Useful Starter Phrases

Some of these you know already, because they’ve made their way into everyday English.

Others? They’re just waiting to be learned! Here’s a handy-dandy list of basic Latin phrases to get you started.


  1. Vice Versa

Meaning: In a turned position

Where to Use: You’ll know this one from common usage. ‘Vice versa’ is something said when you want to apply the opposite of what you just said, or to say that it applies to both things. 


  1. Impromptu

Meaning: In readiness

Where to Use: Originally rendered ‘in promptu’ in the original Latin, this phrase now simply means ‘spontaneous’; something that occurs without it being expected.


  1. Me vexat pede

Meaning: It annoys me at the foot

Where to Use: Here’s a fun one that refers to an itch in your foot, or in other words, something small-yet-irritating.


  1. Versus

Meaning: Towards

Where to Use: That’s right, everyone; ‘versus’ doesn’t actually mean ‘against’ at all. Essentially, it means almost the exact opposite of how we now use the word in modern times, which refers to two things being against each other.


  1. E pluribus unum

Meaning: Out of many, one

Where to Use: This one used to be the motto of the United States before it was replaced by ‘In God We Trust’. The meaning obviously refers to many people coming together to form a whole; in the case of America, a country.


  1. Video et taceo

Meaning: I see, and am silent

Where to Use: Speaking of mottos, this one was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. It referred to her modus operandi of listening more than she spoke; not a bad habit for a queen. 


  1. Modus operandi

Meaning: Method of operation

Where to Use: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like!


  1. Barba non facit philosophum

Meaning: A beard doesn’t equal a philosopher

Where to Use: An interesting quip, this phrase is pointing out that age doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom or understanding, but it can also be similar to ‘clothes don’t make the man’; you can’t judge someone by outward appearance.


  1. Persona non grata

Meaning: Person not pleasing

Where to Use: Literally means a person who isn’t well liked, but nowadays the phrase is used to refer to when a government disowns one of its citizens.


  1. Per risum multum poteris cognoscere stultum

Meaning: By excessive laughter, you can recognise a fool

Where to Use: Not that we have anything against laughter, but we feel like there’s a bit of wisdom here. People who can keep a tight rein on their emotions always appear to be wiser than people who can’t.