Living in France & participating in traditional Latin masses, I'm only vaguely familiar with some Latin in very specific contexts. I was looking to translate the sentence "Les Morts gouvernents les vivants / The dead govern the living" from an author I appreciate, Auguste Comte - I instinctively thought the words I would need were relative to "Vivo / Dominor / Morior" which you can hear the variations of often at the church.

After doing more research, I think I found the present & plural version of Dominor for this specific sentence which might be "Dominantur", Mortuos or perhaps Mortui for "the dead" & viventes,ium ? for "the living".

Which would give me something in the area of "Mortuis/Mortuos Dominantur Viventes/Vivens"

Am I far off? Close? Any help or guidance would be very much appreciated.

1 Answer 1


You are spot on with the pair mortui and viventes -- the dead and the living. I am not so sure about dominari, as the meaning is closer to "be dominant (in some area or respect)"; it would seem more natural to me to use imperare. If imperare has no direct object (or AcI, ut clause, etc.), it just means "govern, rule over" with the governed party in the dative. That would be viventibus. Since the dead are the subject, they're in the nominative, which is mortui. (Mortuos would be the accusative.)

Thus we get:

Mortui imperant viventibus.

(Although I would personally be partial to Imperant viventibus mortui.)

  • Strangely no "Viventes invidebunt mortuis" anywhere on the web 🤔 Nov 6, 2021 at 20:49
  • Thank you M Koppehel, I might have jumped too fast on my conclusion to use Dominari, hearing it often during the Novus Ordo : "Domine". Imperare makes perfect sense, I hadn't thought of it. So it would be Mortui, not Mortuis, is it because it's considered a "single group" ? I'm just stepping into Latin, excuse my ignorance.
    – Joseph
    Nov 6, 2021 at 21:20
  • 2
    @Joseph the word Domine that you are liable to encounter frequently in Christian liturgy is the vocative of Dominus, i.e. Lord (le Seigneur), used when addressing God. A single dead is mortuus, multiple dead people are mortui, and mortuis is the same, but with a different case ending, which, however, is not called for in this context. See them all here. Nov 7, 2021 at 8:33
  • Thank you for your patience, I've been doing much necessary reading since yesterday & it makes more sense now - May I ask you why you would personally prefer that second form you suggested ? Is it more correct grammatically ?
    – Joseph
    Nov 7, 2021 at 21:20
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    @Joseph both are equally correct (otherwise I would of course have said so), it is just a matter of taste. I cannot exactly explain why, maybe because the "surprise" comes last. The first form is closer to Comte's original, though. Nov 7, 2021 at 22:27

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