Thursday, 22 July 2010


When, speaking English, we often ask questions which are looking for a simple, answer 'Yes' or 'No', and the manner in which we pose the question sometimes signals clearly to the respondent which answer we are expecting to receive, often indicating thereby the attitude or viewpoint of the questioner. Set out below is an analysis of the three types of such questions. Each example in English is translated into Latin and Greek. You will note that English has different forms of asking these questions, depending on the degree of emphasis the questioner wishes to inject. Readers with no previous knowledge of Latin, but who have heard references to 'Nonne' or 'Num' questions, will now be able to decipher what this distinction means.

(1) Simple question expecting either answer.

English: Do you wish to go home? OR Are you wishing to go home?

Latin: Visne ire domum?

Greek: ἆρ' ἐθελεις ἰέναι οἴκαδε;

(2) A question to which the expected answer is 'Yes'.

English: Aren't you wishing to go home? OR Surely you wish to go home? OR You do wish to go home, don't you?

Latin: Nonne vis ire domum?

Greek: ἆρ' οὐκ ἐθελεις ἰέναι οἴκαδε;

(3) A question to which the expected answer is 'No'.

English: Surely you don't wish to go home? OR You don't wish to go home, do you?

Latin: Num vis ire domum?

Greek: ἆρα μὴ ἐθελεις ἰέναι οἴκαδε;

N.B. The third type of the above questions does not always require an answer, since it is already felt to be 'No'.


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