Were questions in written classical Latin ever indicated by anything other than the meanings of the words1 and the context? That is, was there a "question mark"? Here a "question mark" can mean some form of punctuation, but it could be any kind of signal. For a silly example, one could indicate a question by increasing the size of letters towards the end of the question. I am looking for non-verbal signals used in writing.

I read the question "What punctuation was used in Classical Latin?" and I know the modern question mark is younger. I am under the impression that a question would normally not be marked in any way, but was this always the case?

1 This excludes question words like quare, quis, num, and -ne.


1 Answer 1


According to scholars, the earliest written sign ever argued to play the role of an interrogation mark comes from a VI century Syriac manuscript, and passed later into Latin.

My intuition is that, in this case too, necessity is the mother of invention. Especially in antiquity, it is not very likely that a mark for which there was no special need made it into mainstream Latin.

For yes/no questions Latin regularly adds particles (e.g. -ne, num), and open questions usually require relatives (quid, quando, cur). Even word order change in some. There is no ambiguity in such questions, and hence no need to distinguish any further.

It is hard to tell whether Romans used a different intonation for questions. (Judging from Romance languages, it seems likely, though.) If they did, maybe it was possible to word a question just as an affirmative sentence, but then again, it was easier to re-word the sentence in written.

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