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Latin Spells in Harry Potter: Translation, Meanings, and a Fun Quiz!

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Ellen has been an online writer for over 12 years. Her articles focus on everything from gardening to engineering.

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A Wizarding Latin Dictionary

If you've read or seen Harry Potter, you know Latin!

On this page, I'll review the list of spells in Harry Potter and translate the Latin words for you. Some are real Latin, others are "fake Latin"—bits of pieces of real Latin and English mashed together into made-up words—and there are a few non-Latin spells I'll take a stab at.

This is a fun way to practice your Latin and learn about English, too, since so many English words come from Latin.

Before I start translating Harry Potter spells, however, let's have a mini-quiz, just to see how much Latin you know. I bet it's more than you think!

I have studied Latin for years, but it still took me half a day's work to do the research. And I can't promise I'm 100% correct on the words which are not classical Latin. Gratias tibi (thank you)!

Trivia Quiz: How Much Latin Did You Learn from Hogwarts?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is a patronus?
    • A father.
    • A protector.
    • A potato.
    • A stag.
  2. What's that noise?
    • Ferula.
    • Portus.
    • Sonorus.
    • Remus.
  3. Hogwarts has finally installed an intercom system. How does McGonagall call Harry to her office?
    • Accio Potterum.
    • Expulso Potterum.
    • Potter, get your lame butt up here.
    • Defodio Potterum.
  4. Sheer torture.
    • Avis.
    • Severus.
    • Leviosa.
    • Cruciatus.
  5. I'm going downstairs.
    • Descendo.
    • Scindo.
    • Confundo.
    • Accio.
  6. Don't trip over my luggage!
    • Wingardium Leviosa.
    • Cave impedimenta.
    • Conjunctivitis.
    • Finite incantatem.
  7. I'll fix it!
    • DIffindo.
    • Revelio.
    • Evanesco.
    • Reparo.
  8. It's night-time.
    • Lux.
    • Nox.
    • Hex.
    • Pox.
  9. I'll polish it right up.
    • Reducio.
    • Oppugno.
    • Tergeo.
    • Obscuro.
  10. Stop that at once!
    • Obliviate!
    • Finite!
    • Flagrate!
    • Rennervate!

Answer Key

  1. A protector.
  2. Sonorus.
  3. Accio Potterum.
  4. Cruciatus.
  5. Descendo.
  6. Cave impedimenta.
  7. Reparo.
  8. Nox.
  9. Tergeo.
  10. Finite!

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 3 correct answers: Don't worry, it's Latin, not Engish. Read this page and you'll do better!

If you got between 4 and 6 correct answers: See, you know a little Latin and less Greek, just like Shakespeare.

If you got between 7 and 8 correct answers: Mirabile Dictu! You must have studied Latin in school (was it Hogwarts?)

If you got 9 correct answers: Outstanding! Five points to House Gryffindor.

If you got 10 correct answers: Goodness gracious! Miss Granger, is that you?

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Harry Potter Spells List A-C

Important Note: "Pseudo-Latin" is what I call a word that appears to be a made-up word borrowing bits of Latin. In some cases, it may be medieval Latin, which mutated considerably from the classical Latin of ancient Rome. So if I've falsely accused a medieval word of being false Latin, I apologize—mea culpa!

