The Latin Dual

Don’t worry—it’s extinct! However, it’s insightful to see that ambō the long ō ending that is characteristic of Greek duals and dual-related adverbs: ἄμφω, δύω, κτλ.

The Essential AG: p.59, ftn.

Some Inter-esting Distinctions

In my last post, I introduced intra, to which I will now compare and contrast intra, a considerably more common and complex preposition, individuated from intra through the following uses.

1. The et double-accusative.

  • inter mōns et durum: between a rock and a hard place
  • inter tē et mē: between you and me

2. The inter sē construction.

  • inter sē loquuntur: they talk amongst themselves
  • inter se confērunt: they compare amongst themselves

3. The ‘amid’ construction.

  • inter hostium tēla: amid the weapons of the enemies
  • inter imbrim: during the rainfall
  • prīmus inter parēs: the first among equals

4. The temporal ‘while’ construction (with a gerund)

  • inter bibendum: while drinking
  • inter agendum: while carrying forward

The Essential AG: 221.15


Reminder: The Double Comparative with Intrā

This is just a quick reminder (of what I covered briefly in March 2012) that intrā gives rise to one of the few comparative / superlative adjectival pairs that is not derived from an adjective.

  • intrā, within —> interior, -ōris, inner —> intimus, a, -um inmost

A&G offer this fascinating footnote:

“The forms in -trā and -terus were originally comparative (cf. alter), so that the comparatives in -terior are double comparatives.” (my emphasis)

  • Like this: in + accusative —> intrā + accusative —> interior, -ōris

The Essential AG: 130a

Expression of Denial

In Latin speech, negō > nōn dīcō. That is, the phrase ‘I deny’ is everywhere preferable to the phrase ‘I do not say’ or ‘I say that…not.’

  • I say these things are untrue: dīcō haec nōn esse vēranegō haec esse vēra.
  • The Stoics claim that nothing is good but what is right: Stōcī dīcunt quidquam nōn esse bonum nisi honestum sit. Stōicī negant quidquam esse bonum nisi quod honestum sit.

The Essential  AG: 328, 580b

The Latin Syllabe

Latin syllables are numbered according to the separate vowels and diphthongs within a word.

a-ci-ē (3), fī-li-us (3), etc.

A consonant is generally contained within the unit of a following vowel, except where there is a double consonant, since paired consonants are always separated, or where a consonant ends a word.

pa-ter (2), in-iū-ri-a (4), mit-tō (2)

(Not that is a semi-consonantal glide pairing, where the i is sounded as the English y.)

This rule becomes trickier with double consonants: what do we do with dixit? (dix-it or di-xit?)

  • A&G prefer dix-it, but acknowledge there is no hard and fast rule. Like the corresponding Greek ξ, this word would have been sounded as dic-sit, so it’s really a matter of preference where you put the double consonant.
  • Luckily, the double consonants, sd and ps, are much rarer in Latin

Note the distinction between a

  • Any syllable founding with a vowel or diphthong is open.
  • Any syllable ending with a consonant is closed.

In compounds, the rules are modified a little to mark the separation of compounded parts.

du-plex (2) instead of dup-lex (2) [it’s not clear to me whether this is a matter of A&G convention, or broader Latin phonological patterns of pronunciation.]

The Essential AG: 7, 7a-b

Answering ‘Yes’

The Romans did not possess a word of affirmation—a ‘yes’ that stands alone. Instead, they used one of two ways to express a positive answer to a question.

1. The first is to repetition the verb of the question, which implies affirmation.

  • Do you sing?—I sing: canisne?—canō.
  • Does your father jog?—Indeed, he does: currit parēns?—currit.

This repetition is particular useful with double questions, where it allows the respondent to clearly choose one of the two (or few) options.

  • Did you see it, or are you repeating something you have heard?—I saw it myself: vīdistī an dē audītō nūntiās?—egomet vīdī.

2. There are a number of places where this would get awkward, so the Romans have a variety of affirmative adverbs to replace the repeated verb.

  • Is her name Julia?—Yes it is: Iūlia eī nomen est?—nomen est. (awkward)
  • Is her name Julia?—Yes it is: Iūlia eī nomen est?—ita vērō.

There a set number of these adverbs, and they sometimes couple to form more emphatic responses.

  • vērō, in truth, true, no doubt
  • etiam, even so, yes
  • ita, thusly, yes
  • sānē, surely, no doubt
  • certē, certainly, unquestionably
  • factum, true, so it is

Each of these has a its own flavor. ‘Factum‘ would be appropriate for past completed actions (think faciō), ‘certē‘ works both to affirm and to dispel the double of the questioner, whereas ‘vērō‘ is more of a calm rejoinder. Some combinations:

  • ita vērō, certainly
  • ita est, it is so
  • sānē quidem, absolutely

Some examples:

  • Is she as gorgeous as they say?—oh yes. estne ut fertur in formā?—sānē.
  • Did you already take out the trash?—I did. stramenta exduxistī?—factum.
  • Is he really so selfish?—He sure is. estne vērō tantum egoisticus?—ita vērō.

