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I'm wondering how to say "please" in Classical Latin like "please" as in "can I PLEASE have that?" or "PLEASE go away" or something like that.

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In Latin you need a verb to say "please". The verb quaesere mentioned by ktm5124 is a good one, but not the only one. That verb is used typically only in first person singular or plural present nominative, quaeso or quaesumus.

Here are some other verbs meaning "ask", "beg", or similar:

  • petere
  • rogare
  • precari
  • orare

Because these are verbs, you need to be more careful in using them than with the English "please". For example, choosing between precor and precamur depends on whether you speak only for yourself or as a part of a group.

Quaeso or quaesumus is typically used similarly to "please", but with other verbs you should also consider other structures to express the same thing. Here are some examples from my dictionary:

  • "I ask you for help." (= "Please help.") = Te auxilium rogo. / A te opem peto.
  • "I ask you to accept the plan." (= "Please accept the plan.") = A vobis peto, ut consilium probetis.

You can also imply a "please" by using what I would call a soft order. Instead of saying sede! ("sit!"), you can say fac sedeas! ("do so that you sit!" or "please sit!"). Of course, you need to conjugate fac to plural when you address several people.

For idiomatic classical Latin, I think it is best not to translate "please" by any single word. Quaeso is good and simple, but you should also consider other ways to express the same. And sometimes you can just leave it out and express politeness in other ways.

Finally, translations of your examples:

  • "Can I please have that?" — Licetne mihi illud habere? / Permittisne mihi illud capere?
  • "Please go away!" — A te/vobis peto, ut abeas/abeatis! / Fac abeas!

There are also other ways, as indicated in comments and other answers. Let me mention some for completeness:

  • sis, as a contraction of si vis; it can be very similar to "please", and is perhaps syntactically closer to the English "please" than quaeso/quaesumus
  • amabo te (si) — "I would be delighted (if)", literally "I will love you (if)"
  • verbs of permission (pati, permittere, sinere, …) can also add a tone of "please", and they can be used together with the other methods
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    Just trying to shed a bit more light on the subject: saying please is nearly always colloquial rather than formal, so you would expect not only informality but a variety of ways to express the idea. They do indeed occur, and can indicate various levels of politeness. I wouldn’t reject most of the suggestions above, but if you want to be a little more fulsome, there are such expressions as amabo te si . . . ; si placeat, . . . followed by a verb of permitting (sino, patior, permitto). Sis, a contraction of si vis, has the sense of “if you would be so kind” and can often be used for quaeso. – Tom Cotton Sep 22 '16 at 13:27
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    @TomCotton, excellent points! – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 22 '16 at 13:32
  • Great answer: to nitpick, te auxilium rogo just doesn't sound right to me. I would say something like rogo, auxilium ut feras or something similar. – brianpck Sep 22 '16 at 21:15
  • @brianpck, I think rogare can go with two accusatives like that. Google "rogavi te Deum, auxilium", for example. I couldn't find classical examples quickly. – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 22 '16 at 21:19
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    I was always taught the phrase si (tibi) placet, or "if it is pleasing to you" ("if it pleases you"). Which seems more direct than any of those other ways. I don't know how idiomatic it is, but I was just surprised no one else had this in their answer... – Sam K Sep 23 '16 at 1:13
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To add to the other excellent answers, I would like to add a colloquial way of saying "please" that is very common in Plautus: sis (= si vis), which means "if you want" or "if you please." All the usages I found were with the imperative.

It obviously looks like the present subjunctive 2nd person of esse, but context makes it clear.

Here are just a few examples of this usage:

modo sis veni huc: invenies infortunium. (Amphitruo 286)

Vide sis quam mox vapulare vis, nisi actutum hinc abis. (Ibid. 360)

Cave sis malam rem. (Asinaria 43)

Occlude sis fores ambobus pessulis. iam ego hic ero. (Aulularia 103)

and many more (by my estimation about a quarter of the 200 instances are examples of this usage). Lewis & Short also provides examples from Terence, Cicero, and Livy.

Two particularly common phrases are cave sis ("be careful now...") and age sis ("come now" or "and now...").

  • Just realized that TomCotton mentioned this in his comment :) – brianpck Sep 22 '16 at 21:13
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    Dicky 2012 writes that "when asked to give the Latin for ‘please’, Classicists have a tendency to think first of the Plautine terms sis and amabo, both of which are rare in the works of Cicero and indeed everywhere except in early Latin" [emphasis mine - Alex B.] – Alex B. Sep 28 '16 at 16:29
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    @AlexB. A valid point, though I think it also worth considering that the context in which we use "please" is often much closer to the colloquial setting of Plautus than that of, say, Cicero or Virgil. It's interesting that the cases where Cicero does use sis are in...less formal dialogues! – brianpck Sep 28 '16 at 16:33
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As a supplement to all the excellent answers above, I'll just point you to Eleanor Dickey's wonderful articles "How to Say 'Please' in Classical Latin" and "How to Say 'Please' in Post-Classical Latin." She's a professor at the University of Reading and has done a lot of work on (among many other things) politeness in the ancient world.

