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21 Latin Phrases We Use in Everyday English

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Want to familiarize yourself with common Latin phrases used in English? This list is for you! We cover 21 Latin expressions by providing their definitions and examples of how to use them, so you can learn a few words of this 2,700-year-old language.

White text over gray background reads, "Common Latin Phrases."
English incorporates several Latin expressions.

Using Latin Quotes and Phrases

It’s no secret that English borrows hundreds and hundreds of words from several languages. But you may not be aware that one of the languages from which English adopts words is 2,700 years old—Latin.

Although you shouldn’t go around telling people you’re bilingual and can also speak Latin, it’s pretty cool to know that you understand at least a few words in this archaic language.

Below, we’ll go over 21 common Latin words, phrases, and sayings and provide example sentences to show you how to use them in everyday conversation.

Incipiamus, which means, let’s begin!

Graphic shows Scooby Doo "Let's see who you really are" meme in which the monster (which reads English) is uncovered to show it's really "Latin, French,  German, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, and Arabic."
English also borrows words from other languages that are not listed in the meme above. 

21 Latin Phrases and Sayings We Use in Everyday English

1. Ad lib

Ad lib is the shortened version of the Latin word “ad libitum,” which means “to one’s pleasure or as much as one likes.”

Today, it refers to “improvising or performing something without preparation, such as a song, speech, or act.”

I blanked on stage, but thankfully I was able to ad lib some lines, and the audience didn’t even notice.

Keep in mind that ad lib can function as a verb (as shown in the example above), noun, adjective, or adverb.

2. Alias

The word alias is defined as “an additional, false, or alternative name sometimes used by a person.”

The Medieval Latin word “aliās” is short for “aliās dictus” which means “at other times called.”

For years, he had been using the alias “Timothy Gray,”  which is why he could not be found.

3. Alibi

An alibi is “the proof that someone was not present when an action (typically a crime) took place.” The Latin version of this word, “alibī,” is defined as “elsewhere.”

My sister’s alibi was that she was at the swimming pool during lunch, so it couldn’t have been her who stole my cookies.

4. Alma mater

Raise your hand if you’re proud of your alma mater! Originally, this Latin phrase meant “nurturing mother,” but nowadays, it refers to “the school, college, or university one has graduated from.”

Jeff makes yearly donations to his alma mater, Oxford University.

5. Alter ego

When you’re hungry, you might blame your crankiness on your alter ego, or the “second or different version of yourself.” In Latin, “alter egō” is defined as “close friend” or “other I.”

I’m usually quite shy, but when I’m on stage, my confident and outgoing alter ego comes out.

6. Ante meridiem / Post meridiem

You’re probably more familiar with the abbreviated versions of these words, which are “a.m” and “p.m” They mean “before noon” or “after noon,” respectively. She wanted to meet at 7 a.m., but I thought she meant 7 p.m.

Do “A.M.” and “P.M.” Require Capitalization and Periods?

The answer depends on the style guide you’re adhering to. The following variations are considered acceptable:

  • Let’s meet at 4:30 P.M.
  • Let’s meet at 4:30 p.m.

In casual settings (and British English), you may also come across:

  • Let’s meet at 4:30 pm.

What’s important is that you put a space after the numeral and remain consistent throughout your writing.

7. Bona fide

Nowadays, bona fide is used as an adjective meaning “not counterfeit” or “genuine,” which doesn’t stray too far from its original definition of “in good faith.”

The seller provided a certificate of authenticity to prove it was a bona fide Picasso painting.

8. Carpe diem

You’ve probably come across this quote often, either tattooed on someone or written in a bathroom stall somewhere.

In any case, carpe diem is a Latin saying that literally means “pluck the day” which translates  to “seize the day.”

I could tell he was worried, so I suggested he carpe diem and worry about work when he got back.
Graphic reads "Carpe Diem" and "Seize the Day."
“Carpe diem” is a popular Latin saying.

9. Caveat

If someone offers you something that seems too good to be true, ask if there are any caveats or “warnings or cautionary statements.” In Latin, this word means “let him beware.”

Before we signed the contract, we asked that she go over all the caveats so that we could avoid any issues or misunderstandings in the future.

10. Consensus

Consensus refers to “a belief or perspective that most people in a group agree with.” In Latin, the word is defined as “agreement or accord.”

After hours of deliberation, the team reached a consensus that more studies had to be completed to find a viable solution.

11. Ergo

Ergo is a Latin term and a more formal way of saying therefore. Be warned, though, that some may consider this word quite pompous, to say the least.

The products are made with cheap materials, ergo they break easily.

12. Et cetera

You’re probably used to the abbreviation of this Latin phrase which is etc., which means “and others, especially of the same kind” or “and so forth.” It’s used to indicate that there are more items or examples in a list that are not explicitly listed.

She packed her favorite snacks, including cookies, chips, candy, etc.

13. In memoriam

We hope you’re not familiar with this Latin phrase, but if you are, then you know it means “in memory of” and is used in obituaries or dedications to honor and remember a person who has passed away.

There was a quiet and somber atmosphere during the in memoriam tributes.

14. Magnum opus

Magnum opus usually refers to “the greatest achievement of an artist or writer.” In Latin, “magnum” means “great, powerful, or big,” and “opus” means “a work or composition.”

While writing the book, I knew I was working on my magnum opus.

15. Per capita

In Latin, per capita means “by the head,” which can today be translated as “per person.”

The per capita income has increased significantly over the last hundred years.

16. Per se

Per se means “in itself” and is used to show that a statement is true intrinsically, regardless of outside factors.

She is not unfriendly per se; she’s just shy and doesn’t talk a lot when in large groups.

17. Pro bono

To do something pro bono means to provide a service free of charge, often for charitable purposes. It’s short for “pro bono publico” which is a Medieval Latin term that means “for the public good.”

I was hoping to find a lawyer who would take the case pro bono.

18. Status quo

Status quo is defined as “the existing state of affairs.” The Latin translation of status quo is “the state in which.”

They voted to maintain the status quo and keep the current rules and regulations.

19. Veni Vidi Vici

Again, this is another one of those cool Latin sayings you may find written on the back of a textbook or someone’s social media profile. The phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar and can be translated as “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

My twenty-year-old daughter wanted to get a tattoo of the phrase “Veni Vidi Vici” and I pleaded for her to think it through.

20. Verbatim

The medieval Latin word verbatim means “word for word,” and that’s exactly how we use this phrase today. It indicates a precise reproduction of someone’s exact words.

She asked that I read the quote aloud verbatim to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.

21. Vice versa

Vice versa means “and the other way around” or “in reverse order.” It expresses that a statement is true in reverse, too.

My dog, Lily, loves my cat, Frank, and vice versa.

How To Use Latin Phrases Correctly

There you have it. Now you know 21 words and sayings from a language that is older than the Roman Empire itself.

However, just because you’re familiar with them doesn’t mean your audience will be. Although many are widely used, these terms are technically foreign. LanguageTool—an intelligent, multilingual writing assistant—can ensure pristine style and accuracy by suggesting synonyms for words your readers may not recognize.

Go ahead and try it out. Using LanguageTool, you’ll feel like everything you write is your magnum opus.

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