18 Latin Phrases Everyone Should Know

Some of these are more common than others. Some are catchphrases of ancient philosophers, some mottoes of universities and other organizations. Some you may have heard; some will be new to you. All of them are useful and all of them will make you sound very smart when you use them.

1. Carpe diem

An extremely common phrase that literally means “seize the day.” Origin: Roman lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, more commonly known as Horace.

2. Veritas vos liberabit

This phrase means “the truth will set you free” and is the motto of Johns Hopkins University.

3. Volens et potens

Meaning “willing and able,” this phrase is the motto of the 7th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army.

4. O tempora! O mores!

Quite common, this phrase means “O the times, O the values!” Origin: Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, commonly known as simply Cicero.

5. Errare humanum est

An extremely common phrase, this means “to err is human.” Origin: Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist Lucius Annaeus Seneca, or simply Seneca.

6. A mari usque ad mare

Meaning “from sea to sea,” this Latin phrase is the national motto of Canada.

7. Grandescunt aucta labore

This phrase means “by work, all things increase and grow” and is the motto of McGill University.

8. Caveat emptor

Very common, this Latin phrase means “let the buyer beware” and is both a proverb and a property law principle that controls the sale of property or goods, such that the buyer cannot recover damages from the seller for defects.

9. Dum spiro, spero

The motto of South Carolina, this phrase means “while I breathe, I hope.”

10. Nil sine magno labore

Meaning “nothing without great effort,” this is the motto of Brooklyn College.

11. Ars longa, vita brevis

Another phrase by Roman philosopher Horace, this means “art is long, but life is brief.”

12. Ad astra per aspera

This phrase means “to the stars through difficulties” and is the motto of Kansas.

13. Cogito ergo sum

This Latin phrase means “I think, therefore I am.” Origin: French philosopher, mathematician, and writer Rene Descartes.

14. Mihi cura futuri

Meaning “I care for the future,” this phrase is the motto of Hunter College.

15. Festina lente

This oxymoronic phrase means “make haste slowly” and is yet another quote from Horace.

16. Bona fide

Meaning “good faith,” this phrase is extremely common and pops up regularly in philosophy, law, and government spheres.

17. Habeas corpus

A commonly-used phrase in law, this literally means “may you have the body” and is a legal action that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court.

18. Lex iniusta non est lex

Meaning “an unjust law is no law at all,” this phrase is associated with natural law theorists and was used by Thomas Aquinas.

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