I was looking for a translation of the word "government" and I found in Pons dictionary (German–Latin) that it could be regnum or imperium. On the other hand, I also checked it in Collins dictionary and there I found the word gubernatio. I know that there may be lots of translations for a word, but how can I determine which one is the right one? The dictionaries do not always contain a context explanation.

Also, for example, in the book Lingua Latina per se illustrata there is the word aspicere, which could be translated as "to see", but in the book Cambridge Latin course it was more frequent to find the word conspicere, also translated as "to see". In those cases, can I use these words interchangeably?

I have the impression that in many cases the prefixes such as a-, con-, or simply the root verb may have the same translation, but I do not know if for any of those variants there is a specific context to use them correctly. This is similar to German, where one may have rufen, zurufen, which may be translated as "to call", but they are not completely interchangeable. Is Latin more free in order to simply use many verbs having the same translation interchangeably? Unfortunately there is no native speaker (disregarding people that may have been taught Latin very early in their lives) that has a natural feeling to decide when the use of one verb variant is correct or not.

So, if I were to write a text, and I wanted to use the word "government", would it be valid to simply use the word gubernatio?

2 Answers 2


I recommend this method when choosing a Latin translation for an English word: When you look up the word in an English–Latin dictionary (or several sources), you get a list of possible translations. Then check each of the suggested Latin words in a Latin–English dictionary to get an impression of their meaning.

For a better insight, consult several dictionaries (possibly from Latin to other languages than English). Some dictionaries will also give usage examples or explanations of nuance.

Of course, the same advice works for translation in the other direction, or in fact between any two languages. This method is simple, but it is very useful — although insufficient for the most complicated cases. It may be trivial, but I have the impression that not everyone uses it. One of the good sides is that it requires no knowledge in Latin to quite reliably choose the best Latin translation in many cases.


This is no more than a guide:

guberno is to be in control, but not necessarily top brass. The steersman is gubernator of the ship he steers. God (in Boethius Cons III m9) gubernat the Universe. Gubernatio ensures the smooth running of the state.

regnum means both kingdom, and the court at the palace. If you mean the laws and regulations and the people who invent the laws, choose rego, regnum, regulo, and regulum.

imperium is the power and the politics.

A prefix, as you observe, is sometimes ornamental; some times intensifies; sometimes negates; sometimes transforms the meaning.

  • 3
    Don't forget res publica.
    – cmw
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:23
  • 1
    I was under the impression that "government" was just an example of the more general question: "How do I go about distinguishing between translations?" It's possible that question is too broad, but I think this answer isn't addressing the OP's actual issue.
    – brianpck
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:46
  • @brianpck, yes (I thought it might be a useful stalking horse) and the other question (how a prefix can affect a word) is even broader. I was thinking of trying to answer that by giving examples of de- as 'down from,' (descendere) 'non-,' (decrescendo?) 'away' (decapitate?) etc. And how does devolution fit? Give me time.
    – Hugh
    Jun 23, 2017 at 14:40

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