Just noticed, with respect to this question about 'which' and the five 'wh-' question words, that there's kind of a similar but reverse sort of situation in Latin.

It looks like of all the corresponding question words in Latin, they are all 'qu-' words except for one, the one corresponding to 'where', namely 'ubī'

'Ubī' stands out like a sore thumb. Where could that possibly have come from? All the other romance languages derive their 'where' from Latin.

But all the other IE families have a 'qu-' cognate word. Slovak has 'kde', English 'where', Irish 'ca bhfuil', Iranian 'koja', Hindi 'jahã'.

So, what's up with 'ubī'? Where did it come from? Did Oscan-Umbrian have a cognate to 'ubī' or to a 'qu-' word?

  • 4
    Cf. unde "whence", ut "how". It may be related to the u in ullus, usquam, etc.
    – Cerberus
    Dec 15, 2020 at 2:24
  • 1
    It is "kojãst". And "kojãst" means "where is". "kojã" is equivalent to "where".
    – Ali Nikzad
    Dec 15, 2020 at 22:15
  • @AliNikzad fixed
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2020 at 22:32

2 Answers 2


It used to be! At some point, the word seems to have been *cubi, as seen in compounds like alicubi "somewhere", nēcubi "not anywhere", sīcubi "if anywhere"; this came from the same root as quis and such, with the usual qu > c before u. (Compare aliquis.)

But at some point, it lost its initial C; re-analysis of nē-cubi as nec-ubi may have been involved, and/or the influence of ibi "there" (which comes from the root of is "he" with the same suffix). The details aren't entirely clear, just that it must have happened at some point in the language's history.

  • Any idea about the '-bi' part?
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:05
  • 2
    @Mitch I believe it's from PIE *-dʰi, cognate with Greek -θι.
    – Draconis
    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:29
  • And does PIE *-dʰi have any special meaning?
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2020 at 4:09
  • @Mitch "Where", or something like that.
    – Draconis
    Dec 15, 2020 at 4:49
  • Not that it's relevant to Latin, but any clue as to cognates of *-dʰi in other IE?
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2020 at 13:33

Draconis said everything there is to say about the loss of the *kʷ AFAIK, but I spent €250 on an etymological dictionary of Latin a while back so I want to expand on the -bi part.

According to De Vaan's Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic languages, ubī can theoretically reflect either *kʷubʰei or *kʷudʰei. *-bʰi would be a PIE instrumental ending, whereas *-dʰei would be an Italic innovation for *kʷudʰe 'where', which is reflected in Indo-Iranian (Skt. kúha, OAv. kudā 'where') and Slavic (kьde 'whenever, anywhere'). In view of the latter correspondence, De Vaan considers a Proto-Italic preform *kʷuþei to be more likely (I don't think *kʷu would still be *kʷu in Proto-Italic, though; the boukólos rule should have eliminated the labialisation earlier than that). He finally notes that Hittite ku-wa-pi 'where, when' is attested, which reflects PIE *kʷó-bʰi (that is, with the instrumental ending).

De Vaan doesn't mention it, but *-dʰe ~ -dʰi is a locative particle reflected in Greek as -θε or -θι, as Draconis mentioned, which shows up e.g. in Greek πόθι 'where' (which, however, has *kʷos in the o-grade, like the Hittite; PIE *bʰ would have become Gk. φ, though, so it can't continue the instrumental).

The Sabellic languages do have attested cognates of ubi, with the expected p at the front: Oscan puf and Umbrian pufe. Like the Latin, they could theoretically reflect either *kʷubʰei or *kʷudʰei.

(Annoyingly, the disappearance of the initial c- in Latin isn't even remarked on.)

  • Excellent..thanks
    – Mitch
    Dec 15, 2020 at 16:21

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