I am not sure whether to say "Quem emit Iulius?" or "Quid emit Iulius?" if I want to know what Julius is buying. I know the interrogative pronoun should be in the accusative case but it is not clear to me what gender it should be. As far as I understand it should be the gender of the word that represents what Julius is buying, but if I knew what that was I would not need to ask the question. Is it grammatically correct to use either?

  • It shouldn't literally be in the gender of the word for what he is buying. After all, you may know he is buying a res, which is feminine, but you would still use the neuter quid, whereas quam as an interrogative would specifically refer to a female human being. This is very different from quam as a feminine relative pronoun, which very well can refer to res (and any other noun of feminine gender)..
    – C Monsour
    Aug 25, 2020 at 16:32
  • @CMonsour The word res is a red herring for this question. If you ask "what is he buying?", the interrogative is simply quid, as neuter is used for general things. The word res only plays any role if you ask "what thing is he buying?" with quam rem. Romans don't seem to have used res quite the same way as modern anglophones use "thing"; I would even say that Julius is buying a thing but not a res.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:55
  • @CMonsour Ah. I thought pronouns in Latin always took the gender of the word to which they refer. Thanks for clarifying
    – user1488
    Aug 25, 2020 at 23:11
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    @user1488 They do, when they refer to a word. Demonstrative and relative pronouns do refer to words (usually). Interrogative and indefinite pronouns do not.
    – C Monsour
    Aug 25, 2020 at 23:28
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    @user1488 If you refer to a specific thing and you have a word in mind for it, you use the gender of that word for "it". For example: "Habes clavem meam. Eam mihi da!" When you have no word in mind (especially if it isn't anything specific), then go with neuter. You can think of the neuter as a backup.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 26, 2020 at 7:08

1 Answer 1


If the thing being bought is just some thing, then the correct gender is neuter. It is used for things of unspecific gender, whereas masculine would be used for people of unspecific gender.

If you use quem, you are asking whom Julius is buying. Unless he is shopping for slaves, go with quid to ask what he is buying. If it could be slaves or something else, then it is a general thing and you should go with neuter.

  • I took the question as asking whether to use quem or quid if you don't know whether he is shopping for slaves. Similarly, one might ask whether you need masculine plural, neuter plural, or two pronouns to refer to a group that includes both people and things.
    – C Monsour
    Aug 24, 2020 at 14:03
  • Could you actually say quem aut quid? Or, quos vel quae? Or, in a declarative sentence, eos et ea?
    – C Monsour
    Aug 24, 2020 at 14:11
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    @CMonsour If it could be either way, then the neuter is your choice. Just like in English you can ask "what are you buying?" and your friend can respond "slaves". I would only list both quem and quid if you specifically want to emphasize that Julius might be buying either slaves or other things. Under normal circumstances I'd go with just neuter.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 24, 2020 at 14:31

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