Sometimes, I read that "quae" could be used, not only as a relative word, but also as an interrogative word.

Sometimes I read that it's not like that in the correct usage.

Quote, from a fellow Latin learner, more advanced than me:

"In practice, it seems that "quis" is right for masculine and feminine."

So, what are the rules, and if it's correct why some people think it's not, and vice-versa, if it's not correct?

@Answer Thank you for the declension table, but I know that "quis" and "quae" are question-words (as stated in my question), I just want to know why several people, more advanced in Latin, tell us to use "quis" for masculine and feminine (because it's the right use, "in practice" = the natural use, meaning: it's like this that Romans spoke.)

And why for masculine and feminine if it can be declined in masculine/feminine?

Why "Quis est femina?" and not "Quae est femina?"

My course teach me "Quis" for every gender and doesn't accept "Quae".

My question is about "correct usage".

If this course teach that, if I read and heard so many people telling to use "Quis" with both gender and not "Quae" what could be the reason if the use is right?

  • Where do you read that ? quae is not only the form for the feminine singular nominative ...
    – blagae
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 13:36
  • In some Latin course. In some courses "quae" is right, in some other only "quis" is right. When asking to some latinists, I've found both opinions represented. If there's a confusion about it. Why?
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:29
  • And also, do you have some reference, I would need to show them, in debates about quae or qui being wrong or right. In which sentences could I use them or not?
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:30

3 Answers 3


Quis is used both as the gender-neutral animate question word (i.e. when used on its own: quis est? "who is that person?"), and as the masculine determiner (i.e. modifying a masculine noun: quis homo, senātor? "what man, senator?"). Quae is used both as the feminine question word ('who? which one?'), as the feminine determiner ('which'), and as the emphatic version of the indefinite relative pronoun quă ('some, any'). This leads to some observations:

  • Quis cannot serve as a determiner to a feminine noun, but only as the subject complement (to a copular verb), with the feminine noun as the subject:
    • [Quis est] [Jūlia]? ('who's Julia?' or 'which one is Julia?')
    • But saying *Quis Jūlia? to mean 'Which Julia?' is impossible, it will instead be parsed as above: "Who's July? I'm July??"
  • Quae cannot be used unless the gender is known beforehand:
    • Quis venit? ('who's coming?')
    • Quae venit? ('who is the woman that's coming?')
  • If the gender is known to be feminine, both quis and quae can equally well be used as the question word, with the former preferred in Republican Latin and the latter in Late Latin.
  • In the masculine, quis and quī are used in questions regardless of the presence of another noun with or without a copula, quis being preferred before vowels and quī before consonants:
    • Nunc speculābōr quid ibī agātur, quis eāt intrō, quī forās veniāt. ('Now I'll watch what's going on there, who goes in, who comes out.' Plautus, Truculentus 708)
      • (those vowels weren't shortened yet)
    • But quī is also the instrumental "how?", and quis will be used whenever it's not clear that the nominative is meant.
  • It's fair to say that quī / quae has more of a determinative force ('which?'), but in the case of quī this seems to be secondary to phonological/euphonical considerations.
  • By contrast, quid (the question word) and quod (the determiner) are strictily distinguished:
    • Quid carminis? ('what sort of song?'), quod carmen? ('which song?'), never *quid carmen?
    • But quid nōmen tibī·st ('what is your name?'), which starting in Late Late pops up with quod (= 'which name'), likely as hypercorrection for the pronominal confusion that was underway.
  • The indefinite relative pronoun (i.e. when used on its own) is normally quis / quă (the former common gender, the latter restricting the condition to women), and the same is used as the indefinite determiner (i.e. modifying another noun), but quī and quae are used in this function as well, quae ostenstibly with emphatic determinative force, but perhaps, like quī, also influenced by whether a consonant or a vowel follows, since qua gets completely elided before a vowel:
    • Sī quis [homo], quī [vir], qua [fēmina], quae [honesta fēmina], quid [carminis], quod carmen sit ('if there happens to be some...').
  • In the plural, quī (m.) / quae (f.) / quae (n.) have no competition as either question words, determiners or indefinites.

