Latin Words and Expressions: All You Need to Know

By Daniel Scocco - 5 minute read

latin words and expressions

Even though Latin is considered a dead language (no country officially speaks it), its influence upon other languages makes it still important. Latin words and expressions are present in virtually all the languages around the world, as well as on different scientific and academic fields.

Below you will find a list with the most used and important Latin words and expressions, enjoy!

Common Latin Words

alibi: elsewhere
alter: another
bellum: war
bonus: good
borealis: northern
corpus: body
derma: skin
dies: day
domus: home/house
ego: I/me
erectus: upright
gens: family
homo: human
malus: bad
magnus: great
nemo: nobody
omnis: everything
pax: peace
primus: first
qui: who
rex: king
sapiens: wise
terra: earth
tempus: time
virtus: virtue
vivo: live
vox: voice

Latin/Greek Numeral Prefixes

semi: half
uni: one
duo, bi: two
tri, tris: three
quadri, tetra: four
penta: five
hexa: six
hepta: seven
octo: eight
ennea: nine
deca: ten

Other Latin/Greek Prefixes

ad: towards
ambi: both
endo: within
extra: in addition to
exo: outside
hyper: over
hypo: under
infra: below
inter: between
intro: within
iso: equal
liber: free
macro: large
micro: small
mono: single
multi: many
omni: all
proto: first
poli: many
tele: distant
trans: across

General Latin Expressions

a priori: from the former. If you think something a priori, you are conceiving it before seeing the facts. Presupposing.

ad hoc: to this. Ad hoc refers to something that was creating for a specific purpose or situation. An ad hoc political committee, for instance, is formed for one specific case.

ad infinitum: to infinity. Something that goes ad infinitum keeps going forever. You could say that your wife hassles you ad infinitum, for example.

ad valorem: to the value. This expressed is used when something is related to the value of an object or transaction, like an ad valorem tax which is proportional to the value of the product.

ceteris paribus: other things being equal. This expressions if often used in economics where, in order to impact of something on the economy (e.g., inflation or unemployment), you need to hold other variables fixed.

de facto: common in practice, but not established by law. For example, English is the de facto official language of the United States.

honoris causa: for the sake of the honour: This is an honorary degree where an academic institution grants a doctorate to someone without the formal requirements (exams and the like). Usually the person receiving the degree has connections with the University or has made important achievements in a certain field.

in toto: entirely.

mutatis mutandis: with necessary changes. This expression is used to express agreement to something that, however, still need to be changed or amended.

per se: by itself. If something exists per se, for instance, it exists by itself, regardless of external factors.

sic: thus. Sic is usually used in newspapers or other publications (placed within square brackets [sic]) to indicate that the spelling error or unusual phrase on a quotation was reproduced as it was in the source, and therefore it is not an editorial error.

vice versa: the other way around. If you write “John loves Mary, and vice versa,” it means that Mary also loves John.

Q.E.D. (Quod erat demonstrandum): which was to be demonstrated. This Latin abbreviation is often used at the end of mathematical theorems in order to demonstrate that proof is complete.

Legal Latin Expressions

bona fide: good faith. In contract law, for instance, parties must always act in good faith if they are to respect the obligations.

de jure: by law. Some states are currently working on legislation that would make English the de jure official language of the United States.

dictum (plural dicta): a statement that forms part of the judgment of a court.

obiter dicta: a judge’s opinion offered in the course of a judgment but having no legal force.

ex parte: from, by, or for one party in a dispute. An ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present.

habeas corpus: (we command that) you bring forth the body. In this case, the “body” (corpus) refers to a living person who is being held in prison. The phrase has nothing to do with producing the corpse of an allegedly-murdered person.

ipso facto
: by the fact itself. Parents who have deliberately mistreated their child are ipso facto unfit custodians.

mens rea: guilty mind. The U.S. legal system requires that when a crime is committed, the perpetrator must have the intention to commit the crime. For example, a driver who strikes and kills a pedestrian because of faulty brakes is guilty of manslaughter, but not of murder. There was no intent to kill so the mind was not guilty. On the other hand, the wife who repeatedly runs over her husband with her SUV is guilty of murder because of her mens rea.

pro bono: (the original phrase is pro bono publico) for the public good. Sometimes high-priced lawyers come forward to defend suspects who would otherwise have to take their chances with someone from the Public Defender’s office. They work on the case pro bono, i.e., they don’t charge a fee.

prima facie: by first instance – this refers cases with sufficient evidence to warrant going forward with an arraignment.

quid pro quo: something for something. For example, the ADAs (assistant district attorneys) make deals with criminals, giving them shorter sentences in exchange for information that will enable them to convict other criminals. Another example of quid pro quo might occur between two lawyers, each of whom gives up some advantage to gain another.

