I would like to know how to translate the phrase "To serve, not to be served" in Latin. It doesn't have to be a word for word translation. But, I want to know the phrase that would give the impression I'm going for to a Latin native.

To serve, as in to give freely to help others. Not be served, as in not depending on others to help you.

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    Tip: If you have a phrase that you know comes from the Bible, and you want to know how to say it in Latin, you can simply look it up in the Vulgate, which is exactly where the top answer comes from, that's what the "VG" link means.
    – Nacht
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 1:45
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    Thanks for the tip :) I didn't know it came from the Bible when I wrote it, I didn't even know what Vulgate was. Now I do.
    – user7267
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


Welcome to the site!

Non ministrari, sed ministrare (VG Mt 20,28)

Is a well-attested phrase with that exact meaning. It literally means not to be served but to serve. The context is Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew saying that He (the Son of man) came not to be served but to serve.

Update: it is (arguably) a common choice for mottos. Besides the American College of Greece (see comments), it is also the motto of Wellesley College in MA, USA (among others) and at least six recent catholic bishops.

  • Oh my god!!!! Thank you!!!!! :) This is exactly the phrase they used. I just looked it up ;)
    – user7267
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:07
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    Oh, it's the college I go to :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_College_of_Greece
    – user7267
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:39
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    It's funny, they even have it on their wiki page but I didn't see it before I posted the question here...
    – user7267
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:41
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    Curious that the American College of Greece has a Latin motto, and to make things worse, one that is a translation of a Greek original :) Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 15:30
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    Sebastian: Your observation is both ironic and smart! Nicely done. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 22:10

I would suggest:

Servire, non Serviri

Another option, based on a model from Cicero ("Esse quam videri" = "To be rather than to seem") is:

Servire quam Serviri

Note that this final construction is somewhat elliptical.

A final option, which captures the sense rather than the literal meaning, is from Acts 20:35:

Beatius est magis dare, quam accipere.

"It is better to give than to receive"

  • Thank you :) Even though @Rafael gave me the answer I was looking for, thank you for the alternatives. They are also great! I can use them instead, so I don't seem like a copycat ;)
    – user7267
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:09
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    Are you sure serviri works? As far as I know, servire goes with dative instead of accusative, so I'm not sure the passive infinitive does what it would do for a transitive verb.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:30
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I didn't think of that! I checked L&S and it looks like there's only one attested use of a passive servire (by Seneca the Younger), so it's probably not the best option.
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 14:46
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    @brianpck Interestingly, that attestation (servis paucioribus serviri) seems to be doubtful as well. Several editions of the text I found online had servire, and here it is translated as "to be the slaves of fewer slaves", which admittedly seems contorted. Ah, the simple stoic life, where you have only a few slaves ...! Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 15:05
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: This (servis paucioribus serviri.) looks like "You serve too few [of those about] to be served.". Then, that might be indirect, requiring future participle, "servituros esse", not passive infinitive, "serviri"?
    – tony
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 12:19

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