Where I come from, we have an ironic saying about love, it could be translated into English as:

Love is warming, but coal is coal

(Or perhaps less literally as "Love is heartwarming, but coal will always be coal.")

I'm trying to translate that into Latin. So far I've come up with:

Amor calefacit, sed carbo est carbo


Amor calefaciēbat, sed carbo erat carbo

I'm really uncertain whether the present or imperfect is appropriate. Would someone be so kind as to improve on my attempt? I'd probably prefer a plain and simple translation over eloquent / poetic ones.

  • 2
    Would you mind providing a gloss of what this saying is getting at?
    – brianpck
    Dec 22, 2016 at 15:08
  • 3
    @brianpck It's a tounge-in-cheek sort of thing. Coal was/is used as a fuel for heating and has a high calorific value. And so what the saying is getting at is that while love surely is nice and heartwarming, it's fleeting and unreliable in comparison with the solidness of a coal-based heating. Yes, we have a weird sense of humour where I come from.
    – kralyk
    Dec 22, 2016 at 17:09
  • 2
    No reason for an imperfect. This is a "gnomic" saying, i.e. true regardless of time, so the present is appropriate.
    – TKR
    Dec 22, 2016 at 19:07
  • @TKR Thanks. So, the first form would be more correct then, are there any other problems with it?
    – kralyk
    Dec 22, 2016 at 20:11
  • 2
    I don't see any grammatical problems with it, but I'm not sure how idiomatic is it -- I don't know there are any attested instances of "X est X" with this kind of meaning. Btw the untranslatable particle quidem would very likely be used in the first part (Amor quidem calefacit), but this is optional.
    – TKR
    Dec 23, 2016 at 1:59

3 Answers 3


The translation and its grammar is per se correct but:

Amor calefacit

Doesn't mean that a characteristic of "love" is "being warm", it means that "Love(subject) warms (something)"


Amor calefaciēbat

Literally means "Love(subject) warmed (something). (And just a tip, don't use the accents in the middle of the word because it's a grammar error, you will find them in books just to help you reading words)

I would say:

Amor calidus (est), sed carbo carbo est.

I prefer the word "calidus" (as in "calidarium", a typical bath with hot water, or you can use "fervens, -entis" if you want to express something really hot and passionate) and its past participle because it's a better translation for "Love is warming". Using this verb tense you will express the word "warm" as an adjective to "love" (look for "past participle as adjective"). Moreover I would reverse "carbo est carbo" with "carbo carbo est" because it's more correct in written Latin to put the verb at the end of the sentence.

Sorry for any English mistake! And ask if you need something.

  • 1
    > Doesn't mean that a characteristic of "love" is "being warm", it means that "Love(subject) warms (something)" Well, in the original form (in Czech), it's literally "love warms [one]", wherein the [one] is implied the same way it would be implied in "love hurts" ... I had a hard time translating that into English.
    – kralyk
    Dec 24, 2016 at 16:07
  • 1
    Okay I didn't know this sentence, but if the meaning in Czech is "love warms (someone)" yeah I would go with "Amor calefacit (nos/te/ego)" or with the absolut ablative "Amore calefacente" that exactly translates "Love is warming".
    – user1052
    Dec 24, 2016 at 16:17
  • 2
    The meaning here is definitely that "love makes people warm" and it is eternal present, so I would say "Amor calefacit" (without any object as it describes the property of love) works pretty well.
    – Eleshar
    Dec 26, 2016 at 13:50

Perhaps Carbo calefacit tantum,nos tamen urit amor (after Virg. Ecl. 2, 68).

Coal merely warms us, but love consumes with fire.

  • The OP's saying is basically an exact subversion of this but in any case this is a very good starting point for vocabulary.
    – Eleshar
    Dec 26, 2016 at 13:53

There is a verb for being warm: calere. Using it, I would write:

Amor calet, est carbo carbo.
Love is warm, coal is coal.

Chiastic word order often works nicely in such phrases of comparison.

As mentioned in another answer, calefacere does not refer to the state of being warm (calere does!) but to the action of warming something.

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