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573. An indirect question is any sentence or clause which is introduced by an interrogative word (pronoun, adverb, etc.), and which is itself the subject or object of a verb, or depends on any expression implying uncertainty or doubt. In grammatical form, exclamatory sentences are not distinguished from interrogative (see the third example below).

574. An indirect question takes its verb in the subjunctive.

Quid ipse sentiam expōnam. (Div. 1.10)
I will explain what I think.
[Direct: quid sentiō?]

Id possetne fierī cōnsuluit. (i. 1.32)
He consulted whether it could be done.
[Direct: potestne?]

Quam sīs audāx omnēs intellegere potuērunt. (Rosc. Am. 87)
All could understand how bold you are.
[Direct: quam es audāx!]

Doleam necne doleam nihil interest. (Tusc. 2.29)
It is of no account whether I suffer or not.
[Double question]

Quaesīvī ā Catilīnā in conventū apud M. Laecam fuisset necne. (Cat. 2.13)
I asked Catiline whether he had been at the meeting at Marcus Lœca's or not.
[Double question]

Rogat mē quid sentiam. He asks me what I think.
[cf. Rogat mē sententiam He asks me my opinion.]

Hōc dubium est, uter nostrum sit inverēcundior. (Acad. 2.126)
This is doubtful, which of us two is the less modest.

incertī quātenus Volerō exercēret victōriam (Liv. 2.55)
uncertain how far Volero would push victory
[As if dubitantēs quātenus, etc.]

Note— An indirect question may be the subject of a verb (as in the fourth example), the direct object (as in the first), the secondary object (as in the sixth), an appositive (as in the seventh).

575. The Sequence of Tenses in indirect question is illustrated by the following examples.

Dīcō quid faciam.
I tell you what I am doing.

Dīcō quid factūrus sim.
I tell you what I will (shall) do.

Dīcō quid fēcerim.
I tell you what I did.
(have done, was doing)

Dīxī quid facerem.
I told you what I was doing.

Dīxī quid fēcissem
I told you what I had done.
(had been doing)

Dīxī quid factūrus essem.
I told you what I would (should) do.
(was going to do)

Dīxī quid factūrus fuissem.
I told you what I would (should) have done.

a. Indirect questions referring to future time take the subjunctive of the 1st periphrastic conjugation.

Prōspiciō quī concursūs futūrī sint. (Caecil. 42)
I foresee what throngs there will be.
[Direct: quī erunt?]

Quid sit futūrum crās, fuge quaerere. (Hor. Od. 1.9.13)
Forbear to ask what will be on the morrow.
[Direct: quid erit or futūrum est?]

Posthāc nōn scrībam ad tē quid factūrus sim, sed quid fēcerim. (Att. 10.18)
Hereafter I shall not write to you what I am going to do, but what I have done.
[Direct: quid faciēs (or factūrus eris?quid fēcistī?]

Note— This periphrastic future avoids the ambiguity which would be caused by using the present subjunctive to refer to future time in such clauses.

b. The Deliberative Subjunctive (§ 444) remains unchanged in an indirect question, except sometimes in tense.

Quō mē vertam nesciō. (Clu. 4)
I do not know which way to turn.
[Direct: quō mē vertam?]

Neque satis cōnstābat quid agerent. (B. G. 3.14)
And it was not very clear what they were to do.
[Direct: quid agāmus?]

Nec quisquam satis certum habet, quid aut spēret aut timeat. (Liv. 22.7.10)
Nor is any one well assured what he shall hope or fear.
[Here the future participle with sit could not be used.]

incertō quid peterent aut vītārent (id. 28.36.12)
since it was doubtful what they should seek or shun
(Ablative Absolute)

c. Indirect questions often take the indicative in early Latin and in poetry.

vīneam quō in agrō cōnserī oportet sīc observātō (Cato R. R. 6.4)
in what soil a vineyard should be set you must observe thus

d. Nesciō quis, when used in an indefinite sense (somebody or other), is not followed by the subjunctive. So also nesciō quō (unde, etc.), and the following idiomatic phrases which are practically adverbs.

mīrum (nīmīrum) quam
marvellously (marvellous how)

mīrum quantum
tremendously (marvellous how much)

immāne quantum
monstrously (monstrous how much)

sānē quam

valdē quam

Examples are:

quī istam nesciō quam indolentiam māgnopere laudant (Tusc. 3.12)
who greatly extol that freedom from pain, whatever it is

Mīrum quantum prōfuit. (Liv. 2.1)
It helped prodigiously

Ita fātō nesciō quō contigisse arbitror. (Fam. 15.13)
I think it happened so by some fatality or other.

nam suōs valdē quam paucōs habet (id. 11.13A. 3)
for he has uncommonly few of his own

Sānē quam sum gāvīsus. (id. 11.13A. 4)
I was immensely glad.

immāne quantum discrepat (Hor. Od. 1.27.5)
is monstrously at variance.

576. In colloquial usage and in poetry the subject of an indirect question is often attracted into the main clause as object (Accusative of Anticipation).

Nōstī Mārcellum quam tardus sit. (Fam. 8.10.3)
You know how slow Marcellus is.
[For nōstī quam tardus sit Mārcellus. Cf. “I know thee who thou art.”]

cf. Potestne igitur eārum rērum, quā rē futūrae sint, ūlla esse praesēnsiō? (Div. 2.15)
Can there be, then, any foreknowledge as to those things, why they will occur?
[A similar use of the Objective Genitive.]

Note— In some cases the object of anticipation becomes the subject by a change of voice, and an apparent mixture of relative and interrogative constructions is the result.

Quīdam saepe in parvā pecūniā perspiciuntur quam sint levēs. (Lael. 63)
It is often seen, in a trifling matter of money, how unprincipled some people are.
(some people are often seen through, how unprincipled they are)

Quem ad modum Pompêium oppūgnārent ā mē indicātī sunt. (Leg. Agr. 1.5)
It has been shown by me in what way they attacked Pompey.
(they have been shown by me, how they attacked)

a. An indirect question is occasionally introduced by in the sense of whether (like if in English, cf. § 572.b. Note).

Circumfunduntur hostēs sī quem aditum reperīre possent. (B. G. 6.37)
The enemy pour round [to see] if they can find entrance.

Vīsam sī domī est. (Ter. Haut. 170)
I will go see if he is at home.

Note— This is strictly a protasis, but usually no apodosis is thought of, and the clause is virtually an indirect question. For the Potential Subjunctive with forsitan (originally an indirect question), see § 447.a.

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.