Question about possessive pronouns

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pin130
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Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Mon Oct 08, 2018 8:36 pm

I'm doing Nutting's Primer and realizing the great advantage of trying to compose Latin sentences as opposed to just reading in Latin. The down side is in realizing that I'm missing the most basic knowledge. For example,
I get confused when a possessive pronoun is attached to a noun which is a direct object. In Nutting exercise
35, "What did your grandfather's cook buy in the town, girls? We wanted to see his basket, but he was unwilling." your grandfather's cook" is translated (in the key) as "avi vestri coquus" of your grandfather taking the genitive. In the next sentence, "his basket" is translated as corbulam eius, of "his" relating to the grandfather and not to the direct object basket. In Allen and Greenough it says "possessive pronouns...take the gender, number, and case of the noun to which they belong, not those of the possessor". Does this principle apply to the sentence in question? Could it be said that a possessive pronoun always takes the genitive and not the accusative in this situation?

mwh
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Mon Oct 08, 2018 9:44 pm

eius is a pronoun (“of him” i.e. “his”), but vestri is an adjective (“your”), agreeing with its noun.

You'll need to get this straight before you can tackle eius (pronoun) vs. suus -a -um (reflexive adjective).

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Tue Oct 09, 2018 1:47 am

To expand on what Michael wrote, in Latin the the first and second person pronominal genitives are not used as possessives (they are used of other types of genitive relationships). Instead, there are possessive adjectives built on the same root: meus, -a, um "my, mine," noster, nostra, nostrum, "our," tuus, -a, -um "your" (singular), and vester, vestra, vestrum "your" (plural). There is also the third person reflexive possessive, suus, -a, -um which refers to the ownership of a third person subject, but modifies the noun. It gets its meaning from the subject, but its number-gender-case from the noun it modifies.

Equōs suōs puer videt, "the boy sees his (own) horses."

But when the pronoun from is ea id or the equivalent is used:

Equos eius videt, he sees his (somebody else's) horses."

What do I mean by "gets its meaning from the subject?" Consider:

Equos suos puella videt, "the girls sees her (own) horses."

We translate as "her" because the subject is feminine.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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pin130
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:36 am

Thanks mwh and Barry for your correction. Of course I had "learned" this in Wheelock's and Lingua Latina,
but having to compose in Latin I find I never learned it. Perhaps I could use as an excuse that there is much in grammar which seems gratuitous, not based on reason but simply on common usage (for example, not using the genitive of a pronoun, rather using a possessive adjective).

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Nesrad » Tue Oct 09, 2018 11:24 am

Your experience is a witness to the usefulness of composition, and at the same time a witness to the defects of reading methods such as LLPSI (at least when used by an autodidact).

pin130
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Tue Oct 09, 2018 7:22 pm

I think the reason composition is so much more effective than just reading is because in composing the same mental process is used as in speaking (minus pronunciation)--and really one should be speaking a language to learn it--something which is not going to happen with Latin. It's hard to learn a language in your head--which is what autodidacts must do. Composition is a step into actual usage.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:49 pm

pin130, I’m sure translating sentences from English into Latin is a very worthwhile thing for you to be doing, so long as you have a key (as it seems you do) and can ask questions (as you are doing). Active use of the language in writing will consolidate your mastery of the grammar in a way that mere reading could not, at least while you’re still learning the nuts and bolts of the language. I had to do composition as a student, and I never saw the point of it (nor was I much good at it). When I came to teach I resisted teaching composition, but my students found it helpful, and I soon came to see why.

But while I’m writing, let me add something for my colleagues here, and perhaps for you too. I was puzzled by the quote from A&G about “personal pronouns” in the original post, and was quite shocked to find that A&G—and other grammars too?—do indeed classify possessive adjectives (meus, vester, etc.) as possessive pronouns (para.140ff.). It seems to me that this is a category error, a confusion of mutually exclusive parts of speech, potentially highly misleading. As far as Greek and Latin are concerned—and English too, come to that—adjectives are one thing and pronouns quite another. The ancient grammarians themselves defined the terms. I look up meus in the OLD (something I would not normally do!) and am relieved to see they call it simply an adjective, which is of course what it is. How can we expect people to understand possessives if we muddy the waters so?

I think I understand why it’s done. It allows possessives to be treated together, and the Latin and English constructions do not entirely coincide. But meus (unlike eius) is no pronoun, and I see nothing to be gained by this grammatical gobbledegook. No wonder pin130 was confused. Surely it would better to stick to the distinction between adjectives and pronouns (as I did in my reply) rather than fudging it.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Tue Oct 09, 2018 11:56 pm

Every teaching text I have ever used, including Wheelock, Jenney, Latin for Americans, and the more recent Latin for the New Millennium carefully point out that Latin uses possessive adjectives where English uses possessive pronouns for the first and second person, and the reflexive. They want the student to know that the genitive of the pronouns is mostly used for the objective and partitive genitives (okay, occasionaly in poetry they are used for the possessive, but it's still extremely rare). I'm pretty sure that this is an idiosyncrasy of A&G.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Hylander » Wed Oct 10, 2018 12:21 am

