Module 5 - Questions



Questions are sentences that are worded so as to elicit a response or answer. Take a look at these examples in English:

These questions are direct questions because the speaker is posing the question. Next semester, we’ll learn about indirect questions, where the speaker is reporting a question asked by someone else.

In Latin, there are a number of ways to indicate that a sentence is a question.

Question Mark

As in English, we can indicate a question in Latin by ending the sentence with a question mark as opposed to a period or other terminal punctuation. When the question mark is present, we need to be careful to translate the sentence appropriately!

Enclitic -ne

Such punctuation marks did not exist for the Romans, however. So, to indicate that a sentence is a question, the speaker would attach a syllable, -ne, to the end of the first word of the sentence, which will often be the verb or the word that the question concerns. This syllable itself is untranslated, but it turns the whole sentence into a question:

Make sure to look for this -ne enclitic in questions; it is NOT an inflected ending, so you must separate it from the word that it’s attached to in order to parse correctly.

vēnēruntne = vēnērunt (3rd pl. perfect active indicative) + -ne

Question Words

As in English, there are certain words that explicitly signal a question: for example, “where” and “why”. A few of these words are listed in your Module 5 vocabulary.

Practice Opportunity

Translate the following questions.

  1. cūr puellae canēbant?

  2. vocēsne frātrum tuōrum audīvistī?

  3. vīdēruntne caput regis?

  4. unde agricola veniet?

Interrogative Pronoun

A specific type of word that can signal a question is the interrogative pronoun. This pronoun stands alone in its sentence to ask the question “who?” “whom?” “which?” or “what?”. This pronoun declines and can function as any of the case uses we’ve learned about so far. Take a look at the following examples:

The declension chart for the interrogative pronoun can be found here.

Note that this pronoun is irregular, so you must memorize its forms.

Note also that in the singular, the masculine and feminine are identical, while the neuter differs in the nominative and accusative forms. In the plural, there are distinct forms for all three genders in the nominative, genitive, and accusative, but the dative and ablative plurals are all the same.

Interrogative Adjective

While the interrogative pronoun stands alone in a question, the interrogative adjective explicitly modifies a noun within the question, asking the question “which?” or “what?”. As an adjective, it matches its noun in gender, case, and number. Take a look at these reframings of the example sentences above with interrogative adjectives, as opposed to interrogative pronouns:

The declension chart for the interrogative adjective can be found here. Note that its forms are exactly identical to those of the interrogative pronoun in the plural, and mostly identical in the singular except for the nominatives, the neuter accusative, and the feminine accusative and ablative.

Practice Opportunity

Determine whether each of the following sentences uses an interrogative pronoun or an interrogative adjective, and then translate.

  1. Quem vīdistī?

  2. ā quō virō hostēs punientur?

  3. cui militī dux potestatem dedit?

  4. Quae dixit?

Deliberative Subjunctive

So far we have dealt with questions that have a definitive answer and can be restated as a declarative sentence that is factual in content (e.g. Did they come out of the city? Yes, they did come out of the city). However, this is not the only way that we can ask questions. Take, for instance, the examples:

Here the answer is a matter of opinion, rather than fact. The speaker is thinking about and deliberating on the action in the question. The question may even be rhetorical in nature. In Latin, we indicate such a question by changing the mood of our main verb. Instead of using the indicative, we use the subjunctive. We use the present subjunctive for deliberative questions in the present tense and the imperfect subjunctive for deliberative questions in the past tense:

We refer to this use of the subjunctive as the deliberative subjunctive.

NB: There is no standard translation for the subjunctive - its translation is determine by usage.