  • Accio: Latin "I summon."
  • Aguamenti: Pseudo-Latin. Or possibly pseudo-Spanish. Aqua is Latin for "water," augmen the word for "growth." (Latin mens, metis is "mind," but I don't think Rowling had "water on the brain" in mind.) In Spanish, aqua became agua.
  • Anapneo: Greek for "I breathe, I breathe again, I catch my breath." In Harry Potter, it's used as a spell to make someone else breathe. Rowling often grabs a word straight from the dictionary without fixing the ending to fit the sentence (like someone saying "Me Tarzan" instead of "I am Tarzan").
  • Alohomora: Not Latin, but an interesting word; Rowling says it's a West African word she picked up from Geomancy (you can tell she's been studying various kinds of traditional magic to make hers sound believable). She translates it as "friendly to thieves."
  • Aparecium: Pseudo-Latin, or else it's late Latin and I don't know the word. It looks to me like appareo, apparere, "to appear" mashed together with species, "form, appearance," but that's a very raw guess.
  • Avada Kedavra: Rowling says this is the Aramaic form of Abracadabra, which originally meant "let the thing be destroyed" and was used as a spell to cure (destroy) illness... or so says Wikipedia, which keeps being "corrected" by Harry Potter enthusiasts!
  • In fact, the phrase's origins and meaning are hotly debated by scholars. The earliest example of it is Greek abracadabra in a De medicina praecepta saluberrima by Serenus Sammonicus, d. 212 CE, where it's a charm against sickness. You'll see some Potter enthusiasts trying to translate it as "what is said is done," but this may be wrong; that appears to be a mistranslation/misspelling introduced by the early 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley. On the other hand, that's closer to many scholars' educated guesses about the phrase's Aramaic origins and meanings (most of which express the common magical idea of creating something through the power of speech).
  • Avis: Latin "bird," singular. (Also plural in late Latin.) The grammar on oppugno avis ("I, a bird, attack") looks screwy: I'd be more inclined to use oppugno avibus "I attack with birds" or oppugnate av[e]s "birds, attack!"
  • Cave inimicum: Latin "beware of the enemy," like Roman cave canem mosaics, "Beware of the dog," found on doorsteps in ancient Pompeii. I wonder if Rowling really meant cave inimice: "enemy, beware."
  • Colloportus: Pseudo-Latin. Portus is a gateway or door; and the co- prefix has the meaning of "coming together," but the only collus, collo word I know means "neck." I'm guessing this is fake Latin for "a closed door."
  • Confringo: Latin "I break into pieces, I ruin."
  • Confundo: Latin "I mix up, jumble, confuse." It's a pity this word has almost dropped out of English; Gandalf's famous "Confound you, Samwise Gamgee!" probably confused a lot of movie viewers.
  • Conjuntivitis: A modern medical term rather than an ancient one. -itis is Greek for "swelling," and shows up in all kinds of medical jargon. I'm not quite sure why conjunctiva from Latin coniungo "to yoke, join together" is the scientific term for the membrane covering the eye.
  • Crucio: Latin "I torture." The resemblance to the word crucifixion is no accident: nailing someone to a cross, a crux, was a standard and nasty form of execution in ancient Rome.

Did You Know You Can Read the Harry Potter Books in Latin?

