15 surprisingly common Latin words used in English

15 surprisingly common Latin words used in English

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated November 10, 2022

Who actually speaks Latin, anyway? It’s definitely not one of the easiest languages to learn.

But what if we told you that you already know some Latin? That’s right: Chances are that you’ve unknowingly used Latin when speaking English!

As it turns out, there are actually many Latin words used in English today. In this post, we’re going to go through some of the most common Latin words and phrases used in English—some that you may have suspected, and others that might surprise you.

Let’s take a look at some interesting etymology!

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1. Ad hoc

What it means: Done or created when needed or necessary

Latin roots: The word ad hoc comes from the Latin words ad (“to/for”) and hoc (“this”), which translates to “for this” or “for this situation.”

Example: If we find that we don’t have enough employees to finish the project on time, we can hire more on an ad-hoc basis.

2. Agenda

What it means: A list or plan of items to be discussed or accomplished, usually in a meeting

Latin roots: This word comes from the Latinlatin word agenda, meaning “things to be done.” Its plural form in Latin is agendum

Example: I wanted to discuss the traffic problem at our city council meeting, but it wasn’t on the agenda. I’ll have to wait until the next meeting. 

3. Alibi

What it means: A piece of evidence showing you were somewhere else when a crime was committed

Latin roots: Coming from the Latin alibi, this word means “elsewhere.”

Example: The judge couldn’t accuse the woman of robbery, as she had a great alibi: She was on vacation in Mexico when the crime was committed. 

4. Altruism 

What it means: Caring about others and selflessly doing things to help them

Latin roots: Altruism comes from the Latin word alter, meaning “other.”

Example: Altruism is very important to me. I want to make the world a better place by helping others.

5. Bona fide

What it means: Genuine; sincere

Latin roots: Bona fide comes from the Latin word of the same spelling, meaning “in good faith” (with no fraud or deceit). The opposite of bona fide in Latin is mala fide (“in bad faith”).

Example: My neighbor has a bona fide piece of jewelry from Ancient Egypt—he showed me the certificate of authenticity!

6. Carpe diem

What it means: Most commonly translated as “Seize the day,” this expression is used to encourage a person to make the most of the present day and not to wait for the future.

Latin roots: The Latin term carpe diem literally translates to “Pluck the day.” Carpe means “pluck” and diem is “day.” 

Example: I really shouldn’t spend so much money on one night out, but oh well—carpe diem!

7. Ergo

What it means: Therefore

Latin origins: Ergo as we know it is derived from the same word in Latin, which means “therefore.” It’s possible that ergo stems from the Latin word regere (“to guide or direct”). It’s also thought to be a possible contraction of *e rogo, or “in the direction of.”

Example: I worked out at the gym for two hours this morning; ergo, I deserve that piece of cake!

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8. Et cetera

What it means: And other similar things; abbreviated to “etc.”

Latin roots: This one is a combination of two Latin words: et, meaning “and,” plus cetera, or “the rest.”

Example: When you go camping, you need a sleeping bag, tent, camp stove, et cetera.

9. Facsimile

What it means: An identical copy; abbreviated to “fax”

Latin roots: Facsimile comes from two words: fac (the imperative form of facere) which means “make,” and simile, which is “like” or “similar.”

Example: You don’t need to provide the original copy of your birth certificate, but you should send us a facsimile for our records. 

10. Impromptu

Latin roots: English actually borrowed the word impromptu from French. However, the French got it from the Latin words in promptu, meaning “in readiness.”

Example: We had a big problem with a client today, so we had an impromptu meeting to figure out what we should do. 

11. Mundane

What it means: Dull; ordinary

Latin roots: Mundane is derived from the Latin word mundus, meaning “world.” This translates to “of the world,” as in not heavenly.

Example: After being on vacation in Hawaii for two weeks, it’ll be hard to go back to our mundane lives.

12. Obvious

What it means: Clear; easily noticed or understood

Latin roots: Obvious, as we use it in English, is derived from the Latin obvius, which, itself, comes from obviam, meaning in the way.”

Example: It’s obvious that you like him; you won’t stop talking about him!

13. Per diem

What it means: An allowance given each day

Latin roots: Per diem is a combination of two Latin words: per, which meansthrough,” “during,” or “by means of,” and diem (“day”).

Example: When I go on business trips, my company gives me a per diem of $100 for my meals.

14. Per se

What it means: By himself, herself or itself; essentially

Latin roots: This expression is taken directly from the Latin per se, meaning “by itself,” “it itself” or “of itself.”

Example: Potato chips aren’t bad for you, per se; it’s when you eat too many of them that they become unhealthy. 

15. Vice versa

What it means: Indicates that the reverse of what you’ve just said is also true

Latin origins: This word stems from vicis (“change” or “alternate order”) and versus (“to turn”).

Example: When I need my sister, she’s there for me, and vice versa. 

Look into Latin words used in everyday English

As you might be starting to realize after reading the words listed above, Latin has a very strong influence on the English language—in fact, about two-thirds of English words are borrowed from the ancient language. To understand English better, from the structure of words to their meanings, look into Latin!

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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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