Consider this usual example of Latin+English:

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As Wiktionary states, in memoriam literally means "into memory" (memoriam is in accusative case). However, as Wiktionary (above) and Wikipedia state, the phrase is used to mean "in [the] memory [of]". In effect, it seems odd to say "Into the memory, John F. Kennedy, ...".

On that note, would a more appropriate use of Latin be the ablative, in memoria? The latter could also be understood as "to the memory of", which also makes sense in this context, I think.

In fact, did genuine Latin speakers (e.g. Roman, mediaeval period, Church) use "in memoriam" for graves? When it comes to inscriptions fully in Latin, I've usually seen the formula memoriae sacrum (M.S.), which means "Sacred to the memory [of]". Example:

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Is thus in memoriam a misuse of Latin by not native-Latin speakers?

  • 1
    Funnily enough, I just referred to this phrase when answering this question about a tombstone inscription.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 13:53
  • 1
    I tend to agree with the following comentator, who says "I think in this case in + accusative implies purpose, so that the idea is more "for the remembrance of". I don't know the exact origin of the phrase as found in epitaphs, however. The Romans applied it to verbs like revocare and reducere to mean 'to recall to memory', but the ablative was used if the idea were of holding or keeping in the memory". SOURCE: latindiscussion.com/forum/latin/in-memory-of.872
    – Mitomino
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 19:29
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    In memoria doesn't make any sense at all in Latin. The monument does not exist inside your memory. Rather, the monument exists for the purpose of historical record or to place its subject into the historical record. Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:37
  • I doubt that "in memoriam" is a mistranslation of "in memory", but that "in memory" rather is a mistranslation of the Latin. Similarly with the English phrase "believe in God" for "credo in Deum".
    – Figulus
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


As L&S put it, in their classic textwall style (entry for in, II.C.2):

Of the object or end in view, regarded also as the motive of action or effect: “non te in me illiberalem, sed me in se neglegentem putabit,” Cic. Fam. 13, 1, 16: “neglegentior in patrem,” Just. 32, 3, 1: “in quem omnes intenderat curas,” Curt. 3, 1, 21: “quos ardere in proelia vidi,” Verg. A. 2, 347: “in bellum ardentes,” Manil. 4, 220: “nutante in fugam exercitu,” Flor. 3, 10, 4: “in hanc tam opimam mercedem agite ( = ut eam vobis paretis, Weissenb. ad loc.),” Liv. 21, 43, 7: “certa praemia, in quorum spem pugnarent,” id. 21, 45, 4: “in id sors dejecta,” id. 21, 42, 2: “in id fide accepta,” id. 28, 17, 9: “in spem pacis solutis animis,” id. 6, 11, 5 et saep.: “ingrata misero vita ducenda est in hoc, ut, etc.,” Hor. Epod. 17, 63: “nec in hoc adhibetur, ut, etc.,” Sen. Ep. 16, 3: “alius non in hoc, ut offenderet, facit, id. de Ira, 2, 26, 3: in quod tum missi?” Just. 38, 3, 4.—So, like ad, with words expressing affections or inclination of the mind: “in obsequium plus aequo pronus,” Hor. Ep. 1, 18, 10: “paratus in res novas,” Tac. H. 4, 32: “in utrumque paratus,” Verg. A. 2, 61.—

In other words, in + accusative can indicate the purpose or goal of an action, when that purpose or goal is a single noun (as opposed to a whole phrase, which takes ut). In this case, the goal is remembrance (memoria) of the deceased.

This construction is used to similar effect in one of the most famous Bible passages, Luke 22:19 (emphasis mine):

Et accepto pane gratias egit, et fregit, et dedit eis, dicens: Hoc est corpus meum, quod pro vobis datur: hoc facite in meam commemorationem.

And when Jesus had taken the bread, he gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me.

The same construction is found in the Greek here, using εἰς ("into") with the accusative to indicate purpose or goal. I'm not sure if the Greek usage influenced the Latin one or not, though that might make an excellent question of its own!


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