The Essential AG: 336a, 337

If you readers out there know of any other standard Latin ‘yes’s feel free to add them below.

On the Manifest Erudition of Ms. Sweet Brown

(Latin for Addicts recently celebrated its first birthday, so I thought I’d have some fun with this one.)

In a recent interview with KFOR News Channel 4, Ms. Sweet Brown suggested to a reporter that neither she nor anyone has the time in their lives to deal with the drastic inconvenience of developing bronchitis. Because her phrasing was fairly inconsistent with English prescriptivist snark, she received extended (and continued) mockery around the internet for her statement.

As Latinists, we ought to redeem Ms. Brown in light of her public shaming by demonstrating the extent to which her grammar is entirely acceptable in the Roman view. If we remind the present-day, pedantic peddlers of grammatical ‘rules’ that many such rules were founded on a failed attempt to create an English register which imitated the grammar of Latin, then they will be forced to admit that not only does Ms. Brown’s statement conform to this grammar, but also reaches the highest registers of Augustan verse poetry.

Let us review the statement.

“I got bronchitis. Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

The first portion of Ms. Brown’s statement, ‘I got bronchitis,’ correctly expresses the passive role of a victim in the context of a disease. The proper phrase, ‘I caught bronchitis,’ uses an equally Germanic verb ‘catch,’ which effects a clumsy idiom, since none of us heads out with a net (or an open mouth) deliberately seeking disease. Instead, disease attacks us, and Ms. Brown has rightly made use of the passive ‘get,’ which we see holds a passive sense in the following exempla: ‘I got your letter.’ ‘I got gum on my shoe.’ ‘I got laid.’ Her phrase, ‘I got bronchitis,’ is nicely aligned with these counterparts, whereas ‘I caught the letter,’ ‘I caught gum on my shoe,’ and ‘I caught laid,’ all render various awkward images. It seems Ms. Brown was calling attention to the inappropriate nature of this ‘correct’ English idiom and substituting the more appropriate ‘got.’

The second portion of Ms. Brown’s statement, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that,’ replicates the sort of double negation, internal elision and relative pronominal ellipsis achieved only in the highest register of Latin verse. Her phrase might be rendered thus in the Latin:

nōn nullō est tempus ad istum.

Why, we can even see that Ms. Brown’s statement could nicely produce a line of hexameter.

Bronchitatum tūlī. Nōn nullō tempus ad ist’ est.


The woman is brilliant. Make no mistake. Below are the references in AG for double negatives, elision and ellipsis.

The Essential AG: 326a, 612, 640

Answering Double Questions

To review, a double question offers a defined range of options, of which one is the true or most likely answer. Since I imagine you’re pros a asking double questions by now, here’s a triple question.

He asks whether the axes are Caesar’s or Cicero’s or Cato’s: quaesit an Caesāris an Cicerōnis an Catōnis secūrēs sunt.

To answer double or triple questions, the respondent had best echo the grammar of the question.

The are Cato’s: Catōnis [sunt].

Here’s another:

Did you see the boar itself, or merely smell its stench: vidistīne verrem ipsum an mōdō eius afflātum olfēcistī?

I just caught a whiff: mōdō olfēcī.

The Essential AG: 337

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.

Double Questions

Double Questions, AKA Alternative Questions, are yes-no inquiries, or more broadly, questions with a defined set of responses.

  • How many jelly beans are on the table? (Question)
  • Did you see him at the pool hall? (Double Question)
  • Did you see Juan, Julio or Fernando in the pool hall? (Double Question)

In English, we design double questions with the auxiliary ‘do/did/have + past participle,’ but in Latin, we design double questions with a pair of interrogative particles.

  • Utrum or -ne will stand in the first-word position (-ne is an enclitic ending for the first word)
  • An, anne (or) will stand in the second-word position
  • Annōn or necne (or not) will stand in the final-word position

Some examples:

  • Is it that you don’t know, if turtles can fly: utrum nescīs, an testūdinēs volāre possint? 
  • Did you desert Lucius Domitius, or did Domitius desert you: vōsne L. Domitium an vōs Domitius deseruit?
  • Shall I speak with Gabinius, or Pompey or both: Gabīniō dīcam anne Pompeiō an utrīque?
  • I ask, are these your words or not: quaerō, sint haec tua verba necne?

Note that in the third example, we see anne, which is actually quite rare. In the fourth, we see necne within an indirect question, where is it far more common than in a direct question. Also, note that the third and fourth questions feature an omission of the first of two particles, which is a fairly common omission.

Where an stands alone in the first position, we get a jolt of indignation or surprise:

  • Are you getting your hair dyed or not: an comās tingis annōn?!

The Essential A&G: 335