I'm looking for a motto for a coat of arms which would be an impersonal sentence (as it should be in a coat of arms) and read something like "Never promise anything" or "Promise nothing". Right now I'm considering

Nihil promittere

Is this correct? Are there any other more suitable expressions?

  • Do you want it to be the infinitive "to promise", an order "promise", a participle "the one(s) who promise", or perhaps a "we promise"? I guess the infinitive is the best choice for impersonality, but it'd be good to know if you have an opinion. I can elaborate in an answer later, but now I have some Thanksgiving to attend to.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 23, 2017 at 17:27
  • I think it should be infinitive. Though I'd like to compare. :D Nov 24, 2017 at 5:12
  • This brings to mind the Greek maxim which was written on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Ἐγγύα πάρα δ'ἄτη. (Make a promise, and destruction is nearby.)
    – ktm5124
    Nov 24, 2017 at 7:10

1 Answer 1


Your nihil promittere is correct, but let me explore some alternatives.

There are a number of choices to make. The first one is choosing a verb. The options that come to mind are polliceri, promittere, and spondere. Your choice promittere has the issue of having several different meanings, and it can be misconstrued in a motto. It seems to me that spondere is for more solemn promises than polliceri, and perhaps a coat of arms calls for some amount of solemnity. I would therefore suggest spondere, but the choice is yours. Check the links for details on these three verbs, or check any resource on our list of online Latin dictionaries for more options.

I chose to use numquam ("never"), but you can easily replace it with nihil ("nothing") if you prefer. Also combinations are possible; ask for details if something specific sounds interesting.

The last choice is choosing a structure. Using spondere, I might suggest one of these:

  1. Numquam spondere
    To never promise

  2. Numquam spondens/spondentes
    One/Ones who never promises/promise
    (This is really a participle, so the translation is not entirely accurate.)

  3. Numquam spondemus
    We never promise

  4. Numquam spondeto
    Never promise (as an order)

The first one might be most suitable, but I find the second one attractive as well.

  • 1
    Thank you for the comprehensive analysis! I think I will go with Numquam spondens as it seems to be the closest both grammatically and lexically to what I originally meant. Nov 24, 2017 at 8:15
  • @Taosique I'm glad to be of service! Numquam spondens sounds good for a coat of arms.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 24, 2017 at 15:10
  • A bit late for clarification, but does Nihil umquam spondens construction make sense? Dec 26, 2017 at 11:13
  • @Taosique It does. Nihil umquam means "nothing ever", and it's perfectly fine if you want the added emphasis.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 26, 2017 at 11:27

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