I was recently taking a sort of multiple choice quiz on just general Latin knowledge, and I came upon one question that threw me for a loop, so to speak. The question asked which of the options best described the differences between the question words -ne, nonne, and num. Using process of elimination, I found that there was only one answer where nonne was expecting an affirmative answer and num was expecting a negative answer. The problem was, however, that -ne was labelled as being used to express fear in the question. I have never really thought of using -ne in this way, and a quick lookup of the enclitic in Lewis and Short reveals just what I thought: that -ne was used for a question expecting a yes or no answer, or for emphasis. The word ne (negative of ut) can be used for fear clauses, but the question specifically had the enclitic form -ne. -ne is also used to add emphasis to a question, so one can see how this could be translated to fear in some way, but this seems rather a broad stroke to paint if one is trying to point out the distinctions between each of the words.

Therefore, my question is: can the enclitic -ne add specific connotations of fear to a question, and if so, are there examples of this in classical literature?

  • Are you sure it wasn't referring to cases like timeo ne + subj.?
    – brianpck
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 20:34
  • @brianpck Like I said in the question, it specifically asked about -ne in reference to questions. It would be rather odd if they actually meant ne in reference to questions.
    – Sam K
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 20:36
  • 1
    It sounds to me like the maker of this "quiz" misread a grammar book or just doesn't know what he's talking about. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong!
    – brianpck
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


The quiz seems to be wrong. The triplet nonne, num, -ne is indeed important for Latin questions, and therefore naturally studied together. It seems that at some point the author of the quiz mistook -ne for ne — perhaps they looked at the wrong dictionary entry by accident. And even for ne it is a case of overinterpretation; the conjunction has many uses and is used also for many subordinate clauses expressing fear, but the word itself does not imply fear. I would say that ne has a connection to fear, -ne does not, but neither expresses fear in itself.

I have never seen -ne expressing fear not seen any grammar or dictionary mention it. If I wanted to make a fearful question, I would specifically use one of the other two words mentioned: Num leo me edet? Nonne pater revertatur? Using -ne makes the question neutral, whereas in case of fear one type of answer is expected or hoped.

It is possible that there are ways to use -ne to indicate fear. Even if such examples are found, that is very rare and makes a silly question for a quiz. The main role of -ne in questions as opposed to those of nonne and num is quite clear and has nothing to do with fear.

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    And, even though ne is used in clauses of fearing, the conjunction itself does not indicate fear at all.
    – Anonym
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 22:55
  • @Anonym Indeed. I had not worded that quite clearly, so I added some emphasis to it.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 23:05

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