Latin words used in English

Even though Latin is considered a dead language (no country officially speaks it), its influence upon other languages makes it important. Latin words and expressions are present in virtually all the languages around the world, as well as in different scientific and academic fields.

Knowledge of the Latin term can often make it easier to guess what the word means. See how many of the prefixes below you can turn into words.

Common Latin Words

  • bonus: good
  • borealis: northern
  • corpus: body
  • derma: skin
  • dies: day
  • omnis: everything
  • tempus: time

Latin/Greek Numeral Prefixes

semi: half
uni: one
duo, bi: two
tri, tris: three
quadri, tetra: four
penta: five
hexa: six
hepta: seven
octo: eight
deca: ten

ad: towards
ambi: both
endo: within
extra: in addition to
exo: outside
hyper: over
hypo: under
infra: below
inter: between
intro: within
macro: large
micro: small
mono: single
multi: many
omni: all
proto: first
poli: many
tele: distant
trans: across


General Latin Expressions

ad hoc: to this. Ad hoc refers to something that was creating for a specific purpose or situation. An ad hoc political committee, for instance, is formed for one specific case.

ad infinitum: to infinity. Something that goes ad infinitum keeps going forever. You could say that your wife hassles you ad infinitum, for example.

de facto: common in practice, but not established by law. For example, English is the de facto official language of the United States.

in toto: entirely.

per se: by itself. If something exists per se, for instance, it exists by itself, regardless of external factors.

sic: thus. Sic is usually used in newspapers or other publications (placed within square brackets [sic]) to indicate that the spelling error or unusual phrase on a quotation was reproduced as it was in the source, and therefore it is not an editorial error.

vice versa: the other way around. If you write “John loves Mary, and vice versa,” it means that Mary also loves John.

Q.E.D. (Quod erat demonstrandum): which was to be demonstrated. This Latin abbreviation is often used at the end of mathematical theorems in order to demonstrate that proof is complete.

Legal Latin Expressions

bona fide: good faith. In contract law, for instance, parties must always act in good faith if they are to respect the obligations.

de jure: by law. Some states are currently working on legislation that would make English the de jure official language of the United States.

ex parte: from, by, or for one party in a dispute. An ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present.

habeas corpus: (we command that) you bring forth the body. In this case, the “body” (corpus) refers to a living person who is being held in prison. The phrase has nothing to do with producing the corpse of an allegedly-murdered person.
ipso facto: by the fact itself. Parents who have deliberately mistreated their child are ipso facto unfit custodians.

pro bono: (the original phrase is pro bono publico) for the public good. Sometimes high-priced lawyers come forward to defend suspects who would otherwise have to take their chances with someone from the Public Defender’s office. They work on the case pro bono, i.e., they don’t charge a fee.

quid pro quo: something for something. For example, the ADAs (assistant district attorneys) make deals with criminals, giving them shorter sentences in exchange for information that will enable them to convict other criminals. Another example of quid pro quo might occur between two lawyers, each of whom gives up some advantage to gain another.

carpe diem: seize the day. This phrase comes from a poem by Horace. The phrase was made famous when it was used on the movie Dead Poets Society.


Latin abbreviations used in English

  • cf. (confer) means “bring together” and hence “compare” (confer is the imperative of the Latin verb conferre).[3]
  • C.V. or CV (curriculum vitae), meaning “course of life”. A document containing a summary or listing of relevant job experience and education. The exact usage of the term varies between British English and American English.
  • et al. (et alii) means “and others”, or “and co-workers”. It can also stand for et alia, “and other things”, or et alibi, “and other places”.
  • etc. (et cetera) means “and the others”, “and other things”, “and the rest”.[1]
  • M.A. (Magister Artium), “Master of Arts” is a postgraduate academic master degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in Fine Art, Humanities, Social Science or Theology and can be either fully-taught, research-based, or a combination of the two.
  • N.B. (nota bene) means “note well”. Some people use “Note” for the same purpose. Usually written with majuscule (French upper case / ‘capital’) letters.
  • p.a. (per annum) means “through a year”, and is used in the sense of “yearly”.
  • per cent. (per centum), “for each one hundred” / [commonly “percent”]:
  • P.M. (Post Meridiem), “after midday”
  • P.S. (post scriptum) means “after what has been written”; it is used to indicate additions to a text after the signature.
  • Re (in re) means “in the matter of”, or “concerning”. Often used to prefix the subject of traditional letters and memoranda. However, when used in an e-mail subject, there is evidence that it functions as an abbreviation of “reply” rather than the word meaning “in the matter of”. Nominative case singular ‘res’ is the Latin equivalent of ‘thing’; singular ‘re’ is the ablative case required by ‘in’. Some people believe it is short for ‘regarding’.
  • R.I.P. (requiescat in pace), “may he/she rest in peace”: a short prayer for a dead person. It can also mean requiescant (plural) in pace, i.e. “may they” etc.
  • vs or v. (versus) means “against” (sometimes is not abbreviated).
  • N.N. (nomen nescio) : “I do not know the name”: used as a placeholder for unknown names.
  • per diem – per day


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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