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If I want to ask the question about the dog, whose name is Cerberus should I ask

Quis est Cerberus?

or

Quid est Cerberus?

Do we use quis or quae (according to gender) about animals or quid?

What is the rule here?

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    Welcome to the site! You may ask about me in any way you please, but quis would indeed be conventional.
    – Cerberus
    Sep 21, 2020 at 2:22

2 Answers 2

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Welcome to the Latin Stack Exchange!

If you are asking "who" Cerberus is, then Quis is correct since Cerberus is male. If you want to know "what" Cerberus is, then Quid is correct.

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    Are you sure that the interrogative pronoun, "quis", is gender-dependent, in the nominative?
    – tony
    Sep 21, 2020 at 16:08
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    If this answer were correct, Pontius Pilatus should have said: “Quis est veritas?” because veritas is feminine. But he famously said “Quid est veritas?” Sep 21, 2020 at 22:00
  • @Joonas llmavirta: The interrogative "quis" remains the same for masciline & feminine nominatives; e.g. "quis venit?" = "Who (male or female) is coming?". To specify gender, the adjectival pronoun; "quis homo venit?" = "What man is coming?". The neuter nominative, "quid", may be less useful--"What comes?".
    – tony
    Sep 21, 2020 at 22:35
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    @SebastianKoppehel I see your point and that makes sense, although because the subject was a proper name, "Cerberus" and one that we know was specifically male, I assumed the question was only asking "who is Cerberus". I'll update my to make that more clear since both words make sense depending on what your question actually is.
    – Adam
    Sep 22, 2020 at 13:22
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Quis and quid are both grammatical here, but mean different things.

"Quid" is a pronoun meaning "what", and can be used that way even in a sentence with a masculine, feminine or plural subject:

Some examples:

  • Ipsi enim quid sumus aut quam diu haec curaturi sumus?

    (Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum 12.11.1.1)

  • Quid est enim exsul?

(Cicero, De Domo Sua 72.3)

So if you mean to ask "What is Cerberus?"/"Cerberus is what?", you can say "Quid est Cerberus?"

"Quis" means "who", so if you mean to ask "Who is Cerberus?", you can say "Quis est Cerberus".

Compare English: "What is Cerberus" and "Who is Cerberus" are both valid sentences; they just mean different things.

Of course, Latin is not English. But similarly, compare the use in Latin of id vs. is: I believe id est Cerberus and is est Cerberus are both grammatically valid. Since a demonstrative pronoun like is/id does not have to agree with the gender of the other noun in copular construction, I don't think the interrogative pronoun quis/quid has to agree in this construction either.

In terms of grammatical resources, here are some reddit posts I found:

Also the questions listed in this handout "Developing oral skills in Latin", from the website of the New York State Education Department, show usage of quid vs. quis according to the meaning of the pronoun, not in agreement with the other noun in the sentence:

Ask the following questions
Teacher: Quid est Campus Martius?
Student: est locus
[...]
Teacher: Nunc quid est Spartacus?
Student: gladiator


Other alternative interrogative pronouns:

  • Quī, aside from being used always as the masculine nominative singular relative pronoun, is sometimes used as an interrogative pronoun. So possibly "Qui est Cerberus?" could be used. But I'm not sure if that would be a good choice. Some grammar resources suggest there could be some shade of difference in meaning between quis and quī in this kind of context: I'm also not sure about that.
  • In the unlikely event that you meant to ask something like "Which [of these women] is Cerberus?", you could possibly even use "Quae est Cerberus?", with a feminine pronoun. See Brutal Russian's answer here: Confused about the use of “quae” as an interrogative word)

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