I came across the quotation "Nunc scio quid sit amor" (Virgil, Ecl. VIII.43), and I’d like to know why the subjunctive "sit" is used instead of "est" here. Since it means "Now I know what love is" and not "Now I know what love might be", why wouldn’t "is" be indicative in Latin?

1 Answer 1


The direct question 'What is love?' has been embedded into another sentence, forming an indirect question. An indirect question 'gives the substance of the question, adapted to the form of the sentence in which it is quoted' (Allen & Greenough, New Latin grammar, §330.2). In Latin, the verb in indirect questions is usually subjunctive, not indicative. However, they are often translated as though the verb were indicative; the use of the subjunctive really just shows subordination.

  • 3
    An easy parallel in English: "What will happen next?" => "He asked me what would happen next." Latin just does this mood shift consistently.
    – brianpck
    Jul 15, 2019 at 13:17
  • 1
    And if you wanted to say "I am saying what love is" you would use "esse", since indirect speech uses the infinitive
    – C Monsour
    Jul 15, 2019 at 21:16
  • @CMonsour. No, that's still an indirect question: dico quid sit amor.
    – cnread
    Jul 15, 2019 at 22:14
  • Good point. "I said that love is not hatred" would use "esse".
    – C Monsour
    Jul 15, 2019 at 22:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.