Harry Potter Spells D-F

  • Defodio: Latin "I dig, bury." Now you'll remember what a fosse is when you have to study forts or castles: it's a trench or moat.
  • Deletrius: Pseudo-Latin, obviously from Latin deleo, "I efface, kill, destoy, delete," and perhaps prius, "earlier," since the Harry Potter spell basically means wiping out earlier traces like footprints.
  • Desaugeo: Is this Pseudo-Latin, or am I having a brain fart? In Harry Potter, it's a spell to make teeth grow. In which case, it may be a made-up shortening of dentes augeo, "I grow/increase/augment the teeth."
  • Deprimo: Latin "I press down, push down, sink," which could make sense for any sort of downward force (such as Hermione punching a hole in the floor).
  • Descendo: Latin "I descend, climb down, fall." There's a few instances in the books where this spell is used to cause something to fall. For those, I might instead say, demitto to mean "I let down, I make something descend."
  • Diffindo: Latin "I split, break off." This works, but I'm surprised she didn't use the more common word scindo, "I rip, tear apart, cut open," the root word of "scissors."
  • Duro: "I harden, make hard." An interesting Latin word: it can either mean that you make something else hard, or that you harden yourself, which is why it also means, "I endure."
  • Erecto: Now, now! Probably medieval Latin; the classical Latin form is erigo, "I raise, stand up, make upright," with the past participle erectus, "set up, in a standing position."
  • Evanesco: Latin "I disappear, I die out, I pass away." Yet another case where the Harry Potter spell is a little confused about who or what is doing the action. Evanescite! (the command form, "vanish!") might be better.
  • Expecto Patronum: Latin "I await a guardian." (Note: I've written a short article on the meaning of expecto patronum, since a patronus is something rather particular in ancient Rome.)
  • Expelliarmus: Pseudo-Latin: expello "I drive away, banish" + arma "weapons" (arms in the older sense of "arms race.")
  • Expulso: Latin ex- "out, away" + pulso "strike, beat, hit." As usual, the -o ending of a verb is the first person "I..." form, which is the verb-form listed in most Latin dictionaries.
  • Ferula: A staff, stick, rod (or, in botany, a stalk of fennel). I'm assuming this must be medical terminology for "splint," since Lupin uses it to splint a broken bone.
  • Fidelius: "Very faithful, more faithful," the comparative form of fidelis, "trusty, faithful, trustworthy."
  • Finite Incantatem: "End the spell." The -ite form a verb is the command form, as in, "Hey you! Do this!"
  • Flagrante: from Latin adjective flagrans, flagrantis, "burning, on fire"
  • Flagrate: "burn, ignite," the imperative (command) plural form of the verb, as in "Burn, bab(ies), burn!"
  • Furnunculus: Medical jargon. I believe this is from furuncles, "boils," which ultimately derives from Latin furnus, a stove, oven.

Harry Potter Spells G-L

  • Geminio: From Latin gemino, "I double, repeat, make a copy, reinforce." If my memory hasn't completely rusted, I think Medieval Latin sometimes sticks an -i- in front of the -o- to mean "cause it to happen."
  • Glisseo: Well, I'll be. It looks like Latin, but it isn't Latin! There's a French word, glissade, which means to ski down on the soles of your feet, but it's from German. (In fact, glis, gliris is Latin for "dormouse.")
  • Homenem revilio: Ecce typo! Ahem. In proper Latin, it's hominem revelo, "I unveil the man," a logical thing to say when outing someone hiding under an invisibility cloak.
  • Homorphus: Pseudo-Latin: Latin homo "man" + Greek morphe, "shape of."
  • Impedimenta: Latin "burden, obstacle, luggage, baggage," literally "something underfoot." Caesar's legions are always schlepping their impedimenta around, poor chaps.
  • Imperio: "I command." The words "empire, imperial" and so on derive from this very common Latin word.
  • Impervius: Latin for "impassable." A rather elegant Latin word: in "not" + per "through" + via "road, street, path."
  • Incarcerous: Peudo-Latin from in "in" (yes, I'm afraid in has two entirely different meanings) + carcer, "prison, jail" and by extension, any sort of bonds, fetters, chains or imprisonment.
  • Incendio: From Latin incendo, "I set fire to, I kindle."
  • Legilimens: Pseudo-Latin from lego, "I read," + mens, "mind." If it were me, I would've written it legementem.
  • Levicorpus: Pseudo-Latin from levis, "light[weight]" or levo "I lift" + corpus, "body."
  • Liberacorpus: Slightly muddled pseudo-Latin: liber, libera, liberum is "free" while liber, librum is both "book" and a unit of weight. (Libro is the verb for weighing something.) I feel like Neville's toad for second-guessing the books, but I can't help suggesting something like gravicorpus, "weigh down the body."
  • Locomotor: From Latin locus, "place," plus motus, "motion, movement." I'm guessing locomotor is medieval Latin, since it shows up in English words like locomotive.
  • lumos: From Latin lumen is a light, lamp. I'm surprised Rowling didn't use lux to pair off nicely with nox.

