A Guide to Latin Interrogative Pronouns & Adjectives
Are you wondering about Latin interrogative pronouns and adjectives? Read this ultimate guide to learn what they are and how to use them.
I personally like interrogatives, because I find them less confusing than other types of Latin pronouns. They have a very straightforward and important use: introducing questions.
Keep reading for all the crucial details!
This post may contain affiliate links and I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. See my disclosures for more details.
Interrogative Pronouns vs. Interrogative Adjectives
Interrogative pronouns and adjectives are used to ask questions. This makes sense when you think about the meaning of “interrogative”.
“Interrogative” comes from the Latin verb interrogō, which means “question” or “interrogate.” Thus interrogative pronouns are literally pronouns that interrogate.
In English, we have two interrogative pronouns: who? and what? Similarly, Latin has quis? and quid?
Quis est in cubiculō? = Who is in the bedroom?
Quid est in cubiculō? = What is in the bedroom?
Interrogative pronouns stand on their own, both in English and in Latin.
Interrogative adjectives, on the other hand, modify a noun. The English interrogative adjectives are which? and what? We use them along with a noun to ask which person is doing something or what house is on fire.
The Latin interrogative adjective is quī, quae, quod. Just like in English, it modifies a noun.
Quī frāter est rēx? = Which brother is the king?
Quae sella est bona? = Which chair is good?
The main way of distinguishing between interrogative pronouns and adjectives is to see whether or not the word in question stands alone. (This does not always work in Latin, but it is a good starting rule!)
The Latin Interrogative Pronoun
The interrogative pronoun only has two genders in the singular: masculine and neuter. Quis? (who?) is always masculine by default in Classical Latin, although the answer to the question could be a woman.
Quis est laetus? – Fēmina est laeta. = Who is happy? The woman is happy.
This is just another instance of the masculine gender winning out over the feminine in Latin grammar. Quid? (what?) is the neuter form.
Now let’s look at quis and quid fully declined. You will notice that in the plural, unlike in the singular, the interrogative pronoun has all three genders.
If you have already learned about Latin relative pronouns, then these declension charts should look extremely familiar. The singular is almost identical to the singular of the relative pronoun, and the plural is identical to the plural of the relative pronoun.
This is good news, in a way, because it means that you have less forms to memorize. But it also means that you have to be extra careful whenever you see a word beginning with Q.
The following sentences give examples of Latin interrogative pronouns in all five cases.
Note that in Latin, you also need to pay attention to how many people or things you are asking a question about. In English, we don’t distinguish between singular who and plural who. In Latin we do.
Quis mē vocat? = Who is calling me?
Quis es? = Who are you?
Quī sunt cōnsulēs hōc annō? = Who are the consuls this year?
Cuius canis lātrat? = Whose dog is barking?
Quōrum nōmina in librō scrīpsistī? = Whose (plural) names did you write in the book?
Cui vēritātem dīxit? = To whom did he speak the truth?
Quibus pecūniam mīsistī? = To whom (plural) did you send the money?
Quid facis? = What are you doing?
Quem in hortō cēpēre? = Whom did they capture in the garden?
Quās iuvātis? = Whom (feminine plural) are you (plural) helping?
Dē quō loquiminī? = What are you (plural) talking about?
Ā quibus urbs est capta? = By whom (plural) was the city captured?
The Latin Interrogative Adjective
The declension of the interrogative adjective is exactly the same as the declension of the relative pronoun. This means that it is also very similar to the declension of the interrogative pronoun.
Let’s look at the full declension. Notice that, unlike the interrogative pronoun, the interrogative adjective has all three genders in the singular. This makes sense, because the adjective has to be able to agree with nouns of all three genders.
The interrogative adjective may look like the relative pronoun, but its use is different. It modifies a noun and can ask the following questions: which? what? what kind of? and what sort of?
Quī vir mē vocat? = Which / what kind of man is calling me?
Quae bella gerunt? = What sort of wars do they wage?
Cuius fēminae domus est? = Of which woman is the house? (i.e. Which woman does the house belong to?)
Dē factīs quōrum hominum fābulam nārrās? = Which men’s deeds are you telling a story about?
Cui puerō dōnum dedistī? = To which boy did you give a gift?
Quibus magistrīs librum lēgit? = To which teachers did s/he read a book?
Quod oppidum vidēs? = What town do you see?
Quōs mīlitēs vocat rēx? = Which / what soldiers is the king calling?
In quō locō urbs erit? = In what place will the city be?
Dē quibus librīs loqueris? = What / which books are you talking about?
Uses of Latin Interrogatives
We can find Latin interrogative pronouns and adjectives in two contexts: direct questions and indirect questions. If you have not learned about the subjunctive mood yet, then I recommend that you stop reading here and jump down to the final section of this post.
Still with me? Okay, it is time to define direct vs. indirect questions.
A direct question refers to the original speaker’s exact words. There will always be a question mark at the end of a direct question.
An indirect question, on the other hand, refers to a question that is reframed or repeated by another person. There will typically not be a question mark.
DIRECT QUESTION: Who is your friend?
INDIRECT QUESTION: My mother asked who my friend was.
Both kinds of questions use interrogatives. In Latin, the verb in an indirect question will be in the subjunctive mood.
Indirect questions follow verbs of asking, but also verbs of telling, hearing, etc. Let’s look at some more examples.
Quem fēcērunt rēgem? = Whom did they make king? (DIRECT QUESTION)
Pater mihi dīxit quem fēcissent rēgem. = My father told me whom they had made king. (INDIRECT QUESTION)
The first sentence is a direct question: the speaker could have asked their father this directly. The second sentence, on the other hand, includes an indirect question: the father tells his child the answer to the question about the new king.
Quae soror est minor? = Which sister is younger? (DIRECT QUESTION)
Rogō quae soror sit minor. = I ask which sister is younger. (INDIRECT QUESTION)
These examples show that indirect questions involve mediation. You aren’t simply asking a question yourself. Instead, you are repeating the question that someone asked, or relaying the fact that someone heard, saw, or told the answer to a question.
The key takeaway is that Latin interrogative pronouns and adjectives appear in two primary contexts.
As I have noted several times, Latin interrogative pronouns and adjectives look very similar to relative pronouns. This means that they fall into the dreaded category of Q-words (i.e. confusing Latin words beginning with Q).
Hopefully this post has helped you to feel more comfortable with Latin interrogatives. Remember, they may look like relatives, but they are used in a different way.
With interrogatives, there is always a question involved, whether it is a direct or an indirect question. This specific context will help you to know if you are dealing with an interrogative pronoun or adjective, or something else!
Looking for more information about Latin pronouns? You may also like the following posts:
Personal Pronouns (Ego, tū, etc.)
Reflexive Pronouns (Suī and more)