Veritas Vos Liberabit: Translating the Latin Motto of John Hopkins University
Like Harvard University’s single word motto, John Hopkins University also uses the word “Veritas" in its motto. However, this university uses the complete Latin phrase “Veritas Vos Liberabit" to express its purpose and educational philosophy.
Veritas is a Latin word in its nominative singular form and can be accurately translated as “truth." English speakers may recognize that the word “veracity" is related to this Latin word. As a third-declension noun, veritas changes its form throughout the remainder of the declension with the genitive form written as “veritatis" and its dative form as “veritati." In its present nominative form, we know that veritas is likely the subject of the phrase.
Liberabit is a first conjugation verb in its third-person singular future tense active indicative form. Recall that to form the future tense in the indicative mood, you take the stem of the verb libera–, add the future tense indicator –bi–, and then add the person ending, in this case –t. The result is a word that may be accurately translated as “he/she/it will free."
Vos is a personal pronoun in its plural accusative form. Latin students will recognize that Vos has the form “tu" in its singular nominative form and “vos" (exactly the same form) in its plural nominative form. Since vos is a second-person personal pronoun, it may be accurately translated as “you" (plural).
Taken together, the entire phrase “Veritas Vos Liberabit" is translated as “Truth Will Free You (plural)." Although John Hopkins University offers this phrase as its official translation, some people may be more familiar with another valid translation, “The Truth Shall Set You Free." Here the definite article “the" is used to indicate that a specific truth, not just any, will set you free. In addition, the word “shall" is substituted for “will." Some scholars argue that the word “shall" should be reserved for the first-person only. However, people often use the word “shall" to add an air of sophistication to writing and speech.