60 Popular Latin Phrases—And How to Use Them
Ad astra per aspera. Or should we say, "through adversity to the stars."
While Latin hasn't been regularly spoken or written for hundreds of years (save for the occasional scholarly text or artsy tattoo) its legacy is still felt throughout the lexicon of both Romance and Germanic languages. Whether you're launching an ad hominem attack or adding etcetera to the end of a list, it's likely you're peppering your speech with popular Latin phrases without even knowing it.
That said, we can do better than exclaiming "veni, vidi, vici" following a win at Scrabble or whispering "in vino veritas" before spilling a secret over a few drinks. With that in mind, we've compiled the most common Latin phrases you could and should be using on a daily basis—and explained what they mean in English.
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Common Latin Phrases
1. Carpe diem
"Pluck the day," is the literal transition here, but we use this phrase to mean its more sensical translation, "seize the day."
It was first used by the Roman poet Horace in 23 B.C. as a way to stress the importance of living each day to its fullest.
2. Id est
You probably don't say this exact Latin phrase, which means "it is," but we bet you've written its abbreviated form "i.e.," which is used to clarify a preceding statement.
3. Exempli gratia
If you get "i.e" and "e.g." confused, just remember these Latin phrases. The latter stands for exempli gratia, which translates to "for the sake of example."
4. Veni, vidi, vici
We may now associate this phrase with a stage magician, but it was actually first used by Roman ruler Julius Caesar after a battle victory. In case you don't remember, it means "I came, I saw, I conquered."
5. In vino veritas
You probably know that "vino" means wine, so the next time you've had a glass too many, you can proclaim "in vino veritas." Translating to "there is truth in wine," it's an expression used to convey how one speaks the truth when they're under the influence.
6. Semper fidelis
This Latin phrase is common because it's been the motto for the United States Marine Corps since 1883. It means "always faithful."
7. Alter ego
This phrase is so commonly used in everyday English that you may be surprised to learn it's Latin. It translates to "the other I" and today means someone's secondary or alternate personality.
8. Bona fide
Here's another one that many people probably don't realize is Latin. It translates to "in good faith," and means either "real" or genuine"—such as a "bona fide expert"—or without fraud—such as a "bona fide real estate deal."
9. Pro bono
It's not surprising that this abbreviated Latin phrase is used to describe a deed or action done without charge. The full phrase, "pro bono public," translates to "for the public good."
10. Ad lib
To ad-lib is to talk without preparation, or "off the cuff," so to speak. It comes from the Latin phrase "ad libitum," which translates to "at one's pleasure."
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Latin Phrases to Impress
11. Sapere aude
A popular Latin school motto, this one means, "Dare to know." It's commonly associated with the Age of Enlightenment and may be the reminder you need to never stop learning, no matter your age.
12. Ad astra per aspera
One of the most popular Latin phrases, meaning, "Through adversity to the stars," this utterance is generally used to describe the overcoming of adversity resulting in a favorable outcome.
For instance, this common state motto—which also happens to adorn the memorial plaque for the astronauts who died on Apollo 1—can be used in conversation when you're having a terrible go of things, but you're confident a greater outcome awaits you.
13. Carpe vinum
We've all heard the phrase "carpe diem" a million times, but we'll do you one better: "Carpe vinum." Of all the Latin phrases to master, this one, which translates to "seize the wine," will certainly come in handy when you're eager to impress your waiter.
14. Alea iacta est
Latin phrases don't get much more iconic than "alea iacta est," or "the die is cast," an expression reportedly uttered by Julius Caesar as he crossed Italy's Rubicon river with his army.
Of course, it works equally well when you've got the wheels in motion for a brilliant plan that doesn't involve civil war.
15. Acta non verba
If you want to make it clear that you won't stand for lip service, toss "acta non verba" into your everyday language. Meaning, "Deeds, not words," this phrase is an easy way to make it clear that you don't kindly suffer those whose behavior doesn't match their words.
16. Audentes fortuna iuvat
Want some inspiration to kill it on an upcoming job interview? Repeat, "Audentes fortuna iuvat" ("Fortune favors the bold.") to yourself a few times in the mirror before heading out the door.
17. Natura non constristatur
While it's natural to be upset over storm damage to a house or dangerous conditions that cause a flight to be canceled, Latin speakers were sure to make it clear that nature doesn't share our feelings.
"Natura non constristatur," which means, "Nature is not saddened," is the perfect phrase to remind yourself or others just how unconcerned with human affairs Mother Nature truly is.
