This sentence comes from a letter by Cicero to Atticus written when the former is in exile. It can be found in Epistulae ad Atticum 3, 5:

Ad te quid scribam nescio.

I understand that "nescio" is the verb, meaning "I don't know", "I ignore". Then, "quid nescio" would be "I don't know what" and "ad te" can be interpreted as the preposition "ad" and the accusative pronoun "te", a complement which expresses finality meaning "to you", something similar to the dative pronoun "tibi".

However, I don't understand which is the role of "scribam" in this sentence. The accusative singular of the noun "scriba" or the first singular person of the future tense of the verb "scribo" don't make sense. Can you please explain this to me?

1 Answer 1


It's an indirect question.

This would be a direct question: Quid ad te scribo? "What do I write to you?"

An indirect question in Latin always comes with the conjunctive mood (not future tense). The rules governing tenses (sometimes called consecutio temporum; consult any Latin grammar on subordinate clauses for details) say that when the governing clause is in the present tense (as nescio is) and the indirect question concerns the present or future, the indirect question gets the present tense. Thus the whole sentence containing the above direct question turned indirect would be: Nescio quid ad te scribam. "I don't know what I'm writing to you."

The object quid ad te scribam of nescio can come before or after the verb.

There might be a better choice of words in English depending on context and style, but the overall grammatical situation is this. Perhaps you could go with "I don't know what to write to you." if that seems to conform with Cicero's message in that context.

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