Answering ‘No.’

There are several ways to respond ‘no’ in Latin.

1. The first is to repetition the verb of the question and add nōn, which expresses denial.

  • Do you sing?—I do not sing: canisne?—nōn canō.
  • Does your father jog?—No, he doesn’t: currit parēns?—nōn currit.

2. As with affirmations, there are a number of places where this would get awkward, so the Romans have a variety of negating adverbs to replace the repeated verb.

  • Is this a frog?—no it is not: estne rana?—nōn est. (awkward)
  • Is this a frog?—nope. estne rana?—nōn.

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

  • nōn, no, not so
  • minimē, not at all
  • nūllo modō, by no means

Unlike the affirmations, negation responses are fairly homogenous in sense. ‘Nōn‘ is simple the tame counterpart to anything else. Some of the combinations have more a vibrant semantic character:

  • minimē vērō, certainly not
  • nōn quidem, no way!
  • nōn hercle vēro, oh, heavens no!

Some examples:

  • Is she as gorgeous as they say?—hell no. estne ut fertur in formā?—nōn hercle vēro.
  • Did you already take out the trash?—nope. stramenta exduxistī?—nōn factum.
  • Is he really so selfish?—Not at all! estne vērō tantum egoisticus?—minimē vērō.

The Essential AG: 336b

If you readers out there know of any other standard Latin ‘no’s feel free to add them below.

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.

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