Daily Used Latin Phrases

Latin Words, Phrases, and Mottos Every Man Should Know

Many English speakers may not realize how often English words are actually taken, verbatim, from both ancient and modern languages. Latin, in particular, has been extremely influential not only on the romance languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, but also on today’s English. It may come as a surprise to learn that English speakers use common Latin phrases every day, most recognizably in the sciences.

Ex Officio Administration Coercion Old Letter

Ex Officio – From the office

  1. a posteriori — from the latter; knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence
  2. a priori — from what comes before; knowledge or justification is independent of experience
  3. acta non verba — deeds, not words
  4. ad hoc — to this — improvised or made up. In Latin, ad hoc literally means to this, which has been adapted by English speakers as a saying that denotes that something is created or done for a particular purpose, as necessary. Usually, one does something on an ad hoc basis (e.g., she answered questions on an ad hoc basis).
  5. ad hominem — to the man; below-the-belt personal attack rather than a reasoned argument
  6. ad honorem — for honor
  7. ad infinitum — to infinity
  8. ad nauseam — used to describe an argument that has been taking place to the point of nausea
  9. ad victoriam — to victory; more commonly translated into “for victory,” this was a battle cry of the Romans
  10. alea iacta est — the die has been cast
  11. alias — at another time; an assumed name or pseudonym
  12. alibi — elsewhere; The word alibi is a Latin phrase that simply means elsewhere, which will make sense to all you crime drama addicts out there who are familiar with the term as used by police, investigators, and other law enforcement professionals. Nowadays, alibi commonly refers to evidence that someone did not commit a (usually) criminal act because he or she was elsewhere at the time the act was committed.
  13. alma mater — nourishing mother; used to denote one’s college/university
  14. amor patriae — love of one’s country
  15. amor vincit omnia — love conquers all
  16. annuit cœptis –He (God) nods at things being begun; or “he approves our undertakings,” motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States and on the back of the United States one-dollar bill
  17. ante bellum — before the war; commonly used in the Southern United States as antebellum to refer to the period preceding the American Civil War
  18. ante meridiem — before noon; A.M., used in timekeeping
  19. aqua vitae — water of life; used to refer to various native distilled beverages, such as whisky (uisge beatha) in Scotland and Ireland, gin in Holland, and brandy (eau de vie) in France
  20. arte et marte — by skill and valour
  21. astra inclinant, sed non obligant — the stars incline us, they do not bind us; refers to the strength of free will over astrological determinism
  22. audemus jura nostra defendere — we dare to defend our rights; state motto of Alabama
  23. audere est facere — to dare is to do
  24. audio — I hear
  25. aurea mediocritas — golden mean; refers to the ethical goal of reaching a virtuous middle ground between two sinful extremes
  26. auribus teneo lupum — I hold a wolf by the ears; a common ancient proverb; indicates that one is in a dangerous situation where both holding on and letting go could be deadly; a modern version is, “to have a tiger by the tail”
  27. aut cum scuto aut in scuto — either with shield or on shield; do or die, “no retreat”; said by Spartan mothers to their sons as they departed for battle
  28. aut neca aut necare — either kill or be killed
  29. aut viam inveniam aut faciam — I will either find a way or make one; said by Hannibal, the great ancient military commander
  30. barba non facit philosophum — a beard doesn’t make one a philosopher
  31. bellum omnium contra omnes — war of all against all
  32. bis dat qui cito dat — he gives twice, who gives promptly; a gift given without hesitation is as good as two gifts
  33. bona fide — good faith or With good faithAnother common Latin phrase, bona fide literally means with good faith. The meaning has changed somewhat in English usage to mean something that is real or genuine (e.g., she was a bona fide expert in the social structures of humpback whales).
  34. bono malum superate — overcome evil with good
  35. Bonus — Good; Bonus, from the Latin adjective bonus, which means good, refers to any number of good things in its current English usage. Most often, bonus refers to an extra sum of money or reward from one’s employer for good performance, which of course is always a good thing.
