, coram, de,
Palam, clam, cum, ex, and e,
Sine, tenus, pro, and prae:
Add super, subter, sub, and in,
When 'state,' not 'motion,' 'tis they mean.[2]