The same word being a singular & a plural is not unusual. Consider "haec" = this: it can be feminine singular and neuter plural. Also, "ipsa" = "self": it can be feminine singular and neuter plural. These are just aspects of linguistic evolution. If yourself is receiving conflicting instructions from your teachers, you need a text book, its corresponding set of "model" answers; then, some sweat.

Alternative uses of "quis" & its hybrids:

the interrogative pronoun "quis?" = "who?" may be used as a pronoun (quis venit? = who is coming?) or as an adjective (quis homo venit? = what man is coming?). This distinction between pronomial use and adjectival use influences all of the following pronouns:

"quis" = "anyone" is used after si, nisi, num & ne e.g. "si quis domum redibit, interficietur" = "If anyone returns home he will be killed.";

"aliquis" = "someone" e.g. "fortasse aliquis regem interficiet" = "Perhaps someone will kill the king.";

"quisque" = "each one" e.g. "milites domum redierunt, cum sua quisque praeda" = "The soldiers returned home, each with his own loot."; "quisque" is often used with the superlative: e.g. "optimus quisque" = "each best man" (i.e. all the best people");

"quisquam" = "anyone at all" (the pronoun of "ullus" = "any") is used after a negative particle (e.g. "nec" or "neque"), a verb of denying, forbidding or preventing, in a question; or, in a si-clause where a negative is implied.

"omnes regem timent neque quisquam eum amat" = "Everyone fears the king nor does anyone at all love him."

  • Thank you for your explanation. I bookmark them preciously. But for my question, how to use quae/quis, and why the course and some user refuse "quae" instead of "quis"?
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 15:22
  • @Quidam: Was going to add some refinements; but, Unbrutal_Russian seems to have done the job. Satisfied? If not, we'll have another go.
    – tony
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 10:38
  • 2
    You can add refinements, please, don't refrain yourself.
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 0:48

Quae can be used as an interrogative, but quis is the interrogative for both masculine and feminine nominative singular. Both statements are completely true.

The subtlety lies in the inflection tables for the different words. The relative pronoun declines like this:

       SINGULAR        PLURAL
    masc fem  neut   masc   fem    neut
nom  quī quae quod   quī    quae   quae
gen   --cujus--     quōrum quārum quōrum
dat   ---cui---        ----quibus----
acc quem quam quod   quōs   quās   quae
abl  quō  quā  quō     ----quibus----

In other words, quae can be feminine nominative singular, feminine nominative plural, or neuter nom/acc plural.

The interrogative pronoun declines like this:

       SINGULAR        PLURAL
    masc fem  neut   masc   fem    neut
nom quis quis quid   quī    quae   quae
gen   --cujus--     quōrum quārum quōrum
dat   ---cui---        ----quibus----
acc quem quem quid   quōs   quās   quae
abl   ---quō---        ----quibus----

In this case, quae can be feminine nominative plural, or neuter nom/acc plural, but not feminine nominative singular—in the singular, the masculine and feminine are identical.

  • Sorry, but the declensions wasn't my question. It's about the use. When it's quis, used for any genders, and it's quae. In a course, they teach us "quis" for "who...?" every time, "quae" is listed as an interrogative, but not accepted in the course, and as said, the advanced learners of the course told us to not use the "quae" (read the quote in my question),
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 21:43
  • @Quidam Quae is an interrogative, but I've never seen it used for feminine singular: it's only plural. Quis is used as the interrogative pronoun for both masculine and feminine singular. You can use relatives as interrogative adjectives, but that doesn't seem to be what you're asking about.
    – Draconis
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 22:05
  • 2
    Perhaps a good case to mention is where the boundary between interrogative pronouns and adjectives seems to evaporate, e.g. Cicero's "Criminatio tua quae est?" or "Quae est ista praetura?"
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 12:07
  • Quae is also the feminine singular, in the declension table, so why is it used for feminine plural? It's all the meaning of my question. If someone could make an answer to sum up all the weird and unexpected things about the use of the interrogative "who", it would answer my interrogations.
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 15:16

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