  36. carpe diem — seize the day; A common phrase with motivational speakers and go-getters, carpe diem is a Latin phrase that means seize the day, made popular by the Roman poet Horace. It is usually used to motivate others to make the most of the present and stop worrying about the future.
  37. caveat emptor — let the buyer beware; the purchaser is responsible for checking whether the goods suit his need
  38. circa — around, or approximately
  39. citius altius forties — faster, higher, stronger; modern Olympics motto
  40. cogito ergo sum — “I think therefore I am”; famous quote by Rene Descartes
  41. contemptus mundi/saeculi — scorn for the world/times; despising the secular world, the monk or philosopher’s rejection of a mundane life and worldly values
  42. corpus christi — body of Christ
  43. corruptissima re publica plurimae leges — when the republic is at its most corrupt the laws are most numerous; said by Tacitus
  44. creatio ex nihilo — creation out of nothing; a concept about creation, often used in a theological or philosophical context
  45. cura te ipsum — take care of your own self; an exhortation to physicians, or experts in general, to deal with their own problems before addressing those of others
  46. curriculum vitae — the course of one’s life; in business, a lengthened resume
  47. de facto — from the fact; distinguishing what’s supposed to be from what is reality. Or — In fact; De facto is a Latin phrase that, literally translated, means of fact. Nowadays, it is used to highlight something that is simply a fact or someone who holds a position, with or without the right to do so (e.g., she was the de facto leader of the book club).
  48. deo volente — God willing
  49. deus ex machina — God out of a machine; a term meaning a conflict is resolved in improbable or implausible ways
  50. dictum factum — what is said is done
  51. disce quasi semper victurus vive quasi cras moriturus — learn as if you’re always going to live; live as if tomorrow you’re going to die
  52. discendo discimus — while teaching we learn
  53. docendo disco, scribendo cogito — I learn by teaching, think by writing
  54. ductus exemplo — leadership by example
  55. ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt — the fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling; attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  56. dulce bellum inexpertis — war is sweet to the inexperienced
  57. dulce et decorum est pro patria mori — it is sweet and fitting to die for your country
  58. dulcius ex asperis — sweeter after difficulties
  59. e.g.:— For example; Commonly confused with the similar Latin term i.e., e.g. stands for the Latin phrase exempli gratia, meaning for the sake of example. In English, it is used to introduce a list of examples in place of the phrase such as.
  60. e pluribus unum — out of many, one; on the U.S. seal, and was once the country’s de facto motto
  61. emeritus — veteran; retired from office
  62. ego— I; A popular term in psychology, ego in fact began as the Latin equivalent of the first person pronoun, I, which makes sense when considering its modern meaning, which refers to an individual’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem.
  63. ergo — therefore; Ergo, an adverb meaning therefore, is one Latin phrase that has maintained its meaning exactly in English usage.
  64. et alii — and others; abbreviated et al.
  65. et cetera — and the others or And so on; Used at the end of a list to indicate that further items could be included, et cetera (or etc.) literally translates to and the rest.
  66. et tu, Brute? — last words of Caesar after being murdered by friend Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, used today to convey utter betrayal
  67. ex animo — from the heart; thus, “sincerely”
  68. ex libris — from the library of; to mark books from a library
  69. ex nihilo — out of nothing
  70. ex Officio —  from the office
  71. ex post facto — from a thing done afterward; said of a law with retroactive effect
  72. Extra— In addition to; A common English adjective and prefix, extra is a Latin preposition that means outside or in addition. In English, extra is an adjective, adverb, or prefix that means additional, in addition, or to a greater extent.