Harry Potter Spells M-P

  • Meteolojinx Recanto: Pseudo-Latin. From Greek meteoros, "raised, on high" and by extension "heavenly, having to do with the sky," which science borrowed for weather, plus jinx, plus Latin recanto, "charm away, withdraw." Rowling has piqued my curiosity: she inspired me to ferret out the etymology of jinx. It appears to be from Greek iynx, a bird known in English as a "wryneck," which has been used since ancient times in spells and folk magic perhaps because of its disturbing ability to turn its head 180°.
  • Mobiliarbus: Pseudo-Latin from mobilis, "quick, active, changeable" + arbor, "tree."
  • Mobilicorpus: Pseudo-Latin from mobilis (which really has more of an idea of "rapid movement" than mere "movement") + corpus, "body."
  • Morsmordre: Pseudo-Latin from mors, mortis, "death." mordeo actually means "I bite, sting, hurt, nip," but I think Rowling was just riffing on mors, and possibly thinking of Tolkien's Mordor (mor- in Tolkien's Elvish means "dark, black" and tens to refer to nasty things).
  • Muffliato: Pseudo-Latin, built on English muff which can be traced back through French (which Rowling has taught) to an obscure Medieval Latin word, muffula, a "muff" (furry scarf or wrap).
  • Nox: Latin for "night."
  • Obliviate: Medieval Latin, I'm guessing, from obliviscor, "I forget." (Classical Latin form of the command: obliviscimini).
  • Obscuro: Latin "I darken, hide, conceal, cause to be forgotten."
  • Oppugno: Latin "I fight, attack, assail."
  • Orchideous: Pseudo-Latin from Latin (and Greek) orchis, "orchid."
  • Petrificus Totalus: Medieval Latin. Greek petros "rock, stone" + Latin facio "make, do, cause to happen" + Medieval Latin totalis < classical Latin totus "whole, entire."
  • Portus: Medieval Latin: "gate, portal, doorway." (Porta in classical Latin, when portus was more properly a harbor.)
  • Prior Incantato: this medieval Latin again? My classical training says it's incantatum prius, "the earlier/former incantation."
  • Protego: Latin "I cover, protect, shield, defend." A tectum is a covering or roof.
  • Protego Horribilis: Oopsie. That's "I, a horrible person, cast a protection spell." Probably should be protego ad horribilem or some other "against" preposition.
  • Protego Totalum: Roughly, "I protect the whole thing."

Harry Potter Spells Q-Z

  • Quietus: Latin adjective for "calm, quiet, peaceful." (quies is the noun "quiet, silence, stillness.")
  • Reducio: Medieval Latin. Reduco in classical Latin means to "lead back, bring back, withdraw" and, rarely, "restore, replace, bring back to an earlier form." In the Renaissance it came to be used more in the sense of "shrink, lessen."
  • Reducto: In classical Latin, a past-tense form of reduco, "brought back, withdrawn, restored." Harry Potter seems to use this word in its more modern sense of "reduce to its constituent elements" i.e. pulverize.
  • Relashio: Pseudo-Latin, evidently from English "release." (sh doesn't appear in Latin.)
  • Rennervate: Pseudo-Latin from enervo, "to remove the sinews or nerves, to weaken."
  • Reparo: From Latin reparo, "I restore, renew, revive."
  • Rictusempra: Pseudo-Latin from rictus, "the open mouth or jaws" (and by extension, "laughter") + semper "always."
  • Riddikulus: Misspelling of Latin ridiculus, which means exactly the same thing as the English word (ultimately from Latin rideo, "I laugh, I smile, I laugh at.")
  • Salvio Hexia: What's with all these random i's getting thrown in? Pseudo-Latin from salvo, salvus, "safe and sound" + German hexe, "witch." (Latin salvia is the herb "sage".)
  • Sectumsempra: Pseudo-Latin from seco, sectus, "cut up, make an incision" + semper "always."
  • Serpensortia: Pseudo-Latin. Serpens is a snake, of course, but I can't quite work out how sortior "to draw lots, choose a fate, cast dice" fits in, unless Rowling thought it meant "cast" as in "to throw."
  • Silencio: In classical Latin, silentium "silence" or sileo "be silent." Probably this is medieval Latin.
  • Sonorus: Latin "noisy, resounding, thunderous."
  • Stupefy: It's ordinary English, but it comes from Latin stupeo "to be stunned, numbed, astonished" + fio "make, do, cause to happen."
  • Tarantallegra: Pseudo-Italian from tarantella, a kind of vigorous folk-dance that originated in the Italian town Taranto.
  • Tergeo: Latin "rub clean, polish." Related to Latin tergum, "skin, hide, protective surface," since hides had to have their bristles polished away to be useful as parchment or leather.
  • Wingardium Leviosa: Pseudo-Latin and definitely not medieval; it's got the English word "wing" in it. I've seen a lot of people trying to make sense of this, but it doesn't: arduus, arduum is an all-purpose Latin adjective meaning "steep, high, difficult, challenging," but it's in the sense of a steep grade that must be climbed, not in the sense of height, loftiness, or an upwards direction. Leviosa is a made-up word from Latin levis, meaning "light[weight]." I think this word was invented before Rowling settled down and became a bit more methodical in her Latin.


