Is the usage of “id est” in Latin exactly like the usage of “i.e.” or “that is” in English?

sumelic 04/04/2018. 2 answers, 87 views
vocabulary idiom english

There was a question a little while back on the English SE asking about the "plural form of i.e." (unfortunately, it got closed because the author didn't clarify what they meant).

While I was trying to answer that question, I faced the problem of not being familiar with exactly how "id est" is and has been used in Latin. I know it is the source of the abbreviation "i.e." that is commonly used in English texts today; it also seems to be equivalent in general to the English expression "that is". As I say in my answer post, my understanding is that the Latin expression, like the English one, is invariant in form, although at the time I was only able to find one example of "id est" being used between two plural noun phrases.

To increase my confidence in my answer there, I thought I'd just ask a more general question here: are there any differences in usage to be aware of between Latin "id est" and English "that is"? If there are any differences in the usage of "id est" between different periods of Latin, I would also be interested in learning about them.

2 Answers

lly 07/09/2018.

Not really...

I.e. being used to mean "namely" or "to wit" is a very literary construction. Classical Latin was often a written record of oratory or prose written as if it were being spoken. In speech, its equivalent would be something more verbose like "namely...", "to wit...", or (more Latiny) "which is to say..."

Id est in classical Latin is generally going to be a literal reference to a literal neuter-gendered thing that is under discussion.

Phaed. Perii hercle, huic quid primum dicam nescio.
[By Hercules, I'm lost. I don't know how to start talking to her.]

Pal. Em istuc, quod mihi dixti.
[Pffft. Just tell her that thing you just told me.]

Phaed. Quid id est?
[What thing is that?]

Pal. Periisse ut te dicas.
[Tell her you're lost.]

Phaed. Male tibi di faciant.
[Fuck you.]

That's just for emphasis. Most of the time, an "it" or "that thing" is just going to get thrown into the verb and left implicit: it'll show up as est without a subject at all. If you've got more than one neuter-gendered thing under discussion, it's just going to naturally become ea sunt or—since the ea is understood—just sunt.

but yes.

[Edit: See @Cerebus's answer for examples of a clarifying id est already being used in antiquity.] I.e. came into English through medieval Latin, which used tooooons of abbreviations to save space on valuable sheepskin. It was also highly literary, so that you get constructions like i.e. to obnoxiously clarify a point where you think you've lost your (naturally) less educated reader.

Like you thought, it'll generally be invariant since the id being discussed is "that thing I just said", regardless of how many words or examples were specifically involved. E.s. isn't really a thing, though you could employ it if you want to underline just how better educated (and obnoxious) you are.

Cerberus 07/09/2018.

In addition to Ily's overview, I'd like to offer a few examples in which the expression is used just as in English:

Ennius, Varia 1 (from this translation of Euhemerus' Sacred History) 140:

inque sepulchro eius est inscriptum antiquis litteris Graecis ΖΑΝ ΚΡΟΝΟΥ id est Latine Iuppiter Saturni.

Cicero, Pro Balbo 10.7 & 24.12:

contra foedus enim, id est contra populi Romani religionem et fidem fecisse dicitur

servos denique, quorum ius, fortuna, condicio infima est, bene de re publica meritos persaepe libertate, id est civitate, publice donari videmus.

As one can see, id est was used by the Romans in cases where it does not refer to a specific neuter substantive (in the first Ciceronian quotation, it refers not to foedus but to the adverbial phrase). In addition, id est was used in cases where a specific substantive could have been referred to, such as ZAN KPONOY in the Ennian quotation. It stands to reason that invariable id could also be used after plural substantive nouns. I would probably never use ea sunt. - Download Hi-Res Songs


Kiss And Make Up flac

BLACKPINK. 2018. Writer: Soke;Kny Factory;Billboard;Chelcee Grimes;Teddy Park;Marc Vincent;Dua Lipa.
2 Martin Garrix

Waiting For Tomorrow flac

Martin Garrix. 2018. Writer: Pierce Fulton;Mike Shinoda;Martijn Garritsen;Brad Delson.
3 Martin Garrix

Access flac

Martin Garrix. 2018. Writer: Martin Garrix.
4 John Legend

Written In The Stars flac

John Legend. 2018. Writer: Kiana Brown;Santoy;Kevin White;Mike Woods;MZMC;The Heavy Group;Rice N' Peas.
5 Martin Garrix

Yottabyte flac

Martin Garrix. 2018. Writer: Martin Garrix.
6 Alan Walker

Diamond Heart flac

Alan Walker. 2018. Writer: Alan Walker;Sophia Somajo;Mood Melodies;James Njie;Thomas Troelsen;Kristoffer Haugan;Edvard Normann;Anders Froen;Gunnar Greve;Yann Bargain;Victor Verpillat;Fredrik Borch Olsen.
7 Cardi B

Taki Taki flac

Cardi B. 2018. Writer: Bava;Juan Vasquez;Vicente Saavedra;Jordan Thorpe;DJ Snake;Ozuna;Cardi B;Selena Gomez.
8 Bradley Cooper

Shallow flac

Bradley Cooper. 2018. Writer: Andrew Wyatt;Anthony Rossomando;Mark Ronson;Lady Gaga.
9 Post Malone

Sunflower flac

Post Malone. 2018. Writer: Louis Bell;Billy Walsh;Carter Lang;Swae Lee;Post Malone.
10 Dyro

Latency flac

Dyro. 2018. Writer: Martin Garrix;Dyro.
11 Zara Larsson

Ruin My Life flac

Zara Larsson. 2018. Writer: Delacey;Michael Pollack;Stefan Johnson;Jordan Johnson;Sermstyle;Jackson Foote.

Fingers flac

ZAYN. 2018. Writer: Zayn Malik;Alex Oriet;David Phelan.
13 Halsey

Without Me flac

Halsey. 2018. Writer: Halsey;Delacey;Louis Bell;Amy Allen;Justin Timberlake;Timbaland;Scott Storch.
14 Lady Gaga

I'll Never Love Again flac

Lady Gaga. 2018. Writer: Benjamin Rice;Lady Gaga.
15 Sia

I'm Still Here flac

Sia. 2018. Writer: Sia.
16 Dewain Whitmore

Burn Out flac

Dewain Whitmore. 2018. Writer: Dewain Whitmore;Ilsey Juber;Emilio Behr;Martijn Garritsen.
17 Little Mix

Woman Like Me flac

Little Mix. 2018. Writer: Nicki Minaj;Steve Mac;Ed Sheeran;Jess Glynne.
18 Mako

Rise flac

Mako. 2018. Writer: Riot Music Team;Mako;Justin Tranter.
19 Blinders

Breach (Walk Alone) flac

Blinders. 2018. Writer: Dewain Whitmore;Ilsey Juber;Blinders;Martin Garrix.
20 Rita Ora

Let You Love Me flac

Rita Ora. 2018. Writer: Rita Ora.

Related questions

Hot questions


Popular Tags