Please, explain to me the meaning of the Latin quote 'sensum, non verba spectamus'with some example-situation of using that quote.

Thank you for any help!

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    Are you sure the first word is spelled correctly? Sentum is a form of the adjective that means 'rugged' or 'uneven,' which doesn't seem to fit. Perhaps it should be sensum instead? Also, where did you find this quotation? What context was it given in? And where have you already looked to try to find an answer?
    – cnread
    Nov 15, 2020 at 23:17
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    Hi Faro, and welcome to the site; I agree, the first word is probably meant to be sensum, not sentum. But we can't give a very good answer without more context. The meaning of the phrase itself is fairly straightforward, but I've never heard it used in law before, so knowing where you saw it would help.
    – Draconis
    Nov 15, 2020 at 23:23
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    Good evening everyone!, sorry, I misspelled, it should be 'Sensum', and I tried to look all over the internet for this and didn't have success; I do not have specific context because it was just on a list with Latin expressions what I have as a task to learn and explain it, it's from subject Roman Law in uni, ''Sensum, non verba spectamus (ad C. 6.28.3, D.''
    – faro
    Nov 15, 2020 at 23:39

1 Answer 1


The Latin literally means "we look at the meaning, not the words". Or, more idiomatically, "we follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter".

This seems to have been a principle in Roman law, judging from the citations you gave. I don't recognize "ad C.", but "D." is the Digesta of Justinian. The relevant part of section reads:

Sed melius est sensum magis quam verba amplecti et condiciones sicut adscribi, ita et adimi posse.
But it is better to embrace the meaning rather than the words, so just as conditions can be attached, they can also be removed.

The context is a discussion on conditions attached to inheritances, where Papinian argues that they can't be removed due to a technicality about terms given versus terms attached. The Digesta says that this technicality doesn't matter, because the intent is clearly to allow the removal process to apply to all terms, no matter which verb is applied to them.

(Anyone who specializes in Roman law, please correct my translations. Law isn't my specialty, and I'm just trying to translate as literally as possible, without knowing any technical meanings of things.)


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