I came across the Fiat ivstitia motto. The Wikipedia entry translates it as "Let justice be done". I need a bit of help to understand this.

I know justitia is a noun (like justicia, in Spanish, or justice in English). But fiat, according to Wiktionary, is:

  1. third-person singular present active subjunctive of fiō
  2. third-person singular present passive subjunctive of faciō

So it seems, it is the second one being used here, since it is passive (justice be done) rather than active (do justice).

But to me, the English translation is more of an imperative. For instance, the second person singular active could be "do justice", or face justitia. So the translation "Let justice be done" feels like a third person singular passive imperative, rather than subjunctive. However, it seems there is no such third person present imperative for facio! Actually, it seems there is no third person present imperative for most Latin verbs! How do you translate an imperative order like "Let justice be done!", or perhaps more clearly in Spanish: "Hagase justicia!"?


Orders in second person are typically expressed with imperative, but orders in third person with conjunctive (=subjunctive). Second and third person orders look different in English, too. Compare "jump!" and "may he jump!" or other similar constructions. There is no "direct third person imperative" in English, but you have to find a circumlocution. Therefore I find fiat and "may/let it be done" to be very similar.

You list two meanings of fieri. One is the active of "to happen" and the other is the passive of "to do/make". To be honest, I see no difference between these interpretations. You can read fiat iustitia as "may justice happen" or "may justice be done". The meaning is essentially the same.

The present imperative (or first imperative) is only for the second person singular and plural. The future imperative (or second imperative) also has third persons. For facere and fio the first imperatives are fac/facite and fi/fite. The second imperatives are facito/facitote and fito/fitote (second person) and facito/faciunto and fito/fiunto (third person). In the second imperative the second and third persons look alike in singular (-to). If you want to use the third person singular second imperative, you get fito iustitia. The conjunctive is far more common in my experience.

  • caught me off guard, and I don't think I've ever seen it before. Is that a common form?
    – Draconis
    May 22 '18 at 15:55
  • @Draconis Maybe not common, but certainly attested: Sequere hac, Palinure, me ad fores, fi mi obsequens. (Plautus) Age fí benignus, subveni. (Plautus) Fi cognitor ipse. (Horatius)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 22 '18 at 19:10

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