18. Ad meliora
Today may not be going the way you want, but you can always boost your spirits by uttering "ad meliora," or, "Toward better things."
19. Creo quia absurdum est
In times where belief alone trumps logic, drop a "creo quia absurdum est," which means, "I believe because it is absurd."
20. In absentia lucis, Tenebrae vincunt
While not quite the Washington Post's motto, this phrase comes pretty close. It means, "In the absence of light, darkness prevails."
21. Ars longa, vita brevis
There's a reason we still admire the paintings and sculptures of long-dead masters, and luckily, one of the easiest-to-master Latin phrases just about sums it up: "Art is long, life is short."
Latin Phrases About Love
22. Amor vincit omnia
You may already know and repeat this maxim in English, but the original Latin version is even more mellifluous. Credited to Virgil, it means "Love conquers all things."
23. Ubi amor, ibi dolor
"Where there's love, there's pain." If you've ever been in love, you already know that this is true.
24. Inis vitae sed non amoris
This phrase, which means, "The end of life, but not of love," basically describes what it means to grieve someone you've lost.
25. Ut ameris, amabilis esto
Affection and a good reputation have to be earned, according to this quote from Ovid. It means, "If you want to be loved, be lovable."
26. Amore et melle et felle es fecundissimus
Love is amazing, painful, and confusing at the same time, as those who spoke Latin apparently knew all too well. This phrase means, "Love is rich with honey and venom."
Latin Phrases About Death
27. Respice finem
A reminder of one's mortality, this phrase means, "Consider the end," and is the motto of several universities.
Since we tend to feel pretty invincible in our teens and 20s, it's a useful reality check and an encouragement to make the most of one's time.
28. Malo mori quam foedari
Does your reputation mean everything to you? Then you may want to remember this motto, which translates to, "Death rather than dishonor."
29. Omnes una manet nox
From Horace's Odes, this Latin phrase translates into, "One night is awaiting us all," and serves as a reminder that we're all mere mortals. "One night," in this context, means the night of our deaths.
30. Vivamus, moriendum est
A quote attributed to the philosopher Seneca, this Latin phrase means, "Let us live, since we must die." Life is short, basically, so we might as well enjoy it while we can.
31. Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc
The motto of the fictional Addams Family, this phrase means, "We gladly feast on those who would subdue us."
32. Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo
From Virgil's Aeneid, this phrase, which means, "If I cannot move Heaven, I will raise Hell," is the perfect addition to the vocabulary of anyone whose halo is nonexistent.
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Cool Latin Phrases
33. Aere perennius
Horace is also responsible for this phase, which translates to, "More lasting than bronze." If your feelings or words will stand the test of time, you can describe them as such.
34. Libertas perfundet omnia luce
The motto of the University of Barcelona, in English, this Latin phrase reads, "Freedom will flood all things with light."
You know how your world gets a little brighter on your day off? That. And also the political kind of freedom.
35. Aquila non capit muscas
Tired of dealing with things below your pay grade? You can tell your boss, "Aquila non capit muscas," or, "An eagle does not catch flies." (We can't guarantee it'll go over well, though.)
36. Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris
You can thank Christopher Marlowe, playwright and contemporary of William Shakespeare, for this one. You likely know it well in English since it's frequently used to describe commiseration.
Marlowe wrote this Latin phrase, which means "misery loves company," into his play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.
37. Bis dat qui cito dat
"He gives twice who gives promptly." In other words, if you are quick and easy with your generosity, it will be more appreciated than generosity that comes after a period of hesitation or resistance.
38. Astra inclinant, sed non obligant
If you're dealing with someone who's obsessed with their own horoscope, you may want to tell them this. It means, "The stars incline us, they do not bind us." In other words, even if there's a plan, we all have free will.
39. Timendi causa est nescire
Seneca was well ahead of his time when he wrote, "Timendi causa est nescire." If you're talking to someone who is afraid of the unknown, remind them that "ignorance is the cause of fear."
40. Finis coronat opus
Translating to, "The end crowns the work," this phrase is useful any time you're tempted to judge a project—whether it's yours or someone else's—when you're still in the middle of it.
41. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit
Difficult times are daunting in the moment, but you never know how time passed will change your opinion of them.
Also from the Aeneid, by Virgil, this phrase means, "Perhaps even these things will be good to remember one day," and it may be a helpful motto to keep you going.
