Can You Translate These Common Latin Phrases?

By: Torrance Grey
Estimated Completion Time
3 min
Can You Translate These Common Latin Phrases?
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About This Quiz

"Latin is a dead language/That is plain to see/ First it killed the Romans/And now it's killing me." This tongue-in-cheek rhyme comes from the days when Latin was a required part of middle-school and high-school curriculum. But how dead is Latin, really? Certainly, you've had to learn a lot of Latin if you've studied Christian theology, human anatomy, or the law.

But beyond that, Latin has crept into everyday English in dozens of ways. Did you know the word "innuendo" is Latin? It means, "by nodding" -- i.e., expressing something discreetly. (In fact, "i.e." itself is short for a Latin phrase! We won't tell you what it is here ... we'll be getting to that in the quiz!)

The motto of MGM studios is Latin? It's "Ars gratia artis," or "art for art's sake." And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg drew on the Latin phrase "Carthago delendam est," (Carthage must be destroyed!) when declaring "war" on new rival Google Plus. Clearly, this "dead" language isn't going anywhere. True, we've lost some beautiful Latin expressions. Consider "Non nobis solum natis sumus," or "Not for ourselves alone are we born." And "Noli me tangere!" sounds a lot better than, "Hands off, pal!" Still, a number of great Latin expressions remain. To that end, we've created a 35-question quiz on the expressions that have become part of the English language. We hope you do well (Bona fortuna habe!) but we promise we won't make you stay after class and clap erasers if you don't.

Carpe diem
The present day
Seize the day!
Dyed carpet
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You probably knew this one. It's popular on signs and T-shirts, just like "Keep Calm and Carry On."

Et tu?
Are you present?
Are you angry?
Not you, too?
Have you eaten?
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Et tu, Brute?" was Caesar's famous (but apocryphal) statement to his friend Brutus in the Senate, when the Senators turned against him and killed him. Caesar was evidently surprised and saddened to find his supposed friend among the assassins.

Bona fide
A good place
Good faith
A bone for a dog
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You might hear this as a plural. "Bona fides" often mean someone's credentials, or proof that they are qualified to do something.


Semper fidelis
Always faithful
True only to one
Always forgiving
High fidelity
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is, of course, the motto of the US Marine Corps. It's sometimes shortened to "Semper fi."

Veni, vidi, vici
I came, I saw, I conquered
I see, I want, I take
He said, she said, we said
God sees everything
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This was Caesar's brief report to the Senate about the battle of Zela. If he'd lived in the age of texting, he would have added, "NBD."

Alma mater
Famous woman
Older sister
School of origin
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

According to Merriam-Webster, this translates to "bounteous or fostering mother." Which is certainly a romantic way to look at the school that educated you!


Vice versa
And the other way around
Two vices
So I've read
So it is written
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is something you say when an opposite is equally true, or something works both ways. "I house-sit for her when she travels, and vice versa."

Alter ego:
A new leaf
A second self
A family member
This is great chocolate!
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Ego" is Latin for "I," so "alter ego" is a second self, a different identity. (Excuse the in-joke about chocolate, but you'll understand if you've had the excellent, if pricey, brand called "Alter Eco" for its environmental standards).

Ante bellum
A distant relative
Something lovely
Prior to the war
After noon
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This term, sometimes spelled as one word, comes up a lot in discussions of the American Civil War. If you visit the South, you might see historic "antebellum" homes.


Ad nauseam
By the seas
By air
To the highest
To the point of nausea
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is a blunt way of saying someone's gone way too far, usually in repeating something. "He went on and on, ad nauseam, about how well the date went."

Id est
I am
You are
That is
And your point is?
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You're probably used to seeing this one as "i.e." Generally, it's used to rephrase something complicated in a simpler way.

Exemplum gratia
For example
Something unnecessary
Buy one, get one free
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You might be used to seeing this phrase as "e.g." You might refer to "... a dead language, e.g. Latin."


Et cetera
Meanwhile ...
And so on
In which case
Please repeat the question
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Abbreviated as "etc.," et cetera" means "and other (similar) things." It's too bad English hasn't adopted the word "cetera" for "various stuff," as it'd be quite useful! "You're fired! Box up all your cetera and go."

Persona non grata
A penniless person
A landless person
A person who is out of favor
A person whose voice grates
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You might become a persona non grata because of your grating voice. But that seems pretty harsh to us!

Semper paratus
Always fierce
Always ready
Halfway to heaven
Strong and loyal
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This one is lesser known. It's the motto of the US Coast Guard, the fifth branch of America's armed services.


Ad infinitum
For God's glory
Until nightfall
Until dawn
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Ad infinitum" means "on and on" or "to infinity." See also "ad nauseam," meaning "To the point of nausea."

