If "i.e." or "id est" is often used to say "that is...", why do we use "id" instead of "illud"? Doesn't "id est" translate to "it is"?

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    Doesn't "id est" translate to "it is"? No it doesn't? Any useful Latin dictionary will translate is, ea, id as “he, she, it, this, that.” (But of course the real answer, as given below, is that we use id because the ancient Romans used id, and they used id because they couldn't know (and wouldn't have cared) what English speakers say.) Oct 1, 2023 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


Translation between two languages is rarely as easy as swapping each word for its equivalent in the other language. Function words in particular, for example demonstratives like id and illud (and hoc, istud, etc.), don't align perfectly between English and Latin. Both 'it' and 'that' are reasonable translations of id, depending on context.

And in this instance, we are dealing with fixed expressions. It so happens that in English, the idiomatic expression is that is, while in Latin it's id est. This is quite arbitrary. The French expression c'est à dire translates literally to 'that/it is to say', while the Swedish det vill säga would be 'it wants to say' in English. It's perfectly possible to conceive of a world where English and Latin ended up with other standardised phrases than the ones we are used to.

You may want to look up is and ille (the masculine of id and illud, respectively) in a dictionary. Here's Lewis and Short: is, ille.

  • @Alexa Not all translation is literal because idiom occurs in language which means that much language has meaning that is more-than-the-sum-of-the-parts.
    – J D
    Oct 1, 2023 at 15:31

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