I was reading Orberg's Lingua Latina per se Illustrata and I found the following sentences:

Marcus et Quīntus sunt dūo filiī. [...] In familia Rõmāna tres līberī sunt.

Now I deduce both words mean "children", but where would I use one or another? (I looked up at some dictionaries but didn't explained the difference).

Edit: This question has led to some kind of debate whether liberī is only applied to children that are born-free. See it.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! I added some tags to your question. Feel free to retag if you feel like it.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


Filius, i means "son" Liberi (masc. plur.) means "children" and more precisely children of free people, i.e. not slaves.

This family has 2 sons but 3 children. There probably is a daughter around somewhere.

  • 2
    Do you know how universal this rule is? Lewis and Short cites a few examples of filii being used for children of both sexes, cf. Spanish hijos
    – brianpck
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 18:02
  • 1
    Latin is an extremely flexible language that had (has) a long living history. Always possible to find examples and most dictionnairies will give those exceptional examples. However, the general rules is that of filius - liberi I outlined above. You also have "pueri". And as the roman society is very preoccupied with the households, personal status' and family, you'll find an impressive amount of words describing all that.
    – thiebo
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 19:34
  • 2
    Fīlius singular can't be a daughter (that would be fīlia), but fīliī plural can sometimes include daughters as well: a group of males and females generally takes a masculine plural. But this is dependent on context, and the more common meaning is "sons".
    – Draconis
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 20:16
  • 3
    Can you support the claim that liberi is "more precisely children of free people, i.e. not slaves"? Current view among etymologists is that liberi "children" and liber "free" are two unrelated words.
    – fdb
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 21:55
  • 1
    More here: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/2639/…
    – fdb
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 23:50

Incidentally, starting with Augustus, having three children was honorable and gave men "certain political advantages", whereas having less than three children "restricted a man's ability to accept inheritances and legacies" (Edmondson 2015: 576).

See more on ius trium liberorum in Wikipedia or in Edmondson 2015.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.