Sophia on February 24, 2020:

I love Harry Potter and now I can give my friends some trivia questions.

Vick on August 15, 2017:

Well, I do not think most of those strange forms are medieval Latin. They are Latin mixed up with modern Romance languages. E.g. Obliviate is the Latin word obliviscor conjugated like its French descendant Oublier. It can also be vulgar Latin. I think that the author is confusing medieval latin, the formal Latin used in Church documents and other important medieval texts, and vulgar latin, the mother of French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, spoken by the people in everyday life from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. One thing that we have to keep in mind is that linguists and historians have exaggerated the difference between medieval and classical Latin. The biggest difference is the pronunciation and the extra vocabulary that comes with a Christian Medieval worldview.

Despite that I have to say that this was an interesting and fun read.

The Famejayster on August 02, 2017:

I got an 80 on the test, it is mostly common sense and English vocabulary.

Helminen on December 31, 2016:

I think your interpretation on "liberacorpus" is wrong and honestly weird. It is latin, not pseudolatin in any way. It says "free the body". My interpretation is that libera comes from verb libero, and so on libera is imperative. You must free the body/I command you to free the body. And when the lifting charm is off a body, which is heavier thatn air, will fall down

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 02, 2016:

Very interesting. I managed 100% on your quiz; and sort of surprised myself. I never studied Latin, but my mom and I were fascinated by words and their origins. Also, I took a few semesters of French, (no, I'm not fluent), and there are quite a few cognates from both French to English, and to French from the original Latin.

The definition you gave of "abracadabra" was most interesting; in the Aramaic version, I can also see a similarity, if not quite a cognate, to the word "cadaver."

Shared all around...(actually save to two different boards on Pinterest...)

Lilly on October 01, 2016:

I love Harry Potter it's the best book in the world

Jo on August 23, 2016:

I thought it was Serpens plus ortia from ortior, ortus- pseudo Latin for snake, arise

Mike on February 14, 2015:

I'm missing one of my favorites : Piertotum Locomotor

peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 20, 2015:

so, harry potter has been using latin words all this while, I thoughts those were magic spells

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 14, 2014:

I never studied Latin in school, but my mother did--at least one year's worth, anyway. She was very much into words and word play, often getting lost in the dictionary and the etymology of words.

However, I grew up in that environment, and as a reader, as my father refused to have a TV. So, I managed 100% on the quiz, just by sound and deduction of the similarity of some of the words to English. Not many are direct cognates from the original Latin, but there is enough there to make an educated guess. ;-) I remember a silly placard from years ago, in pseudo-Latin, that read, "Illegitimi non carborundum." Which supposedly "translated" to "Don't let the bastards grind you down." LOL

Mom and I had a fun time one day tracking down the similarities, yet opposing meanings of "ambulance" and "ambulatory," since a person needing an ambulance is not ambulatory! The two words certainly sound as if they share the same root! We were surprised by the results!)