  73. faber est suae quisque fortunae — every man is the artisan of his own fortune; quote by Appius Claudius Caecus
  74. fac fortia et patere — do brave deeds and endure
  75. fac simile — make alike; origin of the word “fax”
  76. flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo — if I cannot move heaven I will raise hell; from Virgil’s Aeneid
  77. fortes fortuna adiuvat — fortune favors the bold
  78. fortis in arduis — strong in difficulties
  79. gloria in excelsis Deo — glory to God in the highest
  80. habeas corpus — you should have the body; a legal term from the 14th century or earlier; commonly used as the general term for a prisoner’s right to challenge the legality of their detention
  81. habemus papam — we have a pope; used after a Catholic Church papal election to announce publicly a successful ballot to elect a new pope
  82. historia vitae magistra — history, the teacher of life; from Cicero; also “history is the mistress of life”
  83. hoc est bellum — this is war
  84. homo unius libri (timeo) — (I fear) a man of one book; attributed to Thomas Aquinas
  85. honor virtutis praemium — esteem is the reward of virtue
  86. hostis humani generis — enemy of the human race; Cicero defined pirates in Roman law as being enemies of humanity in general
  87. humilitas occidit superbiam — humility conquers pride
  88. i.e.— That is; Sometimes mistaken for the similar abbreviation e.g., i.e. stands for the Latin phrase id est, which literally translates to that is. It is most often used to add information that states something in different words or to give a more specific example: Most of the puppies (i.e., four of the six) found homes over the weekend.
  89. igne natura renovatur integra — through fire, nature is reborn whole
  90. ignis aurum probat — fire tests gold; a phrase referring to the refining of character through difficult circumstances
  91. in absentia — in the absence
  92. in aqua sanitas — in water there is health
  93. in flagrante delicto — in flaming crime; caught red-handed, or in the act
  94. in memoriam — into the memory; more commonly “in memory of”
  95. in omnia paratus — ready for anything
  96. in situ — in position; something that exists in an original or natural state
  97. in toto — in all or entirely
  98. in umbra, igitur, pugnabimus — then we will fight in the shade; made famous by Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae and by the movie 300
  99. in utero — in the womb
  100. in vitro — in glass; biological process that occurs in the lab
  101. impromptu— Spontaneous; From the Latin phrase in promptu, meaning in readiness, impromptu is a common English adjective or adverb that describes something spontaneous (e.g., she threw an impromptu birthday party for her best friend).
  102. incepto ne desistam — may I not shrink from my purpose
  103. intelligenti pauca — few words suffice for he who understands
  104. intro— Within; Originally the first-person present indicative form of the Latin verb intro, meaning to enter, intro in English usage has become a prefix or informal noun that describes the beginning of something (i.e., an introduction).
  105. invicta — unconquered
  106. invictus maneo — I remain unvanquished
  107. ipso facto — by the fact itself; something is true by its very nature
  108. labor omnia vincit — hard work conquers all
  109. laborare pugnare parati sumus — to work, (or) to fight; we are ready
  110. labore et honore — by labor and honor
  111. leges sine moribus vanae — laws without morals [are] vain
  112. lex parsimoniae — law of succinctness; also known as Occam’s Razor; the simplest explanation is usually the correct one
  113. lex talionis — the law of retaliation
  114. magna cum laude — with great praise
  115. magna est vis consuetudinis — great is the power of habit
  116. magnum opus — great work; said of someone’s masterpiece
  117. mala fide — in bad faith; said of an act done with knowledge of its illegality, or with intention to defraud or mislead someone; opposite of bona fide
  118. malum in se — wrong in itself; a legal term meaning that something is inherently wrong
  119. malum prohibitum — wrong due to being prohibited; a legal term meaning that something is only wrong because it is against the law
  120. mea culpa — my fault
  121. meliora — better things; carrying the connotation of “always better”
  122. memento mori — remember that [you will] die; was whispered by a servant into the ear of a victorious Roman general to check his pride as he paraded through cheering crowds after a victory; a genre of art meant to remind the viewer of the reality of his death
  123. memento vivere — remember to live
  124. memores acti prudentes future — mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be
  125. modus operandi — method of operating; abbreviated M.O.
  126. montani semper liberi — mountaineers [are] always free; state motto of West Virginia
  127. morior invictus — death before defeat
  128. morituri te salutant — those who are about to die salute you; popularized as a standard salute from gladiators to the emperor, but only recorded once in Roman history
  129. morte magis metuenda senectus — old age should rather be feared than death
  130. multi— Many; Multi is the plural form of the Latin adjective multus, meaning many. In English, it is used as a prefix to describe something that contains more than one of something else (e.g., multicolored, multifaceted, multicultural, etc.).
