Fact in Fiction: The Top 20 Harry Potter Spells Deciphered

With the release of the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Potterheads everywhere can rejoice in one final installation of this epic tale. We used this as a chance to revisit some of the most iconic words uttered throughout the series—spells, charms, and curses—and find the root of their meaning.

1. Expecto Patronum

A charm that creates a Patronus. Expecto means “I await” in Latin, and Patronum means “patron.” We can surmise that Patronus, Latin for “guardian,” is what is being awaited.

Expecto Patronum = I await a guardian.

2. Accio

A charm that summons an object. Accio simply means “summon” in Latin.

Accio = summon.

3. Wingardium Leviosa

A charm that makes objects fly. This one is a sort of pseudo-Latin. Wing can simply be taken from the English word, and levis is Latin for “lightweight.” Together, these words make sense in a charm that makes things fly.

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4. Expelliarmus

A charm that disarms one’s opponent. Expello means “to banish” and arma is Latin for “weapons.”

Expelliarmus = to banish weapons.

5. Lumos

A spell that creates light at the tip of the caster’s wand. Lumen is simply Latin for “light.”

Lumos = light.

6. Alohomora

A charm that opens locked objects. J.K Rowling claims that alohomora is a West African word meaning “friendly to thieves.” It seems to make perfect sense, since what thieves wouldn’t want a door unlocked?

7. Avada Kedavra

A curse that murders one’s opponent. Avada Kedavra seems to actually be the Aramaic form of the infamous phrase “abracadabra,” meaning “let the thing be destroyed.”

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8. Sectumsempra

A spell that inflicts slash wounds. Sectus is Latin for “cut up” and semper is Latin for “always.”

Sectumsempra = always cut up.

9. Obliviate

A charm that erases memories. From the Medieval Latin word obliviscor, which means to forget, obliviate literally means “forget.”

10. Riddikulus

A spell used to defeat a Boggart. Riddikulus seems to be a made-up spelling of the Latin word ridiculus, which means the same as ridiculous in English. This in itself is derived from rideo, which means “to laugh at” or “to smile.”

11. Imperio

A curse that allows the caster to control a person. Imperio is Latin for “command.” As a curse giving total control over someone, it checks out.

Imperio = command.

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12. Petrificus Totalus

A curse that paralyzes one’s opponent. The Greek petros means “rock” or “stone,” and the Latin facio means “cause to happen.” That coupled with the Medieval Latin totalis or classical Latin totus, both meaning “whole” or “entire,” leaves petrificus totalus meaning “to cause the entire thing to turn to stone.”

 13. Stupefy

A spell that knocks out one’s opponent. Stupeo means “to be stunned” in Latin, and fio is Latin for “cause to happen.”

Stupefy = cause someone to be stunned.

14. Crucio

A curse that inflicts torturous pain on one’s opponent. Crucio literally means “torture” in Latin. How easy is that?

Crucio = torture.

15. Incendio

A spell that starts a fire. Incendo is Latin for “set fire to.”

Incendio = set fire to.

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16. Aguamenti

A charm that shoots water from the tip of one’s wand. Aqua in Latin—or agua in Spanish— means “water,” and augmen is Latin for “growth.”

Aguamenti = growing water.

17. Expulso

A charm that makes blocking objects explode. Ex translates to “away” in Latin, and pulso means “I strike.”

Expulso = I strike things away.

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18. Protego

A charm that causes a spell to reflect onto its caster. Another direct translation, the Latin word protego means “to cover” or “to protect.” In this case, it applies to the charm’s ability to protect the caster.

Protego = protect.

19. Reducto

A spell that explodes solid objects. Reducto means “having been reduced” in Latin. Contextually, it seems that this applies to the objects being reduced into their most basic form, i.e. they are exploded into much smaller pieces.

20. Reparo

A spell that repairs broken or damaged objects. Reparo is Latin for “restore” or “renew.” Easy, right?

Reparo = restore.


Need a refresher about the previous books? Check out the eNotes Harry Potter novels summary, or read about each book in order:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Teachers: Take a look at our Harry Potter lesson plan and teaching unit!