The meaning of ‘Terra es, terram ibis’ in English

operaSup doods?

Here is a bit of Latin for you on a Monday morning. I always assumed that

Terra es, terram ibis

itself a shortening for :

Terra es et in terram ibis

and translated as

“You are earth and to the earth you will return” or “Dust you are and dust you will be”

although literally meaning “you are earth and into (the) earth you will go”, came from the Vulgate (the Latin bible).

I looked online and discovered that it came from Genesis (3:19) (powerful stuff), or so the entire internet told me.

I don’t trust the internet, and I have a copy of the vulgate, so I checked.

Genesis 3:19 is actually written:

… quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Well, the sense is the same, but  ‘terra es et in terram ibis’ is most definitely a newer and more catchy version.

In case you are wondering:

pulvis: dust, powder

revertere: to revert.

By the way,

Terra es, terram ibis

is not only a shortening but grammatically incorrect (if such things bother your inner pedant).


is the accusative form of


It is in the accusative form, as it is governed by the preposition ‘in‘  which in Latin takes the accusative when it has the meaning ‘into’.

As the evenings draw in, I’m thinking about adding more to the Latin sections on SurfaceLanguages.



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6 Responses to The meaning of ‘Terra es, terram ibis’ in English

  1. CH says:

    When I was researching where this version of Genesis III, 19 came from, Google brought me here first so I thought I’d best set the record straight. I love the fact that you are bold enough to make a call on stylistic grounds, but “terra es et in terram ibis” is actually older than St Jerome’s ‘pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’

    It is the version St Augustine uses in his City of God and is from the ‘Old Latin’ bible.

    I found the verse quoted in a C12th text. Apparently, it took centuries for the Vulgate to completely supersede the old Latin translations.

    Best wishes

    • moonface says:

      I stand corrected (although not stylistically).

      It’s very reassuring that people still take the time to check such things.



      • Marilyn Holt says:

        Sadly my Latin skills have almost disappeared. My love for the language began 60 years ago in highschool. It opens up worlds in almost every field of study. Just enjoyed your little skirmish here. (Ontario Canada)

        • moonface says:

          I don’t think that they ever really disappear, just get more difficult to access.

          Once you have learnt amo, amas, amat … qui, quae, quod and so on they are always there somewhere.

          Also, I have a good dictionary/grammar 🙂


  2. del Rea says:

    Is it true that you could find it on tombstones? As an epitaph? Our professor told us so, back in the highschool…

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