Latin uses possessive adjectives where English uses possessive pronouns for the first and second person, and the reflexive.
Barry, I think you may have misstated this. I've always thought of my, our and your as adjectives, not pronouns. His, her, its and their -- I'm not sure: its looks like a genitive, and I suspect the others were originally genitives. Of course in English it really doesn't make a difference.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Oct 10, 2018 2:09 am

Hylander wrote:
Latin uses possessive adjectives where English uses possessive pronouns for the first and second person, and the reflexive.
Barry, I think you may have misstated this. I've always thought of my, our and your as adjectives, not pronouns. His, her, its and their -- I'm not sure: its looks like a genitive, and I suspect the others were originally genitives. Of course in English it really doesn't make a difference.
Fair enough -- English grammar distinguishes the adjective/determiner from the pronoun:

http://www.grammar.cl/rules/possessive-pronouns.jpg.

But my point is still valid in Latin. Latin only very rarely uses the pronoun of possession -- it uses the adjective where English would use either the adjective or the pronoun. Haec nostra sunt, these things are ours or these are our things.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Wed Oct 10, 2018 4:03 am

I don’t use the term “determiner” myself. (Too reminiscent of “I’m the decider.”) All sorts of things determine all sorts of other things, in language as in life. But in the restricted linguistic sense of the word isn’t “mine” just as much a determiner as “my”? And anyway we’re talking of Latin, where both are “meus.” The grammatical categories so clear in Latin (despite A&G) become fuzzier in English, thanks to historical developments like “his” and “its.” Analyzing Latin grammar in terms of what's purveyed as English grammar just leads to muddle.

I won’t take exception to your saying “Latin only very rarely uses the pronoun of possession” (when that is precisely how eius is used), for I realize you’re meaning to restrict it to 1st and 2nd persons. But casual readers might not realize that, and we end up with yet more muddle.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Oct 10, 2018 10:27 am

mwh wrote:I don’t use the term “determiner” myself. (Too reminiscent of “I’m the decider.”) All sorts of things determine all sorts of other things, in language as in life. But in the restricted linguistic sense of the word isn’t “mine” just as much a determiner as “my”? And anyway we’re talking of Latin, where both are “meus.” The grammatical categories so clear in Latin (despite A&G) become fuzzier in English, thanks to historical developments like “his” and “its.” Analyzing Latin grammar in terms of what's purveyed as English grammar just leads to muddle.
Right. I should also point out that some sources also identify "my," "your," etc. as pronouns rather than adjectives.
I won’t take exception to your saying “Latin only very rarely uses the pronoun of possession” (when that is precisely how eius is used), for I realize you’re meaning to restrict it to 1st and 2nd persons. But casual readers might not realize that, and we end up with yet more muddle.
I was referring to the 1st and 2nd person pronouns, and the reflexive third person, but good clarification. Now the casual reader will not be so led astray.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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pin130
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 2:36 pm

Just to make sure I've got it straight--For first and second person singular and plural use the possessive adjective (in the original quote from Nutting "your grandfather" avi vestri--the adjective agreeing with the noun modified. For third person singular and plural use the possessive pronoun--corbulam eius--the pronoun agreeing not with the noun modified but with the subject of the sentence (if grandfather would have been plural it would be corbulam eorum) Is this right? It's interesting that both Nutting and Wheelock say that it's logical not to use a possessive pronoun genitive for first and second person as this would be like saying "the
basket of me". What they don't mention is that using eius has the same problem (the basket of him). Maybe it would be helpful in writing language textbooks if contradictions and illogic were mentioned.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Thu Oct 11, 2018 7:05 pm

The only thing that should cause any problem is the 3rd person (as anticipated in my original reply), and I don’t think you’ve quite got this straight.
For English “his/hers/its” Latin uses eius (a pronoun, genitive of is ea id, lit. “of him/her/it”, plural eorum/earum “their” lit. “of them”)—unless it refers to the subject, in which case the adjective suus –a –um is used in the appropriate form, agreeing with its noun as all adjectives do (just like meus –a –um, tuus –a –um, vester –ra –rum, etc.)

“Grandfather’s cook wanted to see my/your/our basket.” No problem: Coquus avi meam/tuam/nostram corbulam videre voluit.
But how about “Grandfather’s cook wanted to see his basket”?
Whose basket, the cook’s or grandfather’s? The English is ambiguous (think about it), but Latin is not.
If it’s his own basket the cook wanted to see, suus –a –um is used: … suam corbulam videre or corbulam suam videre. (suam agreeing with corbulam.)
But if it’s grandfather’s basket the cook wanted to see, eius is used, following the noun: corbulam eius. (corbulam accusative only because it’s the object; that makes no difference to eius.)

