My intuition suggests different word orders with and without the enclitic -ne. For example:

Vir canit. — The man sings.
Canitne vir? — Does the man sing?

I know full well that Latin word order is fairly free, but nevertheless there are tendencies. This question is about those tendencies, as I expect there to be no hard rules. Putting the predicate at the end of the direct statement is common, and I will not contest that here. However, I am not sure what effect adding -ne to the predicate should have on word order.

My intuition suggests putting the predicate first when it comes with -ne. Is this actually the case in classical Latin? Does -ne have any observable effect on word order? For example, are the typical positions of est and estne different?

2 Answers 2


Brian has given a good answer, but perhaps it can be expanded.

The overriding principle is that -ne should occupy the second place in a clause (or, to put it another way: it is attached to the first word). This is a specific example of a famous phenomenon in ancient Indo-European languages known as Wackernagel’s law, which stipulates that certain clitics typically occupy the second place. Other examples are the Greek “men” and “de”, or even the English “however”.

But in Latin there is second principle, namely that -ne should be attached to the word which is actually put in question, typically the verb. The coexistence of these two principles means that -ne occupies the second place (as Wackernagel decrees) and drags the verb with it.


Perhaps there is a more subtle answer, but I will give the naive view: Yes, -ne affects word order because it moves the principal word (usually the verb) to the beginning of the sentence.

More detail about the word-order imposed by -ne is available here: Where to put the enclitic -ne?, the gist of which is that -ne is always at the beginning of the sentence (except certain connectives, like sed) and usually is added to the verb--though it can also be added to another word that is the focus of the question.

We have here three observations:

  • Verbs are generally placed at the end of a declarative sentence (cf. Allen & Greenough, §596).
  • -ne is generally placed at the beginning of a sentence.
  • -ne is generally added to the verb of a sentence.

These three observations are enough to give a solid "yes" to your question. I'd love to see an answer if there is something more subtle at play.

  • This matches my intuition. I don't think I was ever taught this rule of thumb, but I just picked it up subconsciously. It would be great to see if there is harder evidence (corpus analysis, mention by a grammarian, or something) or more nuance.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 13:45

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