Top ten Latin phrases used in English

Latin may be a ‘dead’ language but it is surprising how many English words come directly from Latin and how many we still use today.

One of the most common areas we see Latin used in modern English is in abbreviations and here is the list of the Top 10 Latin terms that we often see in English abbreviated.


Latin:  et cetera, meaning “and others” or “and the rest”  or “and so on.”

We use ‘etc.’ at the end of lists to shorten them.


  • There are many kinds of water birds (e.g., duck, geese, etc.) that live in the marshlands.

When etc. is used at the end of a list, it should be preceded by a comma just like the other elements of the list. It should never have the word “and” before it: the Latin word et has already got that covered.


Latin: exempli gratia, meaning “for example”

It is used to give an example or set of examples to help clarify an idea.

  • There are different ways to classify animals (e.g., mammals,reptiles and fish) that help us group them.
  • Many cities (e.g., New York, Miami and London) could face serious problems if the sea levels continue to rise.


Latin:  id est, meaning “that is” or “that means”

Used to clarify an idea by restating it more simply.

  • Europe’s highest mountain (i.e., Mt.Blanc) is in France.
  • Since the last major global conflict (i.e., World War II) Europe has enjoyed a period of relative peace.


Latin:  nota bene, meaning “note well”

N.B. is the only Latin abbreviation that you should always use in capitals.


  • N.B.: When forming an opinion on something you read on the Internet it is essential that you have all of the facts from as many reliable sources as possible.


Latin: confer, meaning  “compare.” Used in endnotes or footnotes to point the reader to arguments or perspectives that are contradictory to  the author. 


Latin:  sic , meaning “thus” or “so”

You will see this in quotations where an error or grammar or spelling is included but not corrected by the writer quoting the original.


“What the hell is going on with Global Waming? [sic]”  Trump, a climate skeptic who once called it a Chinese hoax, tweeted on Monday night. “Please come back fast, we need you!”

(from Bloomberg news article on a President Trump tweet)

versus (vs. or v.)

Latin: versus,  meaning “against” or “as opposed to.”

Versus is used to express conflict, comparison or an opposition between two or more people, arguments, conditions etc.

  • man vs. nature
  • Democracy vs. Socialism


Latin: circa, meaning  “around” or “approximately”

Usually used with dates and indicates that the date is approximate and not exact. You may see it abbreviated as c. or ca.

  • There was an important shift in the way technology was used to shape political  events circa 2008.

et al.

Latin:  et alii,  meaning “and other people.”

It is like etc., but it is used only for people. You will usually see et al.  in bibliographical entries for books, articles, or other publications that have several authors (usually four or more).


  • The book was written by Hobbs, Cartwright, Jacobson, et al. (which means that Hobbs, Cartwright, Jacobson and others wrote the article)


Latin: ibidem, meaning “in the same place.”

Used in endnotes or footnotes when you cite the same source and page number(s) two or more times. If you cite the same source but a different page number, you can use ibid. followed by a comma and the page number(s). Also, note that ibid. is capitalized when it begins a note.


  • 1. Harris, 23-101.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid., 34.

2 and 3 above using ibid mean that the citation can also be found in Harris in the pages 23-101 or, as in 3, in Harris on page 34.


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