My understanding of the -ne enclitic is that it's usually attached to whichever element is in question, or whichever element is most emphasized. For example, mē-ne amat is emphasizing the object (asking if it's me that he loves), while mē amat-ne is emphasizing the verb (asking if he loves me).

While discussing this with someone, I was asked if -ne ever appears multiple times in one sentence, to focus the question on multiple elements. I've certainly never seen this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it used for special emphasis: something like militēsne vīdistine "were they soldiers? and did you see them?" Or perhaps to emphasize each word of a phrase: militēsne Romānōsne vidisti "you saw Roman soldiers?"

Does this ever happen? Or can -ne only appear once per clause?

  • In indirect questions, multiple -ne can stand instead of -ne an, e.g. monstrumne deusne ille sit ignorans (Ov. Met. 13, 912). Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 20:39

1 Answer 1


something like militēsne vīdistine "were they soldiers? and did you see them?" Or perhaps to emphasize each word of a phrase: militēsne Romānōsne vidisti "you saw Roman soldiers?"

Since no one else has responded so far, I will give my speculations below.

I think that Russian has a particle (ли) that functions similarly to -ne. Perhaps, there is a Russian speaker proficient in Latin with the time and inclination to comment on whether such duplication is possible in Russian. With my quite limited knowledge of Russian, I am only aware of this particle being used after the first word in the question, although word order in Russian is otherwise quite flexible.

For Latin, as far as I am aware, -ne must be attached to something very early in the clause, if not the very first word. Putting the queried word at or near the beginning of the sentence is probably required by the question focus and would mean that mīlitēs vīdistīne would violate this constraint.

My guess is that using the particle -ne multiple times would also violate pragmatic constraints on the sentence, since the repetition implies that the sentence actually focuses on two different things simultaneously, leaving in confusion what exactly is not in focus and the theme of the question.

It is speculated in Michiel DeVaan's book on etymology and stated in Wiktionary that the use of -ne to signal interrogations stems from the use of ne in negations. If this is true, we could translate mīlitēsne vīdistī loosely as "The soldiers, or not, did you see them?" and vīdistīne mīlitēs as "You saw, or not, the soldiers?" The response to either query could be vīdī ("Yes") or nōn vīdī ("No") to affirm or deny the underlying proposition.

This procedure of using "or not" reveals that the questions contain an assumed component and a queried component.

The underlying statements mīlitēs vīdistī and vīdistī militēs contain different pragmatics that may contain ordinary or exclusive focus. With ordinary focus, I think the underlying statement mīlitēs vīdistī normally means "I had an event with soldiers in which I saw them" and vīdistī mīlitēs means "What happened is that I saw soldiers." With exclusive focus, they would mean respectively "Who I saw were soldiers" and "What I did with the soldiers is see them." I do not think any of these pragmatic meanings can combine into one sentence.

If you were to say mīlitēsne vīdistīne, you would be asking "Did you have an event with soldiers, or not, in which you saw them, or not?" I think the combination of these two queries into one is not felicitous, particularly if you try to make the first part an exclusive focus, as in "Did you have an event only with soldiers, or not, in which you saw them, or not?" Since both components are queried it is not clear what component is assumed for purposes of the question.

I also don't think the pragmatics work if what you are trying to do is combine "Did you see the soldiers?" and "If not, whom did you see?" into one query.

For instance, how do I respond if what happened is that I saw farmers but only heard the soldiers? I cannot reply with *vīdī ("Yes") or * nōn vīdī ("No") to pick up on the main predication in the query, since that would also carry along the original arguments which don't match what I want to assert.

You could reply with more words, such as agricolās vīdī. mīlitēs nōn vīdī, but this is two statements, and not one, and is just a fuller reply to the question mīlitēsne vīdistī?, correcting the assumption and providing detail as to what actually happened.

I think that a theoretical sentence like militēsne vīdistīne cannot contain all these different pragmatics.

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