According to Wiktionary, the Greek word ναι comes from Ancient Greek ναί, which is a variation of νή, which comes from Proto-Indo-European ne, which means no.

Why can a word have the opposite meaning to its origin? Or was Wiktionary wrong here, and this word actually comes from another language?

  • 5
    If the etymology is true, perhaps, from something like, "isn't it"? In Slavic languages, you can add "ne?" for a confirmation of a statement you think is probably true. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 14:23
  • 3
    Hoffman's etymological dictionary of Greek does derive it from *nē, and linkes to Latin nē "truly". Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 14:45
  • 1
    Wiktionary doesn't say all of that. The entry for νή says “From the same source as Latin nē, enim.” Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 23:03
  • @J.Siebeneichler Yes, that's right. But in the page of Latin , it is said that the word is from PIE *ne, so I reduce it for the sake of the briefness.
    – Huy Ngo
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 13:34
  • 4
    @huy-ngo There are two etymology sections in the Latin page; you are quoting the first one, but it is the second one that is related to Greek ναί. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


Lat. 'really, true' and Tocharian B nai 'indeed, surely' seem to be the IE-parallels. The IE demonstrative *(h1e-)no- 'he there, that one' seems to be the root according to Beekes (with a questionmark though) and Babiniotis.

  • Actually, Beekes peppers it all with "?" and "could be". A hypothesis rather than a matter of agreement.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 22:59
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    Several Slavic langues have ano "yes" < = contraction from a ono "and that", where demonstrative ono "that" is probably related to *h1e-no? the construction looks like a Slavic innovation and has nothing to do with the Latin/Greek ; what are their arguments for *(h1e-)no-, do they maybe cite Slavic constructions such ano? Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 2:06
  • Oh, and also, ano is further reduced to no, so nai could be a shortening from a longer form, too Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 2:20
  • 1
    In Russian, na means "here, take it" (when addressing several people, it takes the form nate as if mimicking a verb). ona means "she", which is most likely unrelated, but in Old Russian, ona also meant "those" (plural neutrum). So na is a contraction from ona? I'm not sure about the grammatical role of the ending (same for the Greek forms). Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 15:39
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    German has a discourse marker "na"--concessive or ironic: "na klar, na sicher doch, natürlich" (bien sur, naturally); likewise but more diverse depending on intonation, "naja" (well …, comme ci comme ca, sure, not really), apellative: "Na?" (and? 'sup?); overlapping with nu "now": na dann mal los (so let's go; up and away?); Gothic ne-u-, n-u- is a preverbal "question marker", isn't it? cp also Lat nanciscor "3. (by extension) I possess by birth, have by nature" < *h₂neḱ- "to reach, attain" (cp enough, Ger genug vs genau "exact[ly]"), necro < *neḱ-, En dead certain
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 18:24

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