I'm aware that Google translate sometimes gets it right, but oftentimes gets it horribly wrong. It claims that the Latin translation for 'lethal force' is lethalis vis.

Would this be the correct translation?

In terms of the context, it's a commanding officer indicating that lethal force is authorised against an enemy combatant.

Thank you for any help/guidance offered.

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    I'll leave it to someone with more knowledge than me to answer about the Latin (I'm confident the Google Translate version doesn't work, but I expect there's a nice authentic construction suitable here) – what I would note is that if you're writing any kind of historical fiction, you should remember that notions like authorising a specific degree of violence are based within a modern conception of warfare, and wouldn't necessarily make sense to the Romans.
    – dbmag9
    Mar 31, 2023 at 16:10
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    Actually I think Google's lethalis vis is fine per se and seems to have been used for the toxicity of pharmaceutical substances/plants, it's just that as a military term it would be a pretty blatant anglicism. Commanders in antiquity ordering their underlings to use force if necessary but not to kill certain people also seems not beyond the pale; actually I'm rather frustrated that I cannot find an example at the moment. Mar 31, 2023 at 22:25
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    @SebastianKoppehel I would reverse the order and drop the spurious 'h' in letalis (which I believe is a Late Latin adoption based on the misconception that the word comes from the Greek Lethe), but it's not too off base here.
    – cmw
    Mar 31, 2023 at 22:26
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    Also, re: non-lethal force, what of Caesar ordering the maiming of rebellious Gauls, such as after the Siege of Uxellodunum?
    – cmw
    Mar 31, 2023 at 22:30
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    @cmw Agreed on word order and spelling. Mar 31, 2023 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


If you mean "military force" then instead of vīs; using its plural form to refer their strength as a whole vīrēs, ium, f. pl., or cōpiae, ārum f. pl. sounds more appropriate. "fātālis" can also be used instead of "lētālis".

So, vīrēs fātālēs/lētālēs or cōpiae fātālēs/lētālēs - and please don't forget to decline them appropriately.

Yet if you mean like "a striking force" then "vīs fātālis/lētālis".

For more examples and usage: https://latinitium.com/latin-dictionaries/?t=sh10233

Or you can search through the old texts for examples at: https://latin.packhum.org/

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    I think you meant lētālis here instead of lētālēs so I took the liberty of correcting what I think was a typo. Let me know if that's not the case, though.
    – cmw
    Mar 31, 2023 at 23:14
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    Ah yes, I was copy-pasting as I was adding it after I typed the whole thing. - Thanks! Mar 31, 2023 at 23:16
  • This is incredibly helpful. Thank you. I'm not sure 'military force' has the same connotation as 'lethal force'. 'Military force' conveys an army of thousands. 'Lethal force' is a commander indicating rules of engagement and specifying that the soldiers may 'shoot to kill'. Given that the piece I'm writing is not based in medieval times (set in early 2000s) this may have no true translation into Latin. Would fatalis vis, or vis fatalis as someone mentioned above that the wording was the wrong way around, translate more to 'fatal force' rather than 'lethal force'? Apr 1, 2023 at 10:31
  • @SnakeDoctor The definition of "Lethal Force" is: An amount of force that is likely to cause either serious bodily injury or death to another person. But you can also call a special group of troops as "Lethal Force" just like "Air Force" or "Ground Force" - so that they are deadly; then = vīrēs/cōpiae. But if you mean "Lethal Force" like a "Deadly Blow (to the enemy) = vīs. And in terms of letalis/fatalis, they are (basing my opinion on Latinitium) interchangeable just like in English: latinitium.com/latin-dictionaries/?t=sh14889 Apr 1, 2023 at 14:17

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