  131. mulgere hircum — to milk a male goat; to attempt the impossible
  132. multa paucis — say much in few words
  133. nanos gigantum humeris insidentes — dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants; commonly known by the letters of Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
  134. nec aspera terrent — they don’t terrify the rough ones; frightened by no difficulties; less literally “difficulties be damned”
  135. nec temere nec timide — neither reckless nor timid
  136. nil volentibus arduum — nothing [is] arduous for the willing
  137. nolo contendere — I do not wish to contend; that is, “no contest”; a plea that can be entered on behalf of a defendant in a court that states that the accused doesn’t admit guilt, but will accept punishment for a crime
  138. non ducor, duco — I am not led; I lead
  139. non loqui sed facere — not talk but action
  140. non progredi est regredi — to not go forward is to go backward
  141. non scholae, sed vitae discimus — we learn not for school, but for life; from Seneca
  142. non sequitur — it does not follow; in general, a comment which is absurd due to not making sense in its context (rather than due to being inherently nonsensical or internally inconsistent); often used in humor
  143. non sum qualis eram — I am not such as I was; or “I am not the kind of person I once was”
  144. nosce te ipsum — know thyself; from Cicero
  145. novus ordo seclorum — new order of the ages; from Virgil; motto on the Great Seal of the United States
  146. nulla tenaci invia est via — for the tenacious, no road is impassable
  147. obliti privatorum, publica curate — forget private affairs, take care of public ones; Roman political saying which reminds that common good should be given priority over private matters for any person having a responsibility in the State
  148. panem et circenses — bread and circuses; originally described all that was needed for emperors to placate the Roman mob; today used to describe any entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters
  149. para bellum — prepare for war; if you want peace, prepare for war; if a country is ready for war, its enemies are less likely to attack
  150. parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus — when you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things; sometimes translated as, “once you have accomplished small things, you may attempt great ones safely”
  151. pater familias — father of the family; the eldest male in a family
  152. pecunia, si uti scis, ancilla est; si nescis, domina — if you know how to use money, money is your slave; if you don’t, money is your master
  153. per angusta ad augusta — through difficulties to greatness
  154. per annum — by the year
  155. per capita — by the person
  156. per diem — by the day
  157. per se — through itself or in itself; Meaning by, of, for, or in itself in Latin, per se is a common phrase used to emphasize the importance or connection of something (e.g., it was not the book per se that was important, but the message the author tried to get across).
  158. persona non grata — person not pleasing; an unwelcome, unwanted or undesirable person
  159. pollice verso — with a turned thumb; used by Roman crowds to pass judgment on a defeated gladiator
  160. post meridiem — after noon; P.M.; used in timekeeping
  161. post mortem — after death
  162. postscriptum — thing having been written afterward; in writing, abbreviated P.S.
  163. praemonitus praemunitus — forewarned is forearmed
  164. praesis ut prosis ne ut imperes — lead in order to serve, not in order to rule
  165. primus inter pares — first among equals; a title of the Roman Emperors
  166. pro bono — for the good; in business, refers to services rendered at no charge. Pro bono indicates that something is being done without payment or reimbursement. The phrase is often applied when lawyers provide legal services for little or no money, though its use is not exclusive to the legal profession.
  167. pro rata — for the rate
  168. quam bene vivas referre (or refert), non quam diu — it is how well you live that matters, not how long; from Seneca
  169. quasi — as if; as though
  170. qui totum vult totum perdit — he who wants everything loses everything; attributed to Seneca
  171. quid agis — what’s going on; what’s up, what’s happening, etc.
  172. quid pro quo — this for that; an exchange of value or something for something; A contrasting philosophy to pro bono is quid pro quo. It is an “eye-for-an-eye” type of saying that is used in English to signify a favor or advantage given in return for something of equal value. A popular saying with vindictive villains, quid pro quo literally means something for something.
