How to Ask Questions in Latin by Using an Interrogative Sentence

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Sentences serve two major purposes: they either make statements or ask questions. Those that simply make statements are called declarative sentences. The word “declare” is derived from the Latin word “declarare” which literally means to “explain” or “make clear.” Those sentences that ask questions are called interrogative sentences. The word “interrogative” is derived from two Latin words: inter meaning “between” or “among” and “rogare” which may be translated as to “ask” or “request.”

English Declarative and Interrogative Sentences

As stated above, declarative sentences simply make statements. But a declarative sentence can be easily turned into an interrogative sentence that asks a question; simply add an auxiliary verb such as do, did, or will, rearrange the word order, and sometimes change the form of the verb. For example:

Mary is going to the store. (Is Mary going to the store?)

Mary went to the store. (Did Mary go to the store?)

Mary will go to the store. (Will Mary go to the store?)

Of course, it is grammatically correct to add a question mark to the end of every question.

Sometimes it is possible to use inversion to create a question from a declarative sentence. Inversion involves switching the verb and subject around. For example,

Mary is at the store. (Is Mary at the store?)

English declarative sentences can also be turned into questions by adding a few words to the end of the sentence. For example:

Mary went to the store. (Mary went to the store, didn’t she?)

Mary didn’t go to the store. (Mary didn’t go to the store, did she?)

As illustrated above, there are three main methods for turning declarative sentences into questions. The methods for creating interrogative sentences in Latin are less complicated.

Latin Declarative and Interrogative Sentences

Declarative Latin sentences can be changed into questions using two methods. First, adding the enclitic –ne to the end of the first word in the sentence indicates questions that can have a yes or no answer. For example:

Caesar inimicum superavit. (Caesar defeated the enemy.)

Superavitne Caesar inimicum? (Did Caesar defeat the enemy?)

Notice that contrary to declarative sentence convention, the verb is moved to the beginning of the sentence when the –ne enclitic is used to indicate a question. Although this was typical, it is not necessary. The enclitic could have been added to the end of whichever word was first in the sentence. In a question, the verb is kind of upgraded in Latin and is often brought to the beginning from the usual end.

The second method of forming questions in Latin is used when a specific answer is anticipated or preferred. “Nonne” is used when a yes answer is expected and “num” is used when a no answer is expected. For example:

Nonne Caesar inimicum superavit? (Caesar defeated the enemy, didn’t he?)

Num Caesar inimicum superavit? (Caesar did not defeat the enemy, did he?)

Notice that in the first question a “yes” answer is anticipated but in the second a “no” answer is anticipated. Also note that the Latin word “non” is not needed in the second sentence to indicate the negative construction; “num” is sufficient.

English declarative sentences can be turned into questions using one of three methods. Latin question construction is a bit easier with only the need to add the enclitic –ne to the end of the first word. Of course convention does shift the verb from the end to the beginning of the sentence but this is left to the author to decide what he/she wants to emphasize. Using two special words, “yes” or “no” answers can be anticipated in Latin questions. Latin students rarely have trouble with forming and recognizing questions because the enclitic –ne and the words “nonne” and “num” give them away. Of course, the question mark is also a dead giveaway.