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24 Latin Phrases You Use Every Day (And What They Mean)

Latin phrases

Latin phrasesMany 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.

Below are 24 of the most common Latin phrases we use in the English language.

1. Ad hoc: To this

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).

2. 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.

3. Bona fide: With good faith

Another 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).

4. 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.

5. Carpe diem: Seize the dayCarpe Diem

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.

6. De Facto: 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).

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Ergo: Therefore

Ergo, an adverb meaning therefore, is one Latin phrase that has maintained its meaning exactly in English usage.

10. Et cetera: 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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).

14. 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).

15. 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.).

16. Per se: 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).

17. Pro bono (publico): For the good (of the public)

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.

18. Quid pro quo: Something for somethingQuid pro quo

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.

19. 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.

20. 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.).

21. Status quo: 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.

22. Verbatim: 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.

23. 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.

24. Vice versa: 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.


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