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534. The Relative Clause of Characteristic with the subjunctive is a development peculiar to Latin. A relative clause in the indicative merely states something as a fact which is true of the antecedent; a characteristic clause (in the subjunctive) defines the antecedent as a person or thing of such a character that the statement made is true of him or it and of all others belonging to the same class.

Nōn potest exercitum is continēre imperātor quī sē ipse nōn continet. (indicative)
That commander who does not (as a fact) restrain himself cannot restrain his army.

As opposed to:

Nōn potest exercitum is continēre imperātor quī sē ipse nōn contineat. (subjunctive)
That commander who is not such a man as to restrain himself, etc.,

that is, one who is not characterized by self-restraint.

This construction has its origin in the potential use of the subjunctive (§ 445) Thus, in the example just given, quī sē ipse nōn contineat would mean literally, who would not restrain himself (in any supposable case), and this potential idea passes over easily into that of general quality or characteristic. The characterizing force is most easily felt when the antecedent is indefinite or general. But this usage is extended in Latin to cases which differ but slightly from statements of fact, as in some of the examples below.

The use of the subjunctive to express result comes from its use in clauses of characteristic.

Nōn sum ita hebes ut haec dīcam.
I am not dull in the manner (degree) in which I should say this.
(hence, I am not so dull as to say this.)

Since, then, the characteristic often appears in the form of a supposed result, the construction readily passes over into Pure Result, with no idea of characteristic—

Tantus in cūriā clāmor factus est ut populus concurreret. (Verr. 2.47)
Such an outcry was made in the senate-house that the people hurried together.

535. A relative clause with the subjunctive is often used to indicate a characteristic of the antecedent, especially where the antecedent is otherwise undefined.

neque enim tū is es quī nesciās (Fam. 5.12.6)
for you are not such a one as not to know
[Here is is equivalent to such, and is defined only by the relative clause that follows.]

Multa dīcunt quae vix intellegam. (Fin. 4.2)
They say many things which (such as) I hardly understand.

Quae nihil habitūra sit īnsidiārum semper est cōnsulendum. (Off. 1.35)
We must always aim at a peace which shall have no plots.

a. A Relative Clause of Characteristic is used after general expressions of existence or non-existence, including questions which imply a negative. So especially with sunt quī [there are (some) who] and quis est quī (who is there who?).

Sunt quī discessum animī ā corpore putent esse mortem. (Tusc. 1.18)
There are some who think that the departure of soul from body constitutes death.

Erant quī cēnsērent, etc. (B. C. 2.30)
There were some who were of the opinion, etc.

Erant quī Helvidium miserārentur. (Tac. Ann. 16.29)
There were some who pitied Helvidius.
[cf. est cum (Note 3, below).]

Quis est quīid nōn maximīs efferat laudibus? (Lael. 24)
Who is there that does not extol it with the highest praise?

Nihil videō quod timeam. (Fam. 9.16.3)
I see nothing to fear.

Nihil est quod adventum nostrum extimēscās. (Fam. 9.26.4)
There is no reason why you should dread my coming.

Unde agger comportārī posset nihil erat reliquum. (B. C. 2.15)
There was nothing left from which an embankment could be got together.

Note 1— After general negatives like nēmō est quī, the subjunctive is regular; after general affirmatives like sunt quī, it is the prevailing construction, but the indicative sometimes occurs; after multī (nōn nūllī, quīdam) sunt quī, and similar expressions in which the antecedent is partially defined, the choice of mood depends on the shade of meaning which the writer wishes to express.

Sunt bēstiae quaedam in quibus inest aliquid simile virtūtis. (Fin. 5.38)
There are certain animals in which there is something like virtue.


Inventī multī sunt quī vītam prōfundere prō patriā parātī essent. (Off. 1.84)
Many were found of such a character as to be ready to give their lives for their country.

Note 2— Characteristic clauses with sunt quī etc. are sometimes called Relative Clauses with an Indefinite Antecedent, but are to be carefully distinguished from the indefinite relative in protasis (§ 520).

