As I get it, -ne is used to play the role of a question word when there's no question word, and of course, when it's a yes-no question.

But is it good practice to omit it in such questions?
Is it a formal/unformal thing, or an hypercorrection thing?
In general, when is it mandatory and when is it optional to use it?

  • Let's see if there is a more informed answer, but Romans had no question mark, hence a question word seems mandatory in writing (be it -ne, num, numquid). Regarding spoken Latin, we don't know whether there was a difference in intonation for questions, which would render markers unnecessary.
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 16:24
  • 3
    Has anyone made the argument that because a rise in intonation is present in so many descendant languages of Latin that it could mean that this was also present in classical Latin itself?
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


To state a question (direct or indirect) in Classical and Medieval Latin, you always need a question marker. These can be either:

  • interrogative pronouns or adjectives (e.g. Quis venit?, In quae via ambulat?, Per quod medium probas?, etc.),
  • interrogative adverbs (e.g. Ubi estis?, Quousque tandem abutere?, Num venit?, Quaesivi ne indices, Quaesitum utrum Deus sit trinus, etc.)
  • The enclitic interrogative article "-nĕ" (weakened from "nē"); also "nonne".

However, Early Latin exhibits total interrogatives without question markers:

  • Redis tu tandem? (Plaut.)
  • Tu id nunc refers? (Plaut.)

(Note that question marks, and punctuation in general, was a later Medieval development---historically derived from musical pneumas, rather than pragmatic cues---and cannot be understood as interrogative markers proper.)

So, to answer your question: "standard" Classical Latin (what you learn in school) and Medieval Latin always require interrogative markers. Still, not all markers are identical (e.g. Num presupposes a negative answer, -nĕ doesn't presuppose any answer, quando requires a temporally framed answer, and so on), so you must choose well your interrogatives. In sum, "Edisti?" is bad Latin. "Edistine?" is fine.


For those seeking a more "authorative" answer, see e.g.:

  • 1
    Would you consider it fair to translate "Edistine?" as "Have you eaten?" and "Edisti?" as "You have eaten?!"? In the modern languages I know you can always have a question without question markers, but then the tone is quite different (which I attempted to convey with "?!").
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 22:17
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    The first one is OK, but the second one isn't customary, and thus it doesn't seem proper.
    – NVaughan
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 22:52
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    +1, but could you add some authoritative source(s) to support the argument?
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 0:37
  • 4
    Calling Plautus "bad Latin" because his usage disagrees with your school grammar is a bit of a stretch, don't you think? Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 3:26
  • 1
    @Unbrutal_Russian I did not notice anything of the sort in the answer. I only noticed calling it Early Latin. Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 12:05

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