I'm curious about whether or not we know how to ask questions in Sumerian. I know that many Sumerian questions words are known (who, what, when, where, etc), but in English, I can change any sentence into a question with or without a question word:

This is a book.
Is this a book?**
What is this?

He did his homework.
Did he do his homework?**
Who did his homework?
What did he do?

I'm curious about whether we know how they might have changed any Sumerian sentence into a question without using question words (aka forming a 'yes' or 'no' question). Those that are marked by asterisks are the ones I don't know how to form.

2 Answers 2


Surprisingly, Foxvog (my usual go-to for Sumerian grammar) doesn't seem to touch on this. But according to ETCSL's grammatical overview:

Most Sumerian clauses simply make a statement and, like the English indicative, are zero-marked. However, the same applies to closed questions, that is ones requiring only a yes or no answer, the implication being that they were signalled with a change in intonation (compare you're going out?).


In his award-winning doctoral thesis A descriptive grammar of Sumerian, 2010, Bram Jagersma devotes 2 sections to questions: 8.5 Interrogative pronouns (page 228) and 30.3 Interrogative clauses (page 716). To sum it up, interrogative pronouns are not put as the first word in a sentence, like in English, but instead they take the place of the part of the sentence they stand for (that's, like You whom saw?). The interrogative nominal clauses usually don't have any copula, while the declarative nominal clauses do have it (like You who? and Man that master your?).

  • 1
    A very useful resource! I'm not sure how I'd never come across this before.
    – Draconis
    Jun 26, 2021 at 23:12
  • 1
    Yeah, interrogative pronouns work similar to other languages in that respect. You hit whom? You hit me. 你是谁?你是朋友。誰ですか?パットリックです。
    – Patrick
    Jun 26, 2021 at 23:22
  • Yes, many see English is peculiar in this regard, but a few other languages put the question words at the beginning, including Arabic and Latin (may want to confirm for this one, though), however I believe that most languages put it in the middle as if it were any normal subject or object. Not surprisingly, it can also happen in informal English ('You saw who?' and 'He did what?'). Jun 27, 2021 at 3:37
  • 2
    Distinguishing between declarative and interrogative clauses through omission of a copula seems highly unusual. At least I’ve never come across it before. I wonder if there are any typological parallels to this..? Jun 29, 2021 at 11:19

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