These words seem very difficult to translate into idiomatic Latin. 'Supposedly' is used to express doubt that something is what people say it is, e.g. 'The queen supposedly finds Meghan Markle a nightmare from the royal family’s point of view.'

Secondly, the phrase 'supposed to' is a difficult phrase to define. It can mean 'obliged to' or 'intended to' or 'to have a duty or responsibility to' or 'expected to'.

It is often used in the context of meetings or arrangements as 'I am supposed (exspecto dum + subjunctive doesn’t quite capture the meaning) to meet a certain Mr. Panayiotis here at 10 a.m.'

Examples of the various sentences in which this idiom is used are (from the Cambridge English Dictionary):-

  • What are you doing out of bed - you're supposed to be asleep?
  • The whole conference was totally disorganized - nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing.
  • The appointments are supposed to be made without fear or favour.
  • You know full well that you're not supposed to go there without asking me!
  • You're supposed to put the handbrake on whenever you stop on a hill.
  • I was supposed to be working this evening but what the hell - I'll see you in the pub in half an hour.

In the sense 'intended to' we say 'This LED torch battery is already broken: it was supposed to last for three years!'

Here it seems to mean 'am able':- 'How am I supposed to (= how can I) find that much money by the end of the week?'

Lastly, how would one say in Latin 'a supposed expert' in the sense that he is believed by many people to be so, but often doubted to be so by the person who is speaking or writing?

In some contexts existimatur could be used, or licet and debeo.

But how is 'I am supposed to meet her' to be translated into Latin?

Or a 'supposed expert'. In fact in the sense of 'so-called' it is very difficult to convey this sceptical or scornful nuance in Latin. ut dicunt is too neutral, as are most expressions I have found in Latin.

I have tried to sort out the various meanings of this idiom and I realise that my question is too general but if suggestions for one or two of the more tricky examples like 'supposedly' and 'supposed to meet' and 'a supposed expert' can be made, I shall be satisfied.

1 Answer 1


You've identified a number of distinct uses of this word all of which appear to have to do with modality. I'll try to list them all and give translation equivalents. Overall, Latin expresses non-assertion and evidential reservation using the subjunctive in finite clauses, but this is quite limited (mostly quī-relative clauses); the rest of the time it simply uses lexical verbs. Obligation is likewise expressed using dedicated verbs.

  • the literal, prototypical verb for 'to suppose, believe based on evidence or through inference' is putāre, plus the evaluating exīstimāre: quīdam id vērum putant, aliī falsum exīstimant ('some suppose it to be true, others believe it to be mistaken'); pută tē esse lībertum ('suppose you're a freedman').

  • truth-value restricting or evidential ('The queen supposedly finds Meghan Marcle a nightmare') – there's no dedicated, grammatical way to express evidentiality, such as the German Konjunktiv I or the "hearsay" use of the Romance conditional in main clauses. To do this, Latin uses verbs like dīcitur ('is said to [by contemporaries]'), trāditur [as report or tradition], narrant, ferunt ('they say'), aijunt ('people claim, everyone says'), fāma/rūmor est ('the [trustworthy/untrustworthy] talk of the town is that'), either governing an Acc-Inf or parenthetically (usu. introduced by ut).
    • audīre can be used with monikers and personal evaluations: Claudia bene audit [ā parentibus] ('people/her parents say good things about Claudia'), subtīlis veterum jūdex et callidus audīs ('people call you a shrewd expert on antiquity').
    • 'supposedly good, bad' is quod laudātur, reprehenditur; quem populus laudat.
    • 3d person passive expressions incl. habētur, dīcitur normally used personally: is prīmus fuisse habētur quī ('he's supposed to be the first to'). putātur used in the passive conveys reasonable certainty and is used by Pliny the Elder in his scientific encyclopedia; exīstimātur on the other hand is subjective, and crēditur unsubstantiated.
  • When the source of the supposition is known, it will typically be expressed: ut eijus familiārēs aijunt; ut quīdam volunt, ut ipse vult ('according to some, according to him').
  • Conversely one can express reservation using verbs of subjective perception: (ut) accipiō, audiō ('I'm being told, I'm hearing that').
  • Latin also has a rich choice of 1st and 3d person expressions of reservation such as putō, crēdō, ut opīnor, quod sciam.

