I've seen them used in almost similar circumstances, and I'm not sure what the difference is.

The victim cried out in despair.

He was a real idiot.

Are those vocatives, epithets, or neither?



My dictionary defines epithet as follows:

n. an adjective or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned: old men are often unfairly awarded the epithet 'dirty'.

So I don't see how either of your examples qualifies as an epithet.

Vocative denotes a case of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in Latin and other languages, used in addressing or invoking a person or thing.

Perhaps the most famous vocative of all time were the words Shakespeare attributed to Caesar as he was stabbed by the conspirators Et tu Brute (Even thou, O Brutus) - Brute being the vocative of Brutus.

Hence I do not think either of your examples qualify either as epithets or vocatives.

| improve this answer | |
  • Look out is either an imperative sentence, or an interjection, not a vocative, as it does not specify who should be doing the looking out - the very purpose and diagnostic feature of a vocative. Oh my toe is probably a misinterpretation of Ow, my toe!, an ejaculation - unless you are actually talking to your toe and expecting it to listen. English vocatives are not grammatically marked, but John in John, could you come here? is a vocative, as is you in Hey, you! (and certainly Caesar's Brutus in O Brutus). That said, I agree that the OP contains no vocatives whatsoever. – Amadan Nov 12 '14 at 1:03
  • @Amadan Thank you for that contribution. You are quite right and I have edited accordingly. It is over half a century now, since I studied Latin! – WS2 Nov 12 '14 at 9:09

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