  173. quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur — whatever has been said in Latin seems deep; or “anything said in Latin sounds profound”; a recent ironic Latin phrase to poke fun at people who seem to use Latin phrases and quotations only to make themselves sound more important or “educated”
  174. quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — who will guard the guards themselves?; commonly associated with Plato
  175. quorum — of whom; the number of members whose presence is required under the rules to make any given meeting constitutional
  176. re— about; You probably use this Latin preposition every day without really understanding its meaning. Re simply means about, and in modern times, we see it used most often in responses to emails and in other correspondence to refer to an earlier topic of discussion.
  177. requiescat in pace — let him rest in peace; abbreviated R.I.P.
  178. rigor mortis — stiffness of death
  179. scientia ac labore — knowledge through hard work
  180. scientia ipsa potentia est — knowledge itself is power
  181. semi— Half; A prefix borrowed from Latin, semi translates to half. When used in English, it indicates that something is incomplete or partially finished (e.g., semidetached, semiautomatic, semi-final, etc.).
  182. semper anticus — always forward
  183. semper fidelis — always faithful; U.S. Marines motto
  184. semper fortis — always brave
  185. semper paratus — always prepared
  186. semper virilis — always virile
  187. si vales, valeo — when you are strong, I am strong
  188. si vis pacem, para bellum — if you want peace, prepare for war
  189. sic parvis magna — greatness from small beginnings — motto of Sir Frances Drake
  190. sic semper tyrannis — thus always to tyrants; attributed to Brutus at the time of Julius Caesar’s assassination, and to John Wilkes Booth at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination; whether it was actually said at either of these events is disputed
  191. sic vita est — thus is life; the ancient version of “it is what it is”
  192. sola fide — by faith alone
  193. sola nobilitat virtus — virtue alone ennobles
  194. solvitur ambulando — it is solved by walking
  195. spes bona — good hope
  196. statim (stat) — immediately; medical shorthand
  197. status quo — the situation in which; current condition or existing state of affairs; This straight-up Latin phrase literally translates to the state in which and is used in English to describe an existing state of affairs, usually related to political or social issues.
  198. subpoena — under penalty
  199. sum quod eris — I am what you will be; a gravestone inscription to remind the reader of the inevitability of death
  200. summa cum laude — with highest praise
  201. summum bonum — the supreme good
  202. suum cuique — to each his own
  203. tabula rasa — scraped tablet; “blank slate”; John Locke used the term to describe the human mind at birth, before it had acquired any knowledge
  204. tempora heroic — Heroic Age
  205. tempus edax rerum — time, devourer of all things
  206. tempus fugit — time flees; commonly mistranslated “time flies”
  207. terra firma — firm ground
  208. terra incognita — unknown land; used on old maps to show unexplored areas
  209. vae victis — woe to the conquered
  210. vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas — vanity of vanities; everything [is] vanity; from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1)
  211. veni vidi vici — I came, I saw, I conquered; famously said by Julius Caesar
  212. verbatim — repeat exactly or in exactly the same words; Derived from the Latin verbum, which simply means word, verbatim refers to repeating something word-for-word from the original.
  213. veritas et aequitas — truth and equity
  214. versus — against; This common Latin phrase was originally a preposition meaning against or toward. In English, versus is used to signify opposing forces or oppositions and contrasts.
  215. veto — I forbid
  216. vice versa — to change or turn around or the other way around; Vice versa is a Latin phrase that literally means in a turned position. In English, it is commonly used to indicate that two things are interchangeable.
  217. vincit qui patitur — he conquers who endures
  218. vincit qui se vincit — he conquers who conquers himself
  219. vir prudens non contra ventum mingit — [a] wise man does not urinate [up] against the wind
  220. virile agitur — the manly thing is being done
  221. viriliter agite — act in a manly way
  222. viriliter agite estote fortes — quit ye like men, be strong
  223. virtus tentamine gaudet — strength rejoices in the challenge
  224. virtute et armis — by virtue and arms; or “by manhood and weapons”; state motto of Mississippi
  225. vive memor leti — live remembering death
  226. vivere est vincere — to live is to conquer; Captain John Smith’s personal motto
  227. vivere militare est — to live is to fight
  228. vox populi — voice of the people

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