42. Malum consilium quod mutari non potest
Are you terrible at deviating from your to-do list, even when circumstances evolve? You may want to write, "Malum consilium quod mutari non potest" at the top of your bullet journal. This quote from Syrus means, "Bad is the plan that cannot change."
43. Destitutus ventis, remos adhibe
Meaning, "If the winds fail you, use the oars," this phrase is a reminder that there's usually a Plan B.
Just because a task isn't as easy as you thought it would be doesn't mean that it's not achievable—though it may take a little more elbow grease than you expected.
44. Acta deos numquam mortalia fallunt
If you've ever wanted to strike fear into the heart of your enemies (or just want a good comeback for when you catch someone cheating on game night), try out this Latin phrase. It means, "Mortal actions never deceive the gods."
45. Dulce periculum
Do you live life on the edge? Then "dulce periculum" might just be your new motto. It means "danger is sweet," and dropping this phrase in casual conversation certainly lets people know what you're about.
46. Condemnant quo non intellegunt
If your conspiracy theorist friend needs a good talking to, hit them with a quick "condemnant quo non intellegunt."
This phrase, meaning, "They condemn that which they do not understand," is the perfect burn for those who proudly espouse their less-than-logic-backed views and offer little supporting evidence.
47. Factum fieri infectum non potest
For those eager to make it clear that they don't give second chances, keep "factum fieri infectum non potest" in your back pocket.
This phrase, which means, "It is impossible for a deed to be undone," also serves as a grave reminder for your friends when they say they're about they're about to do something rash.
48. Aut viam inveniam aut faciam
Sstuck between a rock and a hard place? Pump yourself up by letting forth an "aut viam inveniam aut faciam." This phrase, which translates to, "I will either find a way or make one," is famously attributed to Carthaginian general Hannibal, one of history's most famous military leaders.
49. Qui totum vult totum perdit
While Wall Street may have told us that greed is good, the Latin language begs to differ. If you want to refute an acquaintance's obsession with having it all, hit them with a "qui totum vult totum perdit," or, translated: "He who wants everything loses everything."
50. Faber est suae quisque fortunae
Of all the Latin phrases in the world, there's one perfect for picking yourself up when you feel like the stars aren't aligning in your favor. Just remember: "Faber est suae quisque fortunae," or, "Every man is the artisan of his own fortune."
51. Aquila non capit muscas
If social media pettiness and idle gossip feel beneath you, try adding "aquila non capit muscas" to your vocabulary. The phrase, which means, "The eagle does not catch flies," is a particularly cutting way to remind others that you're not about to trouble yourself with their nonsense.
52. Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixture dementia fuit
Many a great idea or seemingly impossible prediction has been initially laughed off by those who don't understand it. When that happens to you, remind your detractors, "Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixture dementia fuit," or, "There has been no great wisdom without an element of madness."
53. Barba tenus sapientes
That guy who proclaims himself to be a genius but seems to only reiterate derivative remarks? He's "barba tenus sapientes," or "as wise as far as the beard." In other words, this guy might seem intelligent at first, but it's all a façade.
54. Lupus non timet canem latrantem
Need a quick way to make it clear that you won't be intimidated by a bully? Simply tell them, "Lupus non timet canem lantrantem." This means, "A wolf is not afraid of a barking dog."
55. Non ducor duco
When you're eager to remind your subordinates at work who's in charge, toss a "non ducor duco" their way. Meaning, "I am not led; I lead," this phrase is a powerful way of letting others know you're not to be messed with.
56. Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt
Sometimes, people's opinions can't be changed. When that's the case, drop a "fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt," which translates to: "Men generally believe what they want to."
57. De omnibus dubitandum
Do you think the truth is out there? Do you think there are government secrets that threaten our very existence? If so, this phrase, which means, "Be suspicious of everything," should be a welcome addition to your lexicon.
58. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit
Just because you think you're a relatively sage person doesn't mean that you're necessarily on the ball at all times. As many a Latin speaker might remind you with this phrase, which means, "Of mortal men, none is wise at all times."
59. Quid infantes sumus
If you feel like you're being underestimated, don't be afraid to spit, "Quid infants sumus?" at those who might not see your potential. While it's not exactly a scathing insult, it's pretty amusing to know the Latin phrase for, "What are we, babies?"
60. Mea navis aëricumbens anguillis abundant
Of course, not all Latin phrases are useful—some are just funny. This one, in particular—a translation of a humorous saying from Monty Python's "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" sketch, simply means, "My hovercraft is full of eels."