Suus –a –um is a “reflexive” adjective, meaning that it refers to the subject, just as se (him/her/it-self, themselves) is a reflexive pronoun, likewise referring to the subject.
“He saw himself in the mirror” se vidit …
“He saw his (own) dinner on the table” suam cenam vidit …
“His wife saw his dinner on the table” uxor cenam eius vidit …
“She killed herself with his sword” se gladio eius interfecit
“He killed himself with his sword” se gladio (suo) interfecit

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Thu Oct 11, 2018 8:01 pm

pin130 wrote:Just to make sure I've got it straight--For first and second person singular and plural use the possessive adjective (in the original quote from Nutting "your grandfather" avi vestri--the adjective agreeing with the noun modified. For third person singular and plural use the possessive pronoun--corbulam eius--the pronoun agreeing not with the noun modified but with the subject of the sentence (if grandfather would have been plural it would be corbulam eorum) Is this right? It's interesting that both Nutting and Wheelock say that it's logical not to use a possessive pronoun genitive for first and second person as this would be like saying "the
basket of me". What they don't mention is that using eius has the same problem (the basket of him). Maybe it would be helpful in writing language textbooks if contradictions and illogic were mentioned.
Michael's response above is both clear and helpful. Additionally, it's not so much that you would translate it with the pronoun "of." It's that the genitives of the personal pronouns (and sui, sibi, se(se), se(se), the third person reflexive) are reserved for uses of the genitive other than possession, and particularly the partitive and the objective genitives. We sometimes use "of" in such expressions in English, sometimes another English preposition or construction renders it better. So the plural genitives of the personal pronouns, pars nostrum, "part of us" or amor nostri "love of us" or "love for us." I found your last sentence quite amusing (in a good way), since your complaint is the universal cry of all language students. Your beginning text is partly at fault. Latin does have quite a few regularities in the formal language of literature that we learn, and most beginning Latin textbooks tend to make the language seem even more regular than it is in fact, but there are still surprises, and learning them is simply part of learning the language.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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pin130
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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:04 pm

Thanks mwh and Barry. Nutting didn't yet bring the reflexive (as of chapter 36), so I don't understand how it is relevant
to what I've said. What didn't I get straight? Unless you meant to say that in my summation I left out mention of the reflexive. In any case, I'm very grateful for the time you've taken to answer my questions. And your summation of the reflexive will soon be handy. But if instead of grandfather it would be grandfathers (i.e. we wanted to see their basket) you would say corbulam eorum, the pronoun agreeing with the subject of the sentence (in this case, the previous sentence) and not with the noun it modifies?

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:33 pm

pin130 wrote:But if instead of grandfather it would be grandfathers (i.e. we wanted to see their basket) you would say corbulam eorum, the pronoun agreeing with the subject of the sentence (in this case, the previous sentence) and not with the noun it modifies?
This is so very muddled I scarcely know where to begin. For one thing, the grandfathers (or grandfather) are not the subject of any sentence. The cook is the subject of the first sentence, “we” is the subject of the second. (By “subject of the sentence” is meant the grammatical subject, which is always nominative. That's basic.) And the pronoun eorum (or eius) doesn’t agree with anything, certainly not with the subject. It refers to the grandfathers, and it's eorum (the pronoun) not suorum (the reflexive adjective) because they are not the subject of the sentence.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 11:15 pm

Is it not eorum and not earum because it agrees in gender and number with grandfathers? What is the difference between "refers to" and "agrees with"?

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by mwh » Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:41 am

Well of course it’s masculine plural, since it refers to grandfathers, but it’s dissociated from them syntactically, in a separate sentence, and can't be said to "agree" with them. Take suorum avorum, “of their (own) grandfathers,” as in e..g. “The kids went to visit their grandfathers’ graves”: suorum, as an adjective, agrees with avorum. But “We too went to visit their graves” would use eorum not suorum, since the grandfathers are not the subject of this new sentence. Don’t fixate on the genitive: “They went to visit their grandfathers” would be suos avos, while “We too went to visit their grandfathers” would be avos eorum. That illustrates the difference between the use of suus –a –um (reflexive adjective—“reflexive” as referring to the subject) and the use of eius/eorum (genitive pronoun), which I’m afraid you may still not grasp. You might try rereading my previous post, now that you know what's meant by the "subject" of a sentence.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by pin130 » Fri Oct 12, 2018 3:33 am

Thanks for your patience. The whole subject is much clearer than it was initially.

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Re: Question about possessive pronouns

Post by hlawson38 » Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:07 pm

I want to show a use of tuus that baffled me, and my proposed solution.

Context: In Metamorphoses, Book 13, line 210 f., Ulysses continues to brag about his war record, while disparaging that of Ajax. First Ulysses notes that for the first nine years the Trojans kept within their walls, with little opportunity for open battles. Then he addresses Ajax.

quid facis interea, qui nil nisi proelia nosti? 210
quis tuus usus erat?

Translation:
What do you do meantime, you who knew nothing except battles?
What was your contribution?

quis: interrogative pronoun
tuus: nominative, masculine, singular, possessive adjective, modifies usus
usus: noun, nominative singular, modified by tuus

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