In vitro
By sea
In a beaker or petri dish
In one's lifetime
Vividly or colorfully
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Cells act differently "in vitro" -- in a lab setting, petri dish, or test tube -- than they do "in vivo," meaning in living tissue. This is why treatments for disease that are promising in the lab don't always work out in clinical trials.

In perpetuum
In a fantasy world
In a vacuum
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is a legal term you might see in a will. Public access to a property might be granted "in perpetuum."


Sic semper tyrannis
Cheaters never prosper
Always ready
Thus falls Rome
Thus always to tyrants
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This phrase became notorious when John Wilkes Booth shouted it after shooting Abraham Lincoln. At least, Booth wrote that he did so, in his diary. If no witnesses recalled it, it's likely because there was noise and confusion that would have made it hard to absorb a simple English phrase, much less an unfamiliar foreign-language one.

Dramatis personae
Characters in a play
People who get dizzy easily
Drama queens
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You'll see "dramatis personae" listed at the beginning of a play's script. Movies have "dramatis personae," too, but that term isn't used.

Ad hominem
Against the man
Against all logic
About human nature
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

An "ad hominem" attack is one that attacks the person, not their work, theory, etc. If you suggest that someone's ideas are invalid because they didn't go to college, that's an ad hominem attack. (Plus, snobbish).


Per ardua ad astra
From earth to eternity
More bark, less bite
Through difficulties to the stars
Through fire to the stars
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This one might confuse a few people. "Ardua" is related to the English word "arduous," or "very hard." The word for "fire" is "ignis;" it doesn't start with "ar-."

Mea culpa
Feed me
My heart
My fault
Sane mind
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This one's well-known enough that you'll hear people use it in casual conversation: "Sorry, mea culpa!" (Or rather, you do again now that "my bad!" has finally faded away).

Nolo contendere
Let's not fight
I forgot the answer
I don't want to contest the charges
I was just pretending
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Don't spell this "No lo contendere," as if in Spanish. The "lo" part isn't a pronoun meaning "it." Rather, "Nolo" comes from "nolere," meaning "to wish not." The opposite is "volere," meaning simply "to wish (to)."


Sub rosa
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Roses have a long history of representing secrecy, in more than one culture. Sometimes, confidential documents were sealed with wax on which a rose was imprinted, giving rise to the phrase "under the rose" to mean "secret, restricted or confidential" information.

Cui bono?
Are you well?
What is your name?
Who benefits?
(Will you) throw me a bone?
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Literally translated, this phrase means "To whom the good?" "Bonus" is the Latin term meaning "good," or here, "benefit." Though not as common in legal circles as "prima facie," it asks the question "Who benefits (from committing a crime)?"

Rara avis
A fool
A rarity or prodigy
A sea bird
A rental chariot
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Another way to say "rara avis" (rare bird or oddity) is "cygnus niger," meaning "black swan." These were thought by Europeans not to exist, until they were discovered in parts of Australia and New Zealand.


Prima facie
Ladies first
Beautiful face
On the face of it
Diva or goddess
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

"Prima facie" is one of many legal terms you'll be seeing in this quiz. Prima facie evidence is strong evidence that tends to prove one's case -- but it doesn't necessarily mean you'll win.

Casus belli
A beautiful place
The case for war
Full attack
Full retreat
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

You heard this term a lot in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The Bush administration's "casus belli" relied heavily on WMD, or Weapons of Mass Destruction, that Iraq was said to be in possession of.

Facta, non verba
Love, not hate
Deeds, not words
Trees, not grass
Just the facts, ma'am
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Though we now think of "facts" as pieces of information, in Latin "facere" means "to do or make." "Verba," of course, is easier to translate.


Bless you
I indict you
Isn't that wonderful?
Is that Benedict?
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

As in modern-day Spanish, "te" is the familiar (friendly) "you." Therefore "benedicite" is a compound word meaning "Bless you."

Annus horribilus
A terrible year
The terrible twos
Ring of shame
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

Many people considered 2016 to be this, because of various world events. On his year-end show, comedian John Oliver did a segment that ended with a giant foam "2016" being exploded with dynamite.

Cogito ergo sum
I try without fear of failure
I am the sum of my thoughts
I think, therefore I am
I'm thinking about what I'd like to eat
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

The philosopher Rene Descartes came up with this idea. It was his starting point in untangling the thorny problem of whether we humans can be certain of anything.


Multum in parvo
A lot in a little
Many are called, few are chosen
Confusion and mayhem
It's crowded in here
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

This is the unofficial motto pug lovers have given to their favorite dog breed. They're saying the pug packs a lot of great qualities into a small package.

Corpus delicti
The body/facts of the case
It is finished
Loss of blood
That was delicious
Correct Answer
Wrong Answer

In legal settings, the "corpus delicti" is the body of the case, or its fundamental facts. "Corpus" is, of course, related to English words about the body, like "corpse" and "corporeal."

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