Voted up, interesting and useful.

Emilia Riera from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 26, 2014:

I remember the first year I taught language arts from Harry Potter - great motivational reading to sneak in Latin roots, mythology, and issues regarding acceptance. Nice job interpreting the spells.

Júlio on August 03, 2013:

So in Serpensortia you seem to don't quite get why the "sortia". In my opinion, I think Rowling took the ver "sortir" from French which means "to leave, to come out" and probably maybe Serpensortia means "a snake to come out". In the movies you can aknowledge that a snake literally comes out of Draco's wand so I don't know, that's just my opinion, I may be wrong though.

belleart from Ireland on August 19, 2012:

Unusual but very interesting hub! Loved it and scored 80 in the quiz!!!! Voted up

Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on August 13, 2012:

Such a cool hub, and fun to read! Voted up & everything, and had to share.

Rebecca on August 13, 2012:

Great Hub! I love Harry Potter and I learned Latin at school so I got 100% on your quiz. Go me! haha :)

Ellen (author) from California on August 10, 2012:

Oh, thank you!

My modern language vocabulary is painfully beginner, so I need others to alert me to things like that. :)

dave_smith on August 10, 2012:

Regarding the first half of "colloporto", JK may have been influenced by the modern "colle" (French), "colla" (Italian), "cola" (Portuguese, and apparently also Catalan and Galician), all of which refer to "glue".

I only remembered this from those multi-lingual instructions you used to get with model aeroplanes, although it's nearly 20 years since I indulged that hobby.

Simmy George from India on July 15, 2012:

I never thought I knew a li'l Latin! Nice one.. I must say 'Gratias tibi!' for this wonderful hub.

Ellen (author) from California on July 15, 2012:

Oh, thank you very much for the mini-lesson!

There. Easy fix.

(I humbly defer to a scholar in the field. While I rely on Wikipedia to learn about almost anything outside my areas of expertise, my old academic training reminds me that I ought to double-check it against primary or expert sources.)

KrisL from S. Florida on July 14, 2012:

In my day job I'm in Jewish Studies, so I believe I am correct. There may be _writing_ attested in Aramaic before Hebrew, but I do not think that Aramaic is older, though you'd need an expert in ANEastern languages for the truly expert opinon.

(From a Jewish Studies perspective it is younger in a sense, as the Israelites spoke Hebrew before Aramaic, which they learned during the Babylonian Exile of 592 BC).

Ellen (author) from California on July 13, 2012:

Drat! My classical and near eastern training is showing again. Our detailed knowledge of the "Near East" peters out about the time they stop writing in cuneiform. Thanks for the correction. (I need to recheck this, however, as Wikipedia is not always correct. I thought I *had* checked with more scholarly sources, but I wrote this article a while ago.)

KrisL from S. Florida on July 12, 2012:

I am proud to say that high school Latin gave me a perfect score on the quiz! Contgratulations on a learned & hilarious hub.

And, by the way, Aramaic is not earlier than Hebrew: I think they are about equal in date of origin, but Hebrew is West Semitic and closely related Aramaic originated further East, with the Arameans .

Anonymous on July 02, 2012:

This is a great website. Good list of spells. I am a true HERMIONE. 100% in the quiz. Anyone who hasn't tried the quiz should.

Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on February 14, 2012:

I did the quiz before reading the article (only existing knowledge), perhaps my Latin isn't too dreadful! Awesome article, and a great list of spells!

MazioCreate from Brisbane Queensland Australia on November 12, 2011:

You're right I didn't know I knew that much Latin. Remember studying Latin roots in Year 8 and at times they were the bane of my existence. It didn't help that my Mother studied and loved Latin. Thanks for the translations.

Jalus on November 12, 2011:

Really nice how you handled this topic. Thoroughly enjoyed your hub. Voted up - Thanks!

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