Interrogative Nam in Early Latin

in Mnemosyne
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The article examines the use of nam in close association with a question word (e.g. quisnam, nam quis) in early Latin. As Kroon (1995, 165-5) observes, the use mirrors explicative nam, in that it is found when a speaker seeks supplementary information, while explicative nam is used to provide it. If interrogative nam arose from a sarcastic use of explicative nam to comment on a dialogue partner’s failure to supply information, this could account for several nuances that commentators have found in nam questions.

Interrogative Nam in Early Latin

in Mnemosyne



BodelotC. Termes introducteurs et modes dans l’interrogation indirecte en Latin de Plaute à Juvenal 1990 Avignon

ErnoutA.MeilletA. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine 1979 Paris 4

HandF. Tursellinus seu de particulis latinis commentarii 1845 vol. 4 Leipzig

HoffmannJ.B.SzantyrA. Lateinische Syntax und Stylistik 1965 München

KroonC.H.M. Discourse Particles in Latin. A Study of nam, enim, autem, vero and at 1995 Amsterdam

KühnerR.StegmannC. Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache 1914 Hannover

LangslowD.R. Latin Discourse Particles, ‘Medical Latin’ and ‘Classical Latin’ Mnemosyne 2000 53 537 560

MüllerR. Sprechen und Sprache. Dialoglinguistische Studien zu Terenz 1997 Heidelberg

SchiwyP. Die syntaktischen Funktionen der Partikel “nam” 1932 diss., Breslau

SchrickxJ. Namque als Variante von nam? Mnemosyne 2009 62 250 271

Shackleton BaileyD.R. Num in Direct Questions: A Rule Restated CQ 1953 3 120 125

SickingC.M.J.van OphuijsenJ.M. Two Studies in Attic Particle Usage 1993 Leiden


See e.g. Hoffmann and Szantyr 1965504: “nam . . . ist ursprünglich bloße Versicherungspartikel ‘wahrlich doch ja’”. They cite questions with interrogative nam as examples for affirmative nam. Only Schiwy (1932) thinks that many instances of an affirmative use can be found in surviving texts.


Kroon 1995144-70.


Hand 184518: “Interrogatio quae ex animo magis commoto proficiscitur significantior fit per particulam nam” 20: “exprimitur admirationis vel expectationis vel cupiditatis motus”.


Kühner and Stegmann 19142.2.116 “lebhafte leidenschaftliche Fragen”; OLD s.v. nam 7 “lively or impatient questions”; Lorenz on Pl. Mos. 160 “in Fragen des Erstaunens oder der Entrüstung”.


Ernout and Meillet 1979428: “-nam enclitique s’ajoute à des pronoms ou à des particules de caractère interrogatif ou indefini pour renforcer l’indétermination”.


Kühner and Stegmann 19142.2.116. German denn has some similarity to nam in questions and is already cited in comparison by Hand (1845 18-9). Note that denn originally had the same meanings as dann; up to the eighteenth century a question ‘Warum denn?’ could also be posed with dann and denn could also be used as a temporal adverb. The fact that nam and denn share an explicative use need not be significant.


Kroon 1995165. A reactive move is one utterance or series of utterances made by a speaker in response to the utterances of another speaker: A. Give us a crisp! (initiating move) B. Buy your own! (reactive move).


Kroon 1995166.


Shackleton Bailey (1953) discusses apparent exceptions to the rule that num expects no. The pattern discussed here corresponds more or less to Shackleton Bailey’s group b “Surprise” (idem p. 122): “In English ‘not I suppose . . .’ ‘not by any chance . . .?’ ‘surely not?’ will often represent the force of num”.


Group a in Shackleton Bailey 1953121-2: “The speaker knows that the answer to the question is likely to be ‘Yes’ but is reluctant to believe it”.


Bodelot 199014-27.


Bodelot 199014-27. If using the same tables we compare only those questions that have nam equivalents (e.g. quis ubi quo) the proportion of indirect to direct questions without nam is 1: 1.8 a proportion only slightly higher than the 1: 2.2 for nam questions.

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