Nowadays the English verb solve means:

Find an answer to, explanation for, or means of effectively dealing with (a problem or mystery).

The etymology of the word indicates that it comes:

from Latin solvere "to loosen, dissolve; untie, release, detach; depart; unlock; scatter; dismiss; accomplish, fulfill; explain; remove".

Nonetheless, the verb used in Spanish with the same meaning is resolver (my translation of the definition):

Solve a problem, a doubt, a difficulty or something that involves them.

This verb comes from Latin resolvĕre, from re- and solvĕre. So in Latin there also existed the verb resolvĕre. Both verbs appear in the Lewis & Short dictionary, but their meanings appear to be somewhat different from (or maybe broader than) the current ones for both English and Spanish. So both solve and resolver have the same meaning today but come from different verbs solvo and resolvo. Question: Which one of them was most used in Latin for the same context as today's verbs? Or maybe both were used but in different periods?

Note: in Spanish there also existed a verb solver with the same meaning as solve and resolver, but was already deprecated in the 18th century.


There is a "famous" phrase attributed to St. Augustine: "solvitur ambulando", meaning "it [the problem] is solved by walking". I have failed to track down such phrase in Augustine's texts (which can be found here). However, a search for words related to solvere in Augustine's texts yields several hits that, as far as I can tell, imply the meaning of the English "to solve". For instance, here you get:

Solvitur ergo quaestio per recapitulationem, quae indissolubilis remaneret, ...

Recapitulatio itaque ista, si advertatur in Scripturis, multas quaestiones solvit, ...

Sic itaque solvitur ista quaestio.

Conversely, searching words related to the verb resolvere do not seem to give the English meaning. For instance, here you get:

At vero flante austro, glacies resolvitur, et torrentes fluunt, ...

The above is merely based on search for one author. Not sure how representative of the corpus us though.

  • 1
    Quite interesting. I have just seen that the verb "resolver" in Spanish in the 15th century was close to "dissolve" or "decompose", as in the example "gracies resolvitur": "Cada cosa se resuelve en aquello de que fue compuesta" (1428). – Charlie Feb 4 at 14:56

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