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"Luck is for the unprepared" is my personal motto.

I have tried to translate it but I'm not confident that it has not been translated as "Luck is a gift to the unprepared", whereas I am looking for a translation that says, "Luck is all the unprepared have" or "Luck is only required by the unprepared".

My first try was "Fortuna ad imparatis est".

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The vocabulary is spot-on. Imparatus is "unprepared" and fortuna is "luck". There are certainly other options, but these are very good and I see no reason to change them. If you want to got a more nuanced descriptions of these words or find more candidates, I suggest taking a look at some of the various free online Latin dictionaries.

The preposition ad and the dative case have a similar — but not identical — meaning. They cannot be used together: it is either a plain dative or the preposition ad together with the accusative case. Therefore the two grammatical options starting from your attempt are:

  1. Fortuna imparatis est
  2. Fortuna ad imparatos est

The dative is more suitable here, as it corresponds roughly to English words like "for", "for the benefit of", "to". The preposition ad is more in the spirit of "towards" and "to". Therefore option 1 is better.

However, the Latin dative can also be used for possession, so option 1 can be read as "the unprepared have luck". If this reading option is not an issue, then I suggest 1. One similar possibility is to use the genitive to say "luck is of the unprepared":

  1. Fortuna imparatorum est

If you want to avoid the interpretation that the unprepared have luck — as opposed to needing it — then a different kind of wording will be clearer. The genitive together with an infinitive can be used to say that something is for someone or characteristic of someone. (See this question for details on this construction.) Whether you want to make the luck explicit is optional:

  1. Imparatorum est [fortunam] sperare
    Hoping [for luck] is for the unprepared

Whether adding fortunam makes the expression too long or leaving it out makes it too weak — or both — is for you to decide. My suggestion is to use option 4 or a variant thereof, as it strikes me as more idiomatic Latin.

Without adding an explicit word like "have" or "need", you can say "the unprepared have luck" but not "the unprepared need luck". This is unlike English, where "luck is for the unprepared" implies need more than possession. If you want emphasis on the need for luck, you could go with:

  1. Fortuna [solis] imparatis necessis (est).
    Luck is necessary [only] for the unprepared.

I think this conveys your message very accurately, but it does feel more verbose than the English original. That appears to be inevitable if you want accuracy. Leaving est out is common in a motto and possible in general.

  • Could it be disambiguated with "only"? "Luck is only for the unprepared" – stevemarvell Jun 26 at 15:38
  • @stevemarvell Unfortunately that would add no disambiguation. You would just have the same things with an added "only". For example, fortuna solis imparatis est can be read as "only the unprepared have luck". But sola fortuna imparatis est would be "the unprepared have only luck". That's closed to what you are after, but it still gives me the impression that unpreparedness brings luck. I might be missing something, but I don't think adding an "only" can help disambiguate options 1–3. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 26 at 16:24
  • @Joonas llmavirta: how is the dative used to express possession, without a personal pronoun? – tony Jun 26 at 16:34
  • @tony The dative of possession can be used with any noun. It's not limited to personal pronouns, although it might be more common with them. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 26 at 16:39
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I believe we should be aiming for "only the unprepared have luck" to be transformed into "only the unprepared need luck" – stevemarvell Jun 26 at 17:07
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Try "fortuna est imparatis, parati non eam requirunt.", giving: "luck is for the unprepared, the prepared do not need it." Cicero disagrees with yourself: "fortuna, non sapientia, vitam regit" = "Luck, not brains, rules life."

Romans, generally, thought: "contra lucem, vix deus vires habet." Against a lucky man, even a god scarcely has power."

  • That appears to say "luck [itself] is unprepared". I'm looking for "Luck is [only] for the unprepared" – stevemarvell Jun 26 at 11:52
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    @stevemarvell: "imparatis" is dative-plural = "for the unprepared". The context: if the prepared don't need the luck; then, the unprepared must do. – tony Jun 26 at 12:01
  • @tony is it plural? It is not like "gruel is for the poor" and "the poor" is singular? The poor rely on gruel as the unprepared rely on luck since they have nothing else. – stevemarvell Jun 26 at 13:55
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    @Hugh: Well spotted, thanks. – tony Jun 26 at 14:04
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    @stevemarvell: English "the poor" sounds like a collective noun. The Latin uses an adjective (plural). Perhaps you could submit your translation? – tony Jun 26 at 14:14

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