Famous Latin Phrases

divide et impera: Divide and reign. It was a theory proposed by Niccolò Machiavelli and used previously by the Roman Senate to dominate the Mediterranean.

alea jacta est: the die is cast: This famous phrase was said by Julius Caesar upon crossing the Rubicon. Caesar was violating a law of the Roman Empire, hence why he was playing with luck.

veni vidi vici
: I came, I saw, I conquered. Another phrase said by Julius Caesar, this time upon the victory over Pharnaces, king of Pontus.

cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. This phrase was originally said in French by René Descartes, and it represents a corner-stone of the Western philosophy. The Latin translation is more widely used, though.

carpe diem: seize the day. This phrase comes from a poem by Horace. The phrase was made famous when it was used on the movie Dead Poets Society.

deus ex machina: God out of a machine. In ancient Greece when a plot was complicated or tangled, the play writers would just insert a God in the final act in order to solve all the problems. Usually a crane machine was used to drop the actor on stage, hence the name.

homo homini lupus: man is a wolf to men. This phrase was originally said by Plauto, but other philosophers also used it, including Bacon and Hobbes. The meaning is quite straight forward.

This article was written collaboratively by Daniel and Maeve. If you think there is Latin word or expression missing just let us know and we will update it.

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123 Responses to “Latin Words and Expressions: All You Need to Know”

  • Matt Jones

    A very in-depth post, but I think you should mention that you don’t actually need to know all those phrases to be competent at English. People may think we all walk about using all those phrases, which is not true.

  • Daniel

    Matt, yeah there is no reason to know all that by heart. It is a good idea to get familiarized though, since these words or expressions might appear on different contexts.

    Expressions like de facto or per se are used routinely on newspapers and other media.

  • Dean @ Technical Itch

    This is a nice concise list of latin phrases you’ll likely to come across. I agree there are only a few you will encounter on a routine basis.

    If you Google for “Latin Phrases” you can find web sites that list literally thousands of phrases which is probably way over the top for daily use. But nonetheless can be interesting to read.

  • Luciano Passuello

    Daniel, great listl – bookmarked!

    Although I’m not 100% sure that Vatican City is considered a country, its official language is Latin.

  • Daniel

    Luciano, the Vatican has no official language. I know that most documents use Latin there, but this is not specified by the constitution.

  • Pierre B

    One Latin expression that seems to be missing is inter alia. Often used in legal writing to replace among others or amongst others. A good follow tip would be when do you italics for Latin expressions

  • eric

    congrats. on your site i think it very informative and pro bono it is in toto sapiens but could you possibly include the phrase used by queen elizabeth some years ago now which you can follow this link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annus_Horribilis many thank eric let me know

  • Nick

    I was just wondering if anyone could give me a proper translation and spelling of

    “in the name of the father and of the son and the holy spirit amen”

    I need it for a tattoo design but I cant find it anywhere other then what has been told to me verbally so the spelling and translation might be off

    verbally sounds like “et nomine fili et patre espiritu ascanti”

  • Thomas

    Nice list!

    The two often used abbreviations e.g. and i.e. are missing, although there is a reference to another article specifically about those.

    And a correction: most of the numerical prefixes are not Latin at all. “Tetra”, “penta”, “hexa”, “ennea” are Greek exclusively; the others are of Greek origin although they are borrowed by Latin as well.
    http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romannumerals/a/LatinNumbers.htm
    http://foundalis.com/lan/grknum.htm

    Nick: This phrase reads in Latin: “In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” (Taken from the web, so no guarantees on the correctness, although it looks about right to me.)

  • Michel

    In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

    In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So be it.

  • Michel

    Not to pick nits but your numbers are greek.

    Found a good site
    phrontistery dot info slash numbers dot html

  • Michel

    And an even better one for the greek exo

    wordinfo dot info

  • Daniel

    Michel, just fixed it. I made it Latin/Greek prefixes.

  • Dave

    Another good Latin phrase is “silent enim leges inter arma”, “in times of war, the laws fall silent”. The maxim was rephrased as “inter arma enim silent leges” and was used after September 11 by the US media to whip up the population into supporting GWB’s warmongering.

    The phrase was first used in Cicero’s Pro Milone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro_Milone).

    It’s a good list, though you only give masculine singular forms for adjectives and there are a few words where you’ve only given one meaning out of many, and most of the prefixes are from Greek, not Latin (endo, exo, hyper, hypo, macro, micro, mono, proto, poli (should be poly) and tele).

    And you spelled ‘hourse’ [sic] wrong next to “domus”.

    Nice list though 🙂

  • Daniel

    Dave, the masculine singular form was used for the sake of simplicity. I don’t think that an average English speaker would need to know all the forms or conjugations. Same applies for giving just the most used meaning, and not all possible meanings.

    I added a Latin/Greek prefixes to the header. It is more accurate indeed.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  • Joe Cheray

    Actually the medical field still uses the Latin roots in medical terminology. The Pope is also trying to get the Catholic Mass reverted back to Latin. So for those needing even a small refresher on Latin this is a good starting point.

  • The Baldchemist

    “sic fide crustilum” – “thats the way the cookie crumbles” the baldchemist. my translation of modern idiom.

  • Özhan

    Et Tu Brute?

    et cetera

  • Chris

    Good list. You might want to add “res ipsa loquitur” (the thing speaks for itself — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Res_ipsa_loquitur) to the legal list.

    And, BTW, Plato is misspelled in the last entry

  • Daniel

    Chris, it was not Plato who said that, but Plauto 🙂 .

  • Daria

    I am thankful, just about every day, for the ONE year I took Latin in High School.

    I took it initially to help me in a Scientific field, but it helps in every day life – so much so that I actually bought an old Latin text book on eBay last year.

    Who else do you know that can conjegate the verb ‘to go’ in Latin???

  • subra shankar

    In pari delicto yes knowing these is not guilt and not knowing is equally not guilt. Interesting post and it gave me a chance to recall a lot of latin terms that were forced upon while learning law and particularly edictum. uberima fedi is the warning for those who use these terms out of context or just to add glitter

  • Jenny

    I’ve always wanted to take Latin. It seemed like a fun language and I could make fun of my bro-in-law’s girlfriend and she wouldn’t know what was what. xD

  • TAMIL

    HI

  • VINOTH

    HOW ARE YOU

  • Dave

    Jenny: it’s not fun, it’s FUNctional. Very useful to have a root in Latin/Ancient Greek for learning new languages down the line.

    As for insulting people in Latin, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. There are only so many insults until you run out of useful vocabulary. That and the fact that nobody can understand you, and when you point out that you were speaking Latin, nobody cares, unless they want you to re-enact that bit from Monty Python (‘romanes eunt domus, people called Romans they go the house?’).

    Still, don’t want to put you off learning it – some of the best stories that have ever been told were originally told in Latin (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid etc.), some of the wittiest things ever written too (Martial’s Epigrams, Juvenal’s Satires, anything by Ovid), the framework of the language helps your brain work in a logical and analytical way, and knowledge of Latin helps you with any other languages you want to learn (even non-inflected tongues, it still helps with your grammar basis).

    However, it most certainly isn’t *fun* until you gain fluency (which takes a long time due to the amount of grammatical constructions and vocabulary (including ‘hapax legomenon’s – words that only occur once in surviving works); and making fun of people in Latin is really not going to gain you any cool points.

    Also, in-depth study of classical languages often makes your written prose sound like somebody double or triple your age.

    I’m 24.

  • arthur

    “Quod era demonstrandum” – should be Quod eraT demonstrandum, I think. Nice list, though.

  • UncleJohn

    post hoc ergo propter hoc
    a fortiori
    in medio stat virtus
    in media res
    ad interim
    ab ovo usque ad mala

    and fix
    homo homini lupus (not hominis..)

  • John

    How about “Obesa cantavit” —the Fat Lady has sung?…or
    “Oscula terga mea”—Press your lips to my nether regions…or something like that 🙂

  • Petronius Arbitr

    Isn’t it

    Homo homini lupus est ?

    ( I think in this sense it’s a bit like English, needs a meaningless verb)

  • Val

    Great article!

    I am so glad that I was able to study Latin in High School. In the early 1960’s Latin was still a compulsory course, though the year after I started high school it was removed from the curriculum, in itself, a word of interesting Latin origin.

    Latin has a certain authority that other languages lack, especially in its written form.

    The powerful WW1 poem by Wilfred Owen entitled “Dulce et Decorum Est” would not have the same impact were the title written in any other language.

    The title and the Latin exhortation of the final two lines are drawn from a poem of Horace (Odes iii 2.13):

    “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
    mors et fugacem persequitur virum
    nec parcit inbellis iuventae
    poplitibus timidove tergo.”

    “How sweet and fitting it is to die for your native land:
    Death pursues the man who flees,
    spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
    Of battle-shy youths.”

    Indeed, Owen’s brilliant play on words and horrific imagery showed exactly how ‘unsweet’ it really is to die in combat for one’s native land.

