Some time ago I saw (In fact it might have been in a comic, possibly Zits.) an expression/proverb that basically said that being in possession of disputed goods meant that a civil lawsuit/quarrel was almost won before it had begun. Anyone know what idiom I am talking about and can remind me?

NB: I am not sure if it was in English or Latin. If possible I would prefer a Latin answer.

Edit: after learning about this nine-tenths idiom I found two similar latin expressions, possidetis, ita possideatis and qui tenet teneat, qui dolet doleat. Are there more or better latin expressions I should be aware of?

  • 'Possession is nine tenths of the law'?
    – Flup
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 10:29
  • @flup yeah, that's what I would've said. But it's not a very exciting answer unless the answer is also about how it's literally wrong.
    – jimsug
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 10:58

1 Answer 1


The only expression I'm aware of is: possession is nine-tenths of the law.

This expression does not hold up literally; title is much stronger evidence than possession.

Uti possidetis, ita possideatis is a principle of international law. This applies to relations between sovereign states, rather than private individuals. It relates to the acquisition of territory following conflict.

Qui tenet teneat, qui dolet doleat is a different matter - although it's a reasonably well-known Latin expression, it's not been used in law since 1286.

Although these Latin expressions exist, they don't really hold any legal force, and I wouldn't try to use them in a court. They're good for impressing friends at a party, though.

  • 1
    Another latin expression I found beati possidentes. Anyway, I am not gonna use them in the american legal system but in a completely different context.
    – d-b
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 13:37
  • There's no title in a leasehold; but "keys = possession" is a typical expression on landlord forums. If the tenant still has the keys, you put yourself at great risk if you pursue "self-help" eviction steps; and explains the motivation for the "cash for keys" exit from a disputed lease.
    – user662852
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 15:00
  • @user662852 As the question referred to "goods", I assumed moveable goods rather than real property (I've never heard them called such).
    – jimsug
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 15:07

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