In short, they say:

—in Classical Latin, there was an ascending order of "please"s according to how major a request was: velim for minor requests, followed by quæso and rogo, on up through peto for very serious requests. (Of course there was overlap between each of these pairs; Dickey is just noting general tendencies.) —in post-Classical Latin, because the standard was to archaize, they basically kept velim, quæso, and peto, while adding several from earlier Latin: sodes, sis, amabo, obsecro, and oro, though of course shades of meaning and formality shifted over the centuries. (Rogo was used so much for a time that it came to be seen as inelegant.)

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    Two very interesting articles. – fdb Sep 23 '16 at 19:47
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    Fantastic articles - just read them. It'd be better if you could summarize her research in your post. – Alex B. Sep 28 '16 at 16:36
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The verb quaeso was used to mean "please" in classical Latin. I did some research, and I think it can easily be added to the end of a sentence.

Examples:

  1. Silentium, quaeso. (Silence, please.)
  2. Conside, quaeso. (Sit down, please.)

I'm sure other people will have more insights. But this could be a start.


I thought I would make an attempt to translate your examples into Latin. I would appreciate anyone correcting me if I'm wrong.

  1. Illumne habere possum, quaeso?
  2. Vade, quaeso.
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    Hm. I thought that habere takes the accusative case. But I can see a case for making it neuter, in which case it would be llludne. – ktm5124 Sep 22 '16 at 5:12
  • Touché; Illumne, illamne, illudne – Hugh Sep 22 '16 at 6:02
  • I have never seen quaeso used like in your example translations. It could be completely fine, I'm just not sure. I would like to know if that is indeed idiomatic classical Latin. (I gave some other ways in my answer, but they are in a sense further away from the English "please".) – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 22 '16 at 7:11
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    @JoonasIlmavirta I've seen this done by speakers, and L&S confirms it, saying it can be used with ut/ne/quin, subjunctive, accusative, or as a standalone, e.g. Cicero: "tu, quaeso, crebro ad me scribe" – brianpck Sep 22 '16 at 21:10
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    Dicky 2012 mentions that "Quaeso was elegant and belonged to a high register, so that many Romans refrained from using it in letters." – Alex B. Sep 28 '16 at 16:34
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I think the real answer to your question is that the Romans did not say “please”. The habit of attaching “please” more or less automatically to all imperatives is a phenomenon of modern European culture, which emerged (I assume) in courtly speech in the Baroque period. In the same spirit, classical Latin does not distinguish between intimate and polite forms of the second-person pronoun (as in French tu versus vous); this too is a fairly modern phenomenon.

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    I'd add that the habit of attaching “please” to all imperatives is a phenomenon of some languages like English or German where the imperative without "please" implies and order and would be seen as rude in most contexts. Although a lot of languages have idioms more or less equivalent to "please", in some of them (for example Catalan or Spanish) we can use the imperative to adres somebody (even a customer, a boss or a professor) while not being rude nor implying the speaker is in a commanding position. I don't know how it worked in Latin, but we shouldn't expect a parallel to English. – Pere Sep 23 '16 at 10:09
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    The cultural relevancy of the word “please” is interesting. Carl Darling Buck in his “A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages” (University of Chicago Press, 1949) states that while this formula is common in English, Italian and French, “more widespread is the use of the first person singular of a verb for ‘ask, request’”, going on to cite Greek, German, Lithuanian, and Polish, among others (p. 1101). Which is indeed what Latin seems to do, looking at Joonas Ilmavirta’s answer above. – Penelope Sep 29 '16 at 3:24
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All excellent answers.

I would think that an often-used polite formula like “please” would be brief, although I wouldn’t doubt that Cicero would have constructed whole nuanced sentences to express the idea.

One way to approach it would be to look at what it became. “Si tibi placet” became “si os place” in Castilian Spanish and “sis plau” in Catalán. These usages probably survive because they were commonplace in colloquial. Latin.

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What about "sodes", a contraction of "si audes" giving the somewhat misleading "if you dare"; but Pock. Ox. Lat. Dict. (2001) gives "if you do not mind, please".

Wiki gives "audes" as the gentler "if you intend" and synonyms for "sodes"--vis & si vis, seen in brianpck's answer above.

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