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Ave is a Latin word, used by the Romans as a salutation and greeting, meaning "hail". It is the singular imperative form of the verb avēre, which meant "to be well"; thus one could translate it literally as "be well" or "farewell".
The Classical Latin pronunciation of ave is [ˈaweː]. As far back as the first century AD, the greeting in popular use had the form have (pronounced [ˈhawɛ] or perhaps [ˈhaβ̞ɛ]), with the aspirated initial syllable and the second syllable shortened, for which the most explicit description has been given by Quintilian in his Institutio Oratoria. While have would be informal in part because it has the non-etymological aspiration, centuries later, any and all aspiration would instead completely disappear from popular speech, becoming an artificial and learned feature.
The term was notably used to greet the Caesar or other authorities. Suetonius recorded that on one occasion, naumachiarii—captives and criminals fated to die fighting during mock naval encounters—addressed Claudius Caesar with the words Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant! ("Hail, Caesar! Those who are about to die salute you!") in an attempt to avoid death. The expression is not recorded as being used in Roman times on any other occasion.
The Vulgate version of the Annunciation translates the salute of the angel to Mary, Mother of Jesus as Ave Maria, gratia plena ("Hail Mary, full of grace"). Ave Maria is a Catholic Marian prayer that also has inspired authors of religious music.
Not to be confused with Latin ave as the vocative singular of avus meaning grandfather/forebear, or ave as the ablative singular of avis meaning bird.