An incantation is the word or words spoken to invoke a spell. Spells can be cast non-verbally but the incantation still needs to be said in the head of the spellcaster. Most known incantations derive from the Latin language but there are a few which are English. Whether or not foreign wizards who can speak use the same incantations as English people or have incantations in their own language is not known, since there are no incantations mentioned used by the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang during the Triwizard Tournament or by any of the few foreign wizards (e.g. Igor Karkaroff) mentioned.

Spells cast using an incorrect incantation may fail in various ways, such as setting things on fire, or may simply have no effect. In certain cases, the negative effects could be quite severe, and Professor Filius Flitwick urged his first year Charms students to remember the example of the wizard Baruffio who once said 's' instead of 'f' and conjured a buffalo on top of his chest.[1]

An incantation will not work without the conscious effort of magical power and the possession of the proper skill and intent. For example, Bartemius Crouch Jr., in disguise as Alastor Moody stated regarding the Killing Curse (incantation - Avada Kedavra) to his fourth year students that they could "get your wands out and point them at me and say the words, and I doubt I'd get so much as a nosebleed."[2] Similarly, a Muggle or Squib will never be able to perform magic, no matter how many incantations he or she might shout.[3]

When introducing his class to his first year students in 1991, Severus Snape stated that there would be "no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations" in the class.[4] This however, was likely something of an exaggeration, as it is necessary to channel magic at some point in order to make a potion.[5] and in the case of more complicated potions, the use of a spell may be needed for the identification of ingredients, among other reasons.[6]

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