Note 3— The phrases est cum, fuit cum, etc. are used like est quī, sunt quī.

ac fuit cum mihi quoque initium requiēscendī fore iūstum arbitrārer (De Or. 1.1)
and there was a time when I thought a beginning of rest would be justifiable on my part

b. A Relative Clause of Characteristic may follow ūnus and sōlus.

Nīl admīrārī prope rēs est ūna sōlaque quae possitfacere et servāre beātum. (Hor. Ep. 1.6.1)
To wonder at nothing is almost the sole and only thing that can make and keep one happy.

Sōlus es cûius in victōriā ceciderit nēmō nisi armātus. (Deiot. 34)
You are the only man in whose victory no one has fallen unless armed.

c. A clause of result or characteristic with quam ut, quam quī (rarely with quam alone), may be used after comparatives.

Canachī sīgna rigidiōra sunt quam ut imitentur vēritātem. (Brut. 70)
The statues of Canachus are too stiff to represent nature.
(stiffer than that they should)

Mâiōrēs arborēs caedēbant quam quās ferre mīles posset. (Liv. 33.5)
They cut trees too large for a soldier to carry.
(larger than what a soldier could carry)

Note— This construction corresponds in sense to the English too . . . to.

d. A relative clause of characteristic may express restriction or proviso (cf. § 528.b).

quod sciam
so far as I know
(lit. as to what I know).

Catōnis ōrātiōnēs, quās quidem invēnerim (Brut. 65)
the speeches of Cato, at least such as I have discovered

servus est nēmō, quī modo tolerābilī condiciōne sitservitūtis (Cat. 4.16)
there is not a slave, at least in any tolerable condition of slavery

e. A Relative Clause of Characteristic may express cause or concession.

Peccāsse mihi videor quī ā tē discesserim. (Fam. 16.1)
I seem to myself to have done wrong because I have left you.

Virum simplicem quī nōs nihil cēlet! (Or. 230)
O guileless man, who hides nothing from us!

egomet quī sērō Graecās litterās attigissem, tamen complūrēs Athēnīs diēs sum commorātus. (De Or. 1.82)
I myself, though I began Greek literature late, yet, etc.
[lit. [a man] who, etc. (Concessive)]

Note 1— In this use the relative is equivalent to cum is etc. It is often preceded by ut, utpote, or quippe.

Nec cōnsul, ut quī id ipsum quaesīsset, moram certāminī fēcit. (Liv. 42.7)
Nor did the consul delay the fight, since he had sought that very thing.
(as [being one] who had sought, etc.)

Lūcius, frāter êius, utpote quī peregrē dēpūgnārit, familiam dūcit. (Phil. 5.30)
Lucius his brother, leads his household, inasmuch as he is a man who has fought it out abroad.

Convīvia cum patre nōn inībat, quippe qui nē in oppidum quidem nisi perrārō venīret. (Rosc. Am. 52)
He did not go to dinner parties with his father, since he did not even come to town except very rarely.

Note 2— The relative of cause or concession is merely a variety of the characteristic construction. The quality expressed by the subjunctive is connected with the action of the main verb either as cause on account of which (SINCE) or as hindrance in spite of which (ALTHOUGH).

f. Dīgnus, indīgnus, aptus, idōneus take a subjunctive clause with a relative (rarely ut). The negative is nōn.

dīgna in quibus ēlabōrārent (Tusc. 1.1)
(things) worth spending their toil on
(worthy on which they should, etc.).

Dīgna rēs est ubi tū nervōs intendāstuōs. (Ter. Eun. 312)
The matter is worthy of your stretching your sinews.
(worthy wherein you should, etc.)

idōneus quī impetret (Manil. 57)
fit to obtain

indīgnī ut redimerēmur (Liv. 22.59.17)
unworthy to be ransomed

Note 1— This construction is sometimes explained as a relative clause of purpose, but it is more closely related to characteristic.

Note 2— With dīgnus etc., the poets often use the infinitive.

fōns rīvō dare nōmen idōneus (Hor. Ep. 1.16.12)
a source fit to give a name to a stream

aetās mollis et apta regī (Ov. A. A. 1.10)
a time of life soft and easy to be guided

Vīvere dīgnus erās. (Ov. M. 10.633)
You were worthy to live.

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.