carpe diem

[ kahr-pe -dee-em; English kahr-pee -dahy-uhm, kahr-pey -dee-uhm ]
/ ˈkɑr pɛ ˈdi ɛm; English ˈkɑr pi ˈdaɪ əm, ˈkɑr peɪ ˈdi əm /
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Latin. seize the day; enjoy the present, as opposed to placing all hope in the future.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does carpe diem mean?

Carpe diem is a Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” The saying is used to encourage someone to make the most of the present rather than dwelling on the future.

Where does carpe diem come from?

Carpe diem comes from the first-century BCE Odes of the Roman poet Horace. In Book 1 Poem 11, Horace writes “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” variously translated as “seize the day, and have little trust in the next one.”

Though commonly taken as “seize,” the Latin carpe originally means “to gather or pluck” and diem “day,” making carpe diem suggest “enjoy the present while it is ripe.” On its own, carpe diem is recorded in English in 1817 in the letters of another famed poet, Lord Byron.

Thanks to the impact of Horace on Western literature and the place of his poetry in Western education, coupled with the profound sense of his sentiment, carpe diem became a widely quoted expression. It inspired a whole genre of poetry of its own, carpe diem poems, especially popular in England in the 17th century as meditations on the transience of life and calls to embrace its goodness and beauty while you can.

Fast forward through countless carpe diem quotes to the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. In the movie, a teacher (Robin Williams) inspires his purpose-hungry students by teaching them the phrase and its life-loving imperative, “because we are food for worms, lads.”

How is carpe diem used in real life?

In everyday speech and writing, people use carpe diem as a motto or mantra for living life to the fullest. Of course, the flip side is that people may also use carpe diem to justify not taking responsibility.

Outside poetry and film, carpe diem is also popular as a lyric or title for songs, ranging from Metallica’s 1997 “Carpe Diem Baby” to the closing number, “Carpe Diem,” in a 2011 episode of the cartoon Phineas and Ferb.

The modern phrase YOLO (You Only Live Once) is considered a new version of carpe diem.


Carpe diem is such a widely recognized phrase that people often riff on it (e.g., carpe beerum—mock Latin for “seize the beer”), or make silly puns on it (e.g., carpet diem—”seize the carpet”).

More examples of carpe diem:

“BYOB house parties (and sappy, inconsequential flirtations at said parties). Dance-offs at open-air bars. Egregious swipe-rights in the name of carpe diem. And wine. So much wine.”
—Sidney Madden, National Public Radio, June, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use carpe diem in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for carpe diem

carpe diem
/ Latin (ˈkɑːpɪ ˈdiːɛm) /

enjoy the pleasures of the moment, without concern for the future

Word Origin for carpe diem

literally: seize the day!
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for carpe diem

Carpe diem
[ (kahr-pe dee-em, deye-em) ]

Latin for “Seize the day”: take full advantage of present opportunities. This sentiment is found not only in classical literature but in much of English literature as well (seeGather ye rosebuds while ye mayandHad we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, Lady, were no crime.”)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with carpe diem

carpe diem

Enjoy the present and don't worry about the future, as in It's a beautiful day, so forget tomorrow's test—carpe diem! Latin for “seize the day,” an aphorism found in the Roman writer Horace's Odes, this phrase has been used in English since the early 1800s.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.