top of page

23 Latin Phrases We Still Use in English

These ancient expressions still get frequently used today.

A large part of English language can be connected to Latin, even though the languages sound very different. In fact, there are many cases where an original Latin word is used in English. The list below is Latin words or phrases that are commonly used in English:

Ad nauseam: To the point of sickness This means that someone or something is repeated too much so that you are getting sick of it. For example, "the radio station played the number one song ad nauseam."

Bona fide: In good faith, but now often means “authentic” When you say that something is “a bona fide (product)”, it means that this product is original and authentic (not a copy). For example, if you see an original Picasso painting in the museum, you can say: “this painting is a bona fide Picasso."

Carpe diem: Seize the day When people want to encourage someone to take advantage of life and its opportunities, they often say “Carpe Diem!”.

Cum laude: With honor This means that a graduate from university has received high grades in school. If you say: “he graduated cum laude from his university”, it means he graduated with good marks.

De facto: In effect This term is used to describe something that is true even though it’s not officially recognized. For example if you visit another country and another knowledgeable tourist starts walking around with you and explaining some things about the city, you can say: “he is our de facto tour guide”, which means he’s not officially a tour guide but he is acting like one so it’s true in our case.

Et al: And others

This term is often used for references when there are many names and you don’t want to list all of the names. For example, if you are referencing a study done by several academics, you can say “the study by Smith, Thompson et al”, which means there are more people as part of this study that you are referencing (more than just Smith and Thompson).

Et cetera: And the rest of such things It is used at the end of a list to say that there are more things included in this list. You should say “et cetera” but you can write “etc.” as an abbreviation. For example, if you say: “in English class, we learn grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation etc.” which means there are other skills learned in this class too (reading, writing, listening etc.) It is more common than “et al” because “et al” is used mostly for references.

Ipso facto: By the fact itself This phrase means that something is true by its very nature, or a direct result of an action. For example, if you didn't stop your friend from stealing you are ipso facto an accomplice.

Mea culpa: Through my own fault This short phrase is used to accept blame and apologize for something wrong.

Per diem: For each day This phrase is used in legal and accounting business to refer to payment rendered on a daily basis rather than as an annual salary or hourly rate. For example, if you borrow $10,000 from the bank and the per diem interest is $0.82 it means you have to pay the equivalent of $0.82 per day in interest for this money.

Pro bono: For the good This phrase is actually a shortened version of "pro bono publico," which means "for the greater good." It's a legal term that means that you work for free because you want to help. So, if you say: “she is working pro bono”, it means that she is working for free because she cares about the cause.

Pro forma: As a matter of form This phrase refers to doing things in the proper way, typically by following all the steps - even when these steps may not be necessary.

Vice versa: The position being reversed Vice versa is used after a sentence or phrase to show that it also makes sense if you switch the nouns. For example, if you say: he helps me and vice versa” it means that I help himtoo.

Ad hoc: When needed

You can use “ad hoc” to describe something that is only done when it is necessary to happen. It’s common to use the phrase “on an ad hoc basis” as an adverb to describe doing something only when necessary, without any specific schedule. For example, if you say: “we will donate money on an ad hoc basis” it means that we will donate money when it’s necessary or suitable but not related to a specific donation schedule.

Alma mater: Former school

Your “alma mater” is the school that you graduated from and is mainly used for university and college. If you say: “Harvard is my alma mater” it means you graduated from Harvard.

Alter ego: Other identity

When someone has an “alter ego” it means they have a second identity. If you know the character Spiderman, then you know his alter ego is Peter Parker, while Iron Man’s alter ego is Tony Stark.

Ipso Facto: By that fact

When you want to make a conclusion based on another piece of information you can use “ispo facto” to introduce this conclusion. For example, if a man buys a lottery ticket and then gives it to another person, but later finds out that the ticket was the winning ticket, you can say: “he is the ipso facto winner of the lottery because he bought the ticket.”

Per Capita: for each person

When you want to give a statistic related to each person individually instead of as a group, usually just as an average, you can say “per capita”. You can calculate per capita numbers by taking the overall number and dividing it by the number of people (overall number / number of people). For example, if there are 100 hospitals in an area and there are 100,000 people then you can say the hospitals per capita is 0.001 hospitals. This means there is 0.001 hospitals per person in that area.

The concept of “per capita” is commonly used for Gross Domestic Product (the total value of goods and services that a company produces) and income. For example, a country with a GDP per capita of $75,000 is better economically than a country with a GDP per capita of $50,000. This means that each person in the country with $75,000 produces on average $75,000 value of goods and services.

Status Quo: the current state of things

When you are describing the normal way that things happen nowadays, you can use the phrase “the status quo is...” For example, if you are talking about the normal way of hiring new employees, you can say: “job interviews are the status quo”. Someday the status quo might change and job interviews might not happen anymore, but for a long time it has been the status quo in the hiring process.

Verbatim: in exactly the same words that were used

If you repeat something without changing any words that were used originally, you can say that you said it verbatim. For example, if you say: “she quoted the clause from the contract verbatim”, it means that she said the exact words from this clause without changing or adding any words herself.

Vis-à-vis: in relation to ; compared to (this is French but originally based on Latin)

This word literally means “face-to-face” so it is easy to understand why it is used when comparing two things. For example, if you say that iPhones are expensive vis-à-vis other smartphones, it means you are comparing the price of an iPhone to the price of other phones.

vs.: against

You can use the word “versus” or more commonly the abbreviation “vs.” to describe two things that are competing against each other. For example, if a soccer match has France and Brazil, you can write it as “France vs. Brazil” or say it as “France versus Brazil”.

You can also use the word “versus” to compare two things. For example, if you say: “how much longer does the bus take to get there versus the train?” it means you want to compare the time when taking the bus to the time when taking the train.

i.e. in other words

When you want to describe something again in a different way, often by giving more detail, you can use “i.e.” to introduce that different explanation. For example, if you say: “they tested his glucose level, i.e. the amount of sugar in his blood.” In this case, you give a different explanation of “glucose level”.

e.g. for example

When you want to give an example of something, you can use the acronym e.g. (“exempli gratia”) to introduce the example. For example, if you say that many successful musicians have died young, you can give an example with e.g.: “many successful musicians have died young, e.g., Michael Jackson.”


bottom of page