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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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3.3 ‘By’, ‘with’ and the ablative case

cui dōnō lepidum nouum libellum

āridā modo pūmice expolītum?

To whom do I give this charming new booklet

recently polished with dry pumice?

‘With’ is conveyed by the ‘ablative’ case, used here to convey the means or instrument by which something is done. Here the book has been polished ‘with’ or, less elegantly, ‘by’ or ‘by means of’ pumice stone. This use of the ablative case is typically found when 1) the verb is passive (‘he was hit with a sword’, ‘she was struck by a stone’) and 2) the noun is inanimate, i.e. not a living thing.


  • multitūdō nōn ratiōne dūcitur sed impetū – the crowd is led not by reason but by impulse

When an action is carried out by a person, Latin uses the ablative case in combination with the preposition ‘ā’ or ‘ab’.

  • Caesar ā Brūtō interfectus est – Caesar was killed by Brutus


The ablative case has a range of uses. It is difficult to single out one that characterises the ablative as a whole. You may come across the idea that the ablative is the ‘by, with or from’ case. There is some truth in this, although the best way to understand the ablative case is to work through examples of the different uses. Here we have concentrated on one important use, the ablative of means or instrument.


Activity 16: genitive, dative and ablative cases

Match the underlined word or phrase in English with the appropriate Latin equivalent.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. A noun in the dative case

  2. A noun in the genitive case

  3. A noun in the ablative case

  • a.Antony’s slaves escaped.

  • b.The soldier was struck by an arrow.

  • c.Caesar gave Cleopatra many gifts.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = b