Latin Words and Expressions: All You Need to Know

By Daniel Scocco

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

  • John F

    Enthusiasts of this column may also appreciate Henry Beard’s “Latin for all Occasions” which includes such important phrases as “Ecce venit Zambonias” (“Here comes the Zamboni”).


  • Vladimir

    This is a very good and useful list of words to know about.
    Thanks for providing this article.

  • Caleb

    “So ‘Finding Nemo’ means ‘finding nobody?’ But he DID find Nemo… where was Pixar going with this?”
    Nemo isn’t a person, much less a “body.”

  • Jorge Viramontes

    There is a country having latin as its official language.
    This is the Vatican. Most of the more important documents (pope documents are in Latin, then they translate to another language), also you will find ATMs with instructions in latin, etc.

    Thank you.

  • Peter

    Nemo isn’t a person, much less a “body.”

    Nemo’s a fish, so he’s a “person” in the context of that film. (“Nemo” as Latin for “nobody” is in the wrong case, though; it means “nobody finding”, not “finding nobody” — that would be “neminem”)

  • Gloria

    Is a long shot and little to do with the above article but maybe someone can help.
    I am looking for a poem that has a phrase about justice in latin in it(for effect I guess)even though the rest of the poem is in english.
    The poem is titled something like……..A man you must know,a man that you should know or similar……….any replies that might fit my request extremely welcome.
    Going nuts looking for it 🙁

  • Sarah

    This is a great list, its amazing to know just how much Latin is used! But I didn’t see “mea culpa” anywhere, I’m pretty sure its a Latin phrase. I think it means “my fault” because its usually referred to in the context of guilt.

  • Adriana

    Government Departments used to have mottoes in Latin, do they still have? I am told they have but do not display it. If they have where canI trace it?

  • Nimi

    Fantastic article. How about you add “vox populi vox dei” d voice of d people is d voice of God.

  • Honjo

    “J’ai bien assez vecu…Veni, Vidi, Vici. Ego habe absentis Ad astra per aspera, A Rege ad Deo. Absit omen. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

    What does this translate to?

  • Alina

    I’m glad I ran across your site. I took Latin for 2 years in High School after I saw my Spanish teacher as I walked in on my first day of 9th grade. No way was I going to suffer having that man for a teacher for another two + years! (However, I’ve just started college 15 years after graduating HS and went back to Spanish. I still don’t like it one bit!)

    I did want to add, one thing Latin helped me with SIGNIFICANTLY was learning and understanding English better than any English or “Language Arts” teacher had been able to do. Before Latin I understood what a noun, a verb and some adjectives were. Other than that I felt lost. I had a great teacher who regularly showed up to school wearing a toga and of course he was always sporting a beard! I also remember watching a series about Rome that had Patrick Stewart as the lead actor.

  • Alina

    Forgot to add my favorite phrase I recalled from my days in Latin class:

    Solo id fac.

    I believe it can be translated a couple different ways, but in it’s proper meaning it translates to, “Just Do It.”

    It was on a banner that took up half the wall and had a huge Nike swoosh on it.

  • Lori

    “divide et impera”

    meaning divide and rule, not conquer, as is wrong translated in many english books.

    because to rule something for a long time is much more difficult than to conquer for a short period.

    Romans knew it from their empire, americans realise it just now in Irak.

  • Luca

    Very interesting article! Loved the Famous Latin Phrases. 🙂

    I have one question, if anyone would be so kind and help me: what does “adduco” mean? What are it’s all meanings?

    Thank you so much!

  • Mario

    Anybody know how to say “do it for me,” “doing it for me” or “I need to do it for myself?”

  • Sami

    Which way around is the correct way to say/write “Love conquers all”? I’m not sure if it’s “Amor omnia vincit” or “amor vincit omnia”..

  • Hardy Parkerson, JURIS DOCTOR (Humor intended!)

    “True Penance”

    Latin is a language
    As hard as it can be.
    You can speak it to your neighbor,
    You can speak it to a tree.

    Neither will understand you,
    No not in the least;
    That is, unless your neighbor
    Is a Roman Catholic priest.

    Then you can tell him,
    That Latin confess’nal sen’ence.
    And he’ll tell you, “Go and sin no more
    And read Latin as your penance!”

    -by hardy parkerson (copyright)
    Lake Charles, LA

  • Rui

    could someone please help me translating in latin the following quote?
    ”You gave me more to live for. More than you’ll ever know. ”
    Really appreciate guys.

  • Terry

    To Tony:

    You have a wonderfully authentic Roman name: Antonius Martinus.
    If someone was addressing you (speaking directly to you) he would say “Antoni.”

  • Terry

    To: Denise This information is too late to help you, but “April 8, 2010,” could be: VIII Dies Aprilis MMX, according to our Gregorian calendar.

    A Roman would have said, “sextum ante diem Ides Apriles MMDCCXLIV
    A. U. C.” This means “the sixth day before the Ides of April, 2764 years from the foundation of the City.”

    N.B. Caesar died on the Ides of March, the 15th of March; in April the Ides fall on the 13th of the month. The foundation of the City was on April 21, 753 B.C. To convert, add your year’s A.D. date to 754; the Romans always included the end date of any counting.

  • Scott

    1) When did Titus Maccius Plautus become “Plauto” in English, rather than “Plautus”? “Plauto” is correct in Italian, Spanish, and probably in several other languages.

    2) The original phrasing in the Asinaria is “lupus est homo homini”, though it seems that the most common form in modern English is “homo homini lupus est”.

    3) In the entry entitled “homo homini lupus”, ought not “straight forward” be a single word?

    4) If the above seem a bit pedantic, remember that Caesar’s editor must be above reproach 🙂

  • bob

    1) When did Titus Maccius Plautus become “Plauto” in English, rather than “Plautus”? “Plauto” is correct in Italian, Spanish, and probably in several other languages.

    2) The original phrasing in the Asinaria is “lupus est homo homini”, though it seems that the most common form in modern English is “homo homini lupus est”.

    3) In the entry entitled “homo homini lupus”, ought not “straight forward” be a single word?

    4) If the above seem a bit pedantic, remember that Caesar’s editor must be above reproach 🙂

  • Steve

    Some say that the removal of Latin from the school curriculum was a major factor which has contributed to the ‘dumbing down’ of the populace of the western nations. When we understand Latin, we understand our own English language and much of its construction so much better.

  • Alexa

    I have studied numerical latin words in Maths. But I did not know common Latin words.

  • Mike Jones

    -preseraro je ‘ceteris paribus’: ‘in order to impact of something’ estu, kompreneble, ‘in order to access the impact of something’

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