I am confused on which verbs (for spend and waiting) to use for the phrase: "Don't spend your life waiting to live" "Noli habe vitam exspectans vivere"

Is habe the correct verb to use for spend? And exspectans for waiting?

Are these appropriate given the context of the phrase, and if not, which would be more appropriate?

Other verbs I have considered are absumere, manere, impendere, consumere.

1 Answer 1


Before discussing the verbs, let us first take a look at the construction/grammar.

  • There are several ways to have negative imperative. The most common are "Noli/Nolite + infitive" or "Ne + perfect subjunctive". Noli habe then is off.

  • I don't think using a present participle, like expectans, is accurate here. It reads more like: "Don't spend your life when you (happen to be) waiting to live."; (c.f. numquam fugiens respexeris); If I read the English correctly, the idea we are tying to convey is rather: "don't waste your life while/in waiting to live".

  • It also worth to be mindful of the fact the participles also usually take the accusative with them. And also that vitam vivere is actually attested; not that those facts alone render the suggested phrase as wrong - but it just good idea to keep in mind.

Reading the question, a close phrase came to mind: "ah!, vitam perdidi operose nihil agendo" (Grotius). It suggests a verb for spend (it would make it stronger though, more of the sense of "waste"), but more importantly, it offers a nice formula: using the ablative gerund instead a participle.

We can also be reminded of Seneca, in whose writings we can find exigere for "spend" (Vitam in peregrinatione exigentibus hoc evenit ut ...), but also this passage from the very first paragraph of his Moral Letters:

Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

Note that Seneca is actually using a participle that we didn't like - but, again, in the ablative case. (Maybe some can read this dative though).

So, as to the actual question: hebere does not sound right. We already suggested perdere and exigere; but as you suggest, also consumere is very valid option. As for "waiting" I think expecto is a good choice, but should be used carefully (i.e., not sure the attaching with a bare infinitive is the best way to go).

An Alternative

For "Spend" we can use the verb impendo: according to definition II from L&S, it can mean "to expend, devote, employ, apply" and attached with time/life as examples there readily show: impendo vitam famae, or impensurus omne aevi sui spatium in id opus; However, I would like to quote Seneca (Moral Letter 6.5) which both provides another formula of usage (other than the two given by L&S, namely with "in + acc" or with dative) and demonstrates the verb can be used to denoted a "devotion" not deliberated but more of "by product":

Mittam itaque ipsos tibi libros, et ne multum operae impendas dum passim profutura sectaris, imponam notas, ut ad ipsa protinus quae probo et miror accedas.

I shall therefore send to you the actual books; and in order that you may not waste time in searching here and there for profitable topics, I shall mark certain passages, so that you can turn at once to those which I approve and admire. (Loeb)

Hence we can say: Vide ne totam vitam tuam impendas dum expectas ut [eam/ipsam] vivas.

  • Thank you for this detailed reply, it has been most illuminating and informative. I am still new to learning Latin and this has helped a lot. Based on the feedback, the updated translation would read, "Noli consumere vitam tuam exspectans vivere" Though you mention exspectans may not be the correct choice. If you were writing this phrase, how would you write it?
    – Longsword
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 13:57

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