In English and many other languages, asking "can you close the window?" is not an inquiry on the ability to close the window but rather a request to do so. Can the (classical) Latin posse be used the same way? I looked at the Lewis & Short entry on posse and found no trace of such use.

I believe that, even if possible, this is not the most idiomatic request. I would rather say fac fenestram claudas or claude fenestram, quaeso. The question is whether a Roman would understand potesne fenestram claudere? as a request and whether there are any such uses is extant literature. Expressing requests as ability questions is a cultural matter, and the Roman culture may have been different from ours in this respect.

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"Questions" that are actually requests using the archaic "potin?" are numerous in Plautus, and they appear in Terence as well. I think based on the evidence that a Roman would readily understand this type of request-phrased-as-a-question but might find it somewhat rude or abrupt: the examples in the corpus always seem to carry a hint of exasperation.

Plautus Poenulus 916

Latin: M: Potin ut taceas? S: Taceo atque abeo.

English: M: Can you be quiet? S: I'm quiet and I'm leaving!

Terence Adelphoe 539

Latin: C. siquid rogabit, nusquam tu me: audistin? S. potin ut desinas?

English: C. If he asks, you haven't seen me anywhere: understand? S. Can you let it go?! (i.e. I get it already!)

  • Note that the regular potesne is also attested a number of times (in Cicero, Livy, Seneca, etc.)
    – Rafael
    Mar 1, 2019 at 13:08
  • 1
    “potesne” appears 10 time in the corpus, but in all authors (except Plautus) it is being used as an actual question (“are you able to?”), not a veiled request. Mar 1, 2019 at 13:37

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