  • Arian

    i want to say: Who cares?/a quien le importa

    I thought quis curat/capit/attendet is that right?

  • Jason Peck

    Hi Daniel

    I really nejoyed this article. However I am reminded of the Latin lesson scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian though:

    CENTURION: What’s this, then? ‘Romanes Eunt Domus’? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?

    BRIAN: It– it says, ‘Romans, go home’.

    CENTURION: No, it doesn’t. What’s Latin for ‘Roman’? Come on! (grabs brian’s ear)

    BRIAN: Aah!

    CENTURION: Come on!

    BRIAN: ‘R– Romanus’?

    CENTURION: Goes like…?

    BRIAN: ‘Annus’?

    CENTURION: Vocative plural of ‘annus’ is…?

    BRIAN: (in pain) Eh. ‘Anni’?

    CENTURION: (correcting gaffiti) ‘Romani’.

    And so on…. Great stuff. i recommend it if you’ve not seen it.

    thanks for that post though. i will check back if i come across some Latin i don’t understand (never took it high school)

    cheers
    Jason

  • cecilia

    hi, does anybody know how to say “the received knowledge” in latin? Especially with regards to school of thoughts….i.e. “Columbus broke with the received knowledge that the world was flat and sailed across….”

  • Bubba

    How about KLATUU NIKTO BARUNDA? 🙂

  • Bubba

    Sorry.

    I meant KLATUU BARADA NIKTO.

    However, it might be Hebrew because I got it from a Hollywood movie.

  • Tom Connolly

    “Columbus broke with the received knowledge that the world was flat and sailed across….” Well, I don’t remember enough Latin to respond to Cecilia, but I do know that Columbus was not ignorant of the spherical world. What he reckoned wrong was the circumference of said globe, and those who opposed his voyage did so because his math was incorrect in determining the distance to the East.

  • Pat Hutley

    There were a number of errors in this article, such as the mis-spelling of Descartes, philosophers, contact law instead of contract law and several grammatical mistakes. I do suggest it is re-read and corrections made. So much for promoting excellence in English spelling, punctuation and grammar.

  • Daniel Scocco

    Fixed the two typos you found Pat, thanks.

  • Rob Tootell

    I’m going mad trying to find the proper idiomatic translations of two Latin phrases (rather than word for word). Could anyone help?

    Dolce cose a vedere, e dolci inganni –

    Sempre il mal non vien per nuocere –

    Many thanks,

    Rob Tootell

  • dilii Sharma

    foreign languages are actually interesting. But to be master in those languages need to work hard.Latin is the one which we used to learn since our school days. I think some important words are useful for us which are common for all.If we go for vast then it will be difficult for the readers to understand.
    Thank you

  • Léo Fernandes

    I suggest “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware).
    “Caveat” is used as “warning”.

  • Léo Fernandes

    Rob Tootell,

    > Dolce cose a vedere, e dolci inganni –
    > Sempre il mal non vien per nuocere –

    Rather a feeling – or attempt at interpretation – than an actual understanding:

    “Some things are sweet to see, even being an illusion –
    Bad things don’t always harm you”

  • Pierre Lherisson

    I enjoy your Latin expressions. Latin is currently a dead language except for the die hard in the Vatican and a minority of scholars that still use it. I am afraid that Latin might not be suitable for the translation of modern concepts such as: motorcycle, jet propulsion,radar,electro magnetic pulse, to name a few.

  • Jay G. Patel

    I want entire abbriviated list for the english languege of daily [common] routing life.

  • Vicky

    Can somebody explain the expression “Ingnis Sanctum”?
    Thanks to all!

  • Vicky

    Can somebody explain me the mean of “Ignis Sanctum”?
    Many thanks to all!
    Bye

  • possom

    Where can i find the latin word for went?

  • Peter

    I’m going mad trying to find the proper idiomatic translations of two Latin phrases (rather than word for word). Could anyone help?

    Dolce cose a vedere, e dolci inganni –

    Sempre il mal non vien per nuocere –

    You’ll go mad…because they’re not Latin. They look like Italian (though the second looks like it has some French mixed in with it; I don’t think “il mal non vien” is Italian)

  • Peter

    I am afraid that Latin might not be suitable for the translation of modern concepts such as: motorcycle, jet propulsion,radar,electro magnetic pulse, to name a few.

    Where do you think the words “motor”, “pro-pulsion”, and “pulse” come from? And “cycle”, “electro-” and “magnetic” are from Greek. That only leaves “jet” and “radar”; I don’t know where the former comes from, and the latter is an abbreviation (“RAdio Detection And Ranging”…which is mostly Latinate, too!)

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