A few days ago I asked a question concerning a latin phrase I was coming up with for a story. One of the words I used was grammatically incorrect—it's been a few years since high school—so I changed it. The final phrase I came up with was Alea sapit fatum.

My question is can a pronoun be implied in translation of this phrase? The nicest way to translate it would be "A die knows its fate" despite the word 'its' not being explicitly stated. However, if a die were to know anything, it should be how it shall land, no? At least that is what I was implying.

The creator of the saying (in the story, not myself) gives it a deeper meaning based off of the etymology of the words, ie "The joint-bone tastes like that which has been spoken," whereas others think he is a drunken fool who has made his family motto "Gambling smacks of bad fortune" despite making his money almost exclusively from ridiculous business deals.

Does all of this make sense?

1 Answer 1


In English, practically every noun needs to be marked with a determiner. You can't just know fate; you have to know Fate, or a fate, or the fate, or your fate, or this fate, and so on.

In Latin, they're not obligatory in the same way. There's no direct equivalent of English "the" or "a", and most nouns are left with no determiner at all.

As a result, including a determiner tends to be a lot more emphatic than in English. When you don't need to use a determiner at all, choosing to use one means something in a way it doesn't really in English. Something like fatum suum is emphatically his fate (or hers or its or theirs), not anyone else's.

But fatum on its own can very reasonably be translated as his/her/its/their fate (or a fate, or the fate, or…) too. You just need to add the determiner in English, since English doesn't like the lack of one. Leaving it out in the Latin conveys practically nothing at all.

  • I'm confused by your first sentence: "Dogs are animals" has two nouns but no determiners. Is capitalizing "Fate" an example of a determiner?
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 23 at 4:19
  • @brianpck The "practically" there is meant to exclude proper nouns and generic plurals, the two big exceptions.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 23 at 5:18
  • So you're saying it can mean "its fate," but it doesn't explicitly have to? That was the effect I was going for! Do you have any imput about the other translations? I know they aren't grammar related, sorry. Commented Mar 23 at 9:26
  • Oh I'm so sorry, I neglected to say thank you for your response! Taking the time to pass on your knowledge is much appreciated. Commented Mar 23 at 9:41
  • @Draconis Gotcha. The wording at the beginning ("You can't just know fate; you have to know Fate") made it sound like the proper name counted as a determiner.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 25 at 15:38

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