I want to gift someone who is a nurse something with an engraving. I thought about the phrase "from her hands, into life", but in Latin.

Based on what I remember from school, my idea is: E manibus suis ad vitam.

  • Would "e" (can or should I use "ex"?) and "ad" be the correct prepositions, or should they be "a/ab" and "in"?
  • Are the declinations and the word order correct? Is any word order allowed in Latin, and if so, what would be best practice?
  • What would be the difference between using suis and eis? I read on this site that suus is used if it refers to the subject of the sentence, and is, ea, id otherwise, but this is not a complete sentence with verb and subject, so what would apply?
  • Could or should there be a comma: ex manibus suis, ad vitam?

1 Answer 1


It may not be a full sentence but there's an implied subject and verb all the same, and I feel it's something like "a healing force flows". In that case, the subject is not the referent of the possessive pronoun, so you should indeed use a form of is, but probably not the ablative: e manibus eis means "from these hands". That may be acceptable, but the idiomatic way to use is as if it were a non-reflexive third-person possessive pronoun is to use it in the genitive: ex manibus eius (lit. "from the hands of him/her", but actually "from his/her hands").

Before a consonant e versus ex is a matter of personal preference (they're the same word; ex is generally more common), before a vowel ex is the mandatory form; I do think it's the right preposition to use here. A(b(s)) really mainly means "away from", and feels like it has a heavier emphasis on the removal of a thing. It can also be used to indicate instrumentality, but more in the sense of a motivation than an actual instrument, if that makes sense.

Ad vitam is absolutely fine; Cicero uses "ad vitam revocare" to mean "bring back to life" in one of his letters to Atticus and if Cicero does it it has to be Latin. There are contexts where the fact that ad means "towards but not actually into" matters, but I don't feel like this is one of them.

As far as the word order is concerned, as long as you keep the eius closer to the manibus than to the vitam you can pretty much do whatever you like. If you use ex eius manibus instead of ex manibus eius you'll copy Plautus but either is fine. Commas are always completely optional in Latin, the Romans hadn't invented them yet; I wouldn't use one in a phrase as short and unambiguous as this.

So to sum up, I'd go with: ex eius manibus ad vitam.

  • 2
    "they're the same word, and it's not like Greek ἐκ/ἐξ/ἐγ where the form depends on the following letter or anything" - so you could just as well say e eius manibus? That's not what I was taught. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 8:58
  • @SebastianKoppehel That is what I was taught (in high school; I guess it hasn't come up again in college), but looking it up I see I was taught wrong. I've made an edit.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 13:18
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    Regarding the choice of e or ex: There is a hard rule for prefixes but not for the prepositions (other than always ex- before vowels). (Also @SebastianKoppehel)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 13:40
  • This has helped me a lot, I appreciate the details. You interpreted the subject to be the "healing force"; I thought it to be the patients, but your interpretation makes more sense, because she is not a midwife. A last detail: To have it say "back to life", would one only need to insert the word "retro" before "ad"?
    – Marie. P.
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 13:42
  • 1
    @Marie.P. No, that would mean more like... "turned backwards to life". The re- on the implied verb carries the meaning you're looking for, and unless your friend is also making golems I feel like it's kind of implied regardless? The patients were alive to begin with so any motion towards life is going to be a motion back to life. If you definitely want to make it explicit you could unelide the verb but you'd have to work out the structure of the whole thing to decide on a form.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 16:05

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