I tried to translate it a few times but I am still not sure if I am right. The best translation I can come up with is, "Est melior loqui aut mori?" Please help.

  • Welcome to the site, and nice question! Your original phrase and my limited English make me hesitate: are you 1) avoiding comparison (speak-or-die is a unit and you are asking whether that is better than something else your audience knows), 2) do you want to be ambiguous, or 3) your intention is to compare "speaking" and "dying" (which one is better)? In other words, would you expect an answer like dying is better or yes/no? One of the translations by cnread somewhat keeps the ambiguity IMHO, while that by tony is explicitly comparing (is it better to speak than to die?).
    – Rafael
    Jul 2, 2019 at 21:30
  • 1
    @Rafael. I see your point, but I think the English would only be truly ambiguous if it said 'Is it better to speak or die' (i.e., if the second 'to,' before 'die,' were omitted).
    – cnread
    Jul 2, 2019 at 23:27
  • @cnread, thanks for the clarification!
    – Rafael
    Jul 2, 2019 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


You're not far off. You just need to make a few changes:

  • Change the masculine/feminine adjective melior to neuter melius.
  • Because this is an alternative question – you want to know which of the two courses is better – you need to change aut to an to signal the second alternative. (If you use aut, the question is just a simple 'yes'/'no' question*.)
  • You can optionally add utrum at the beginning of the sentence or attach -ne to the end of the first word to signal the first alternative.
  • You can optionally tinker with the word order. In some arrangements, you may be able to omit the explicit finite verb (est).

Here are some possibilities:

utrum loqui melius (est) an mori?

estne melius loqui an mori?

loqui melius (est) an mori?

* It's hard to make a good example that works for the English that we're starting with, but imagine that one person says to you, 'Speak or die!' and another says 'Stay silent and be saved!' In this case, you might ask yourself, Estne melius loqui aut mori? 'Is it better to speak or die?' Here, what would be left unexpressed is '...than to stay silent and be saved,' and the expected answer is 'yes' or 'no.' However, once an is used, the question is offering alternatives, and the expected answer will be one or the other of those alternatives, not a simple 'yes'/'no' – even when -ne, which normally forms 'yes'/'no' questions, is attached to the first word. At least this is the rule that the grammar books give (see, for example, Allen and Greenough, New Latin grammar, section 335 – which I actually have bookmarked, because I have to look up this rule anew every single time).

  • +1; I'd also suggest loqui melius an mori because I'm always a fan of dropping est.
    – Draconis
    Jul 2, 2019 at 20:46
  • @Draconis. Thought I had done that but obviously not. Thanks for pointing it out. I've updated the answer.
    – cnread
    Jul 2, 2019 at 21:14
  • @cnread: If speaking prevents death ("speak or die"); how does the unexpressed "...than to stay silent and be saved" fit in? The, original, implication appears to be that silence invites the death-sentence?
    – tony
    Jul 3, 2019 at 10:41

If two things are directly compared, an ablative-of-comparison may be used (without "quam"); the second noun taking the ablative case.

"estne sermo melior morte?"; giving "Is speech better than death?"

  • 1
    I'd suggest adding -ne to make it estne. I'm not sure if it's strictly necessary, but I'd expect it in a context like this.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 2, 2019 at 19:31
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    @Joonas llmavirta: Thought about suffix -ne; then, decided not. On reflection, you may be correct.
    – tony
    Jul 3, 2019 at 10:18

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