  • modal of obligation – this one's straighforwardly expressed with oportēre 'should, supposed to' and dēbēre 'to have an obligation or an imperative to': dormīre tē oportet!; nēmō sciēbat quid sē facere oportēret; ter diē fierī dēbet and trāmen jam advēnisse oportuit; jam dūdum advenīre dēbuerat ('the train was supposed to have arrived by now; had to arrive a while ago').
    • a special case is oportuit + past participle: faciam # factum oportuit (' – I'll do it. – It ought to have been done already').
    • a personal-evaluating, 'ought to' connotation is added through the use of the subjunctive: vesperī labōrāre dēbērem ('I ought to be working but I'm not or won't'); hunc tē vītāre oporteat ('it's best for you to avoid him').
  • appointments and intent – these can sometimes be expressed in the same way, but mostly call for dedicated verbs of agreeing and deciding: merīdiē convenīre dēbēmus 'I'm supposed to meet her around noon', fēcit ut illīs convēnerat 'she did as she was supposed to, as was agreed [between them]', omnia ex sententiā cessēre ('everything went as it was supposed to'), nōn ita prōpositum est ('this isn't the plan').
  • Then there are the gerund(ive)s: sine īrā et studiō jūdicandum est; istuc medicāmentum ante cēnam erat sūmendum ('this medicine was supposed to be taken before the meal').

  • rhetorical question ('How am I supposed to?') – simply uses the subjunctive: quī (ego) sciam? ('how am I supposed to know?'), ubi quaeram? ('where am I to search for it?'). Of course you can make it explicit using the same obligation expressions, still in the subjunctive.
  • mistaken suppositions can be underlined with falsō; tamquam and quasi can introduce alleged reasons (see Pinkster 2021: 104):

    quia nōn quasi ad extrāneam, sed quasi ad uxōrem fecit ('because he did not make [the gift] to a stranger as it were, but to his supposed wife', Justinian's Digest).

  • sarcastic, scornful modifying individual words ('supposed expert') – there doesn't seem to be a dedicated way; one will generally express this using parenthetical clauses, with negative evaluations expressed more or less explicitly, e.g. quod falsō crēdunt in Āfricā nāscī; doctus quī dīcitur ab imperītīs. Cf. Cicero's:

    ut quidem istī dictitant 'lībertātis auctōrēs' ('the ‘authors of our liberty,’ as these persons like to describe themselves').

    • I think you can use tamquam which expresses pretended grounds, or quasi which expresses approximation: homo quasi doctus 'a sort of educated guy [at least in appearance]', tamquam eijus parentum aedēs 'supposedly his parents' house'. I can't seem to find them used to express outright sarcasm, but this may be an attestation artefact, like you won't find the English reservations 'like' and 'kind of' in most literary texts.
    • for more colourful and explicit sarcasm you can use the negative intensifier male: quīdam male doctī ('some would-be experts [but not really]'). Some of these are idiomatic, with an explicitly opposite meaning: male sānus = īnsānus; male fīdus = īnfīdus.
  • for explicit rejection see pretended as well as 'under the pretext of; ostensibly'.
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    @JonathanHadfield Thanks for the praise, I'm glad you liked the answer - I've just added some further improvements. I see what you mean about that phrase and I agree it sounds unspecific if one doesn't add an appointed date, which was the use I had in mind - I've fixed that. If you don't think the current answer needs further improvement, you can put my mind at ease by accepting it :-) Apr 8, 2022 at 19:13
  • QIn the sentence ‘I am supposed to meet her’, it seems to me that convenire debemus is too unspecific to for ‘I am supposed to meet her’. Perhaps in the sense of a rendezvous, an improvement on the lines of ‘constitutum est ut conveniamus’ contains the notion of an appointed date. I owe this suggestion to a friend to whom I had earlier asked for how he would translate it. See also L&S II, D, b. a). for diem constituere. Otherwise, this answer is fully comprehensive, excellently arranged and fully answers all my queries. Apr 9, 2022 at 9:57
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    tranquillo animo esto, Scytha humanissime! nunc responsum tuum sine ulla exceptione libenter accipio! Apr 9, 2022 at 9:59
  • @JonathanHadfield Beās iterum verbīs tam benignīs! Atquī adest in hāc sēde rētiālī et alia facultās respōnsiōnis accipiundae - dīcō aviculae illud signum (✓) quod rēctā sub suffrāgandī īnstrūmentō inveniēs, in respōnsī capite ad laevam - hīc fūsius Anglicē. Quam aviculam sī premis, tē eō respōnsō satis factum esse cum cēterīs tum respondentī dēclārās (quīn et exīstumātiōnem illam viridem numeriam augēs). Sed bene est tamen tē verbīs ea significāsse: nimis pol placuit istaec nōminis mei interpretātiō! =) Apr 9, 2022 at 20:44
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    IOHANNES MAGISTRO SVO PRAECLARO S P D me iuvat te interpretatione mea nominis tui gavisum esse. ut scis, vocabulum humanitas Ciceroni nostro gratum acceptumque erat, quapropter est translatio aptissima, ut mihi videtur, verbi ‘unbrutal’ ac ‘Scytha’ antiquitus idem propemodum quod ‘Ruthenicus’ valet. praeterea, egi verbatim ad praescripta tua istam aviculam premendo et ecce! avicula viridis est facta, auctus quoque numerus. cura ut valeas. Apr 10, 2022 at 10:21

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