Distinguishing Double Questions

A&G have a note that carefully differentiates the double questions from a similar alternative—questions featuring the particles aut or vel / -ve. Let’s look at this distinction.

  • I ask whether he acted unjustly or dishonestly: quaerō num iniūstē aut improbē fēcerit.
  • I ask whether he acted unjustly or dishonestly: quaerō utrum iniūstē an improbē fēcerit. 

In the first question, there are two options on the table, neither of which are necessarily true. It may be that he acted neither unjustly nor dishonestly. In the double question (the second example), it is clear that he either acted unjustly or dishonestly. We have to pick one.

I don’t really like A&G’s example, so here’s another:

  • I ask whether she likes cats or dogs: quaerō num felēs aut canēs amet.
  • I ask whether she like cats or dogs: quaerō utrum felēs an canēs amet.

In the first of these two questions, we know nothing about this girl. We’re merely curious about whether she like animals. We might expect our respondent to say something such as, ‘no, she likes birds.’ In the second example, we asking whether she’s a cat-person or a dog-person, assuming she’s either one of the other.

(For cat-person Latinists, see the Bestiaria Latina Blog.)

These two types of questions are identical in written English, and differentiable only in stress pattern. In the first question, we would stress ‘ask.’ In the second question, we would stress ‘cats’ and ‘dogs.’

The Essential A&G: 335n.


4 comments on “Distinguishing Double Questions

  1. rsmease says:

    I don’t know of any ‘dog-person’ Latin blogs, but if anyone wants to leave a link in the comments below, they’re more than welcome.

  2. CharlieJ says:

    In English, I think one could signify the num/aut (non-mutually exclusive) meaning by inserting the word “either.” Does she like either cats or dogs? (She may like both or neither,)

    Also, you didn’t get around to vel/-ve. Is that the next installment?

  3. rsmease says:

    From what I could gleam of the passage in AG on double questions, vel/-ve would bear an equivalent sense to aut. So, for instance, ‘quaero utrum iniuste improbeve fecerit’ and ‘quaero utrum inuste vel improbe fecerit’ would be equivalent to the sentence above. Does that seem correct in your view?

  4. CharlieJ says:

    Yes, I think so. I find the wording of the note in AG a bit strange. There is a similar discussion of alternative questions with good examples in A Latin grammar for schools and colleges by George Martin Lane, secs. 1515-1525. You can find it on Google Books.

    The way you have construed the distinction seems accurate, but I think the more natural way of distinguishing the two question types is by utrum/-ne vs. num, rather than an vs. aut (although they correlate), since that’s usually what will be noticed first.

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