Quid est differentia inter «opus est» et «necesse est»? Exempli gratia,1

"emas non quod opus est, sed quod necesse est; quod non opus est, asse earum est,"

Quoque «opus est» scriptum est in Symbolum Apostolorum,

Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem:

Tenet «opus est» eandem significationem in duo?

(Miserere mei!)


1 Seneca. Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales. Letter 94, Section 27.

  • Alias Latine rogavisti, sed "Letter" et "Section" Anglice scripsisti. Visne has voces Latine reddere? Nescio an "littera" et "sectio" idem significent ac illae voces Anglicae. (Fac novum interrogatum scribas si redditiones optimas invenire vis!)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


One translation of the Seneca letter you refer to begins to suggest a difference:

Moreover, the precepts which are given are of great weight in themselves, whether they be woven into the fabric of song, or condensed into prose proverbs, like the famous Wisdom of Cato, "Buy not what you need, but what you must have. That which you do not need, is dear even at a farthing."

The way I interpret this, opus esse refers to the need for something in order to accomplish something else ("to become a successful politician, you need a lot of friends"), while necesse esse refers to things you actually can't do without ("living beings need food and water").

Ramshorn's Latin Synonyms supports this interpretation:

Opus est, it is wanted, it is necessary, because a want, as requisite or indispensable for the obtaining of some end or object. . . . Necesse est, it is absolutely necessary, of unchanging necessity found in natural causes, something which cannot possibly be avoided.

According to this interpretation, the sentence from the Symbolum Apostolorum correctly uses opus est instead of necesse est: "Whoever wants to be saved needs above all to hold the Catholic faith." But holding the Catholic faith isn't something you can't do without; there are lots of people who don't do that and yet go on breathing.


Well, my understanding is that the difference is pretty much like between "need" and "necessary", so it's not that much of a difference actually, but "necesse est" is a bit stronger.

  • Do you think opus est is intended to be understood as “need” or “necessary” in the Symbolum Apostolorum? Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 2:21
  • Well, I might be wrong I hadn't read Latin texts for years, but for me it's pretty straightforward, it sort of Anyone who want to be saved first of all needs to be a catholic.
    – shabunc
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 2:38
  • 4
    Am I the only one who doesn't have luminously distinct categories for "need" and "necessary"? In fact, I would consider the latter just the adjective form of the former....
    – brianpck
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 14:38

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