Latin spelling, or
Latin orthography, is the spelling of
written in the scripts of all historical phases of
Latin from Old
Latin to the present. All scripts use the same alphabet, but
conventional spellings may vary from phase to phase. The Roman
Latin alphabet, was adapted from the
Old Italic script
Old Italic script to
represent the phonemes of the
Latin language. The Old Italic script
had in turn been borrowed from the Greek alphabet, itself adapted from
the Phoenician alphabet.
Latin alphabet most resembles the
Greek alphabet around 540 BC, as
it appears on the red-figures pottery of the time.
Latin pronunciation continually evolved over the centuries, making it
difficult for speakers in one era to know how
Latin was spoken in
prior eras. A given phoneme may be represented by different letters in
different periods. This article deals primarily with modern
scholarship's best reconstruction of Classical Latin's phonemes
(phonology) and the pronunciation and spelling used by educated people
in the late Republic. This article then touches upon later changes and
2 Letters and phonemes
2.1.1 Notes on phonetics
2.1.2 Notes on spelling
220.127.116.11 Long and short vowels
18.104.22.168 Adoption of Greek upsilon
22.214.171.124 Sonus medius
126.96.36.199 Vowel nasalization
2.3 Vowel and consonant length
2.4 Table of orthography
3 Syllables and stress
Latin syllables and stress
188.8.131.52 Onset and coda
184.108.40.206 Heavy and light syllables
3.2.2 Stress rule
3.2.3 Iambic shortening
Latin spelling and pronunciation today
5.2.1 Post-Medieval Latin
5.2.2 Loan words and formal study
5.2.3 Ecclesiastical pronunciation
6 Pronunciation shared by Vulgar
Latin and Romance languages
7.1 From Classical Latin
7.2 From Medieval Latin
8 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
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Roman cursive with portions of speeches
delivered in the Roman Senate
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The forms of the
Latin alphabet used during the Classical period did
not distinguish between upper case and lower case. Roman inscriptions
typically use Roman square capitals, which resemble modern capitals,
and handwritten text often uses old Roman cursive, which includes
letterforms similar to modern lowercase.
This article uses small caps for
Latin text, representing Roman square
capitals, and long vowels are marked with acutes, representing apices.
In the tables below,
Latin letters and digraphs are paired with the
phonemes they usually represent in the International Phonetic
Letters and phonemes
Latin spelling, individual letters mostly corresponded to
individual phonemes, with three main exceptions:
The vowel letters a, e, i, o, u, y represented both short and long
vowels. The long vowels were often marked by apices during the
Classical period ⟨Á É Ó V́ Ý⟩, and long i was written using a
taller version ⟨I⟩, called i longa "long I": ⟨ꟾ⟩; but now
long vowels are sometimes written with a macron in modern editions
(ā), while short vowels are marked with a breve (ă) in dictionaries
Some pairs of vowel letters, such as ae, represented either a
diphthong in one syllable or two vowels in adjacent syllables.
The letters i and u - v represented either the close vowels /i/ and
/u/ or the semivowels /j/ and /w/.
In the tables below,
Latin letters and digraphs are paired with the
phonemes that they usually represent in the International Phonetic
This is a table of the consonant sounds of Classical Latin. Sounds in
parentheses are allophones, sounds with an asterisk exist mainly in
loanwords and sounds with a dagger (†) are phonemes only in some
Notes on phonetics
The labialized velar stops /kʷ/ and /ɡʷ/ may both have been single
phonemes rather than clusters like the /kw/ and /ɡw/ in English quick
and penguin. /kʷ/ is more likely to have been a phoneme than /ɡʷ/.
/kʷ/ occurs between vowels and counts as a single consonant in
Latin poetry, but /ɡʷ/ occurs only after [ŋ], where it
cannot be identified as a single or double consonant. /kʷ/ and
[ɡʷ] were palatalized before a front vowel, becoming [kᶣ] and
[ɡᶣ], as in quī [kᶣiː] listen (help·info) compared
with quod [kʷɔd], and lingua [ˈlɪŋ.ɡʷa] compared with pinguis
[ˈpɪŋ.ɡᶣɪs]. This sound change did not apply to /w/ in the same
position: uī - vī [wiː].
/kʷ ɡʷ/ before /u/ may have become [k ɡ] by dissimilation.[how?]
This is suggested by the fact that equus [ˈɛ.kʷʊs] and unguunt
Latin equos and unguont) are spelled ecus and
ungunt, which may have indicated the pronunciations [ˈɛ.kʊs] and
[ˈʊŋ.ɡʊnt]. These spellings may, however, simply indicate that c
g before u were labialized like /kʷ ɡʷ/, so that writing a double
uu was redundant.
The voiceless plosives /p t k kʷ/ in
Latin were likely less aspirated
than voiceless plosives at the beginning of words in English; for
Latin /k/ was not as strongly aspirated as k in kind but more
like k in English sky or look. However, there was no phonemic contrast
between voiceless and aspirated plosives in native
Latin words, and
the voiceless plosives were probably somewhat aspirated at the
beginnings of words and near /r/ and /l/. Some Greek words
beginning with the voiceless plosives /p t k/, when they were borrowed
into colloquial Latin, were spelled with the graphemes used to
represent voiced plosives b d g /b d ɡ/, e.g.,
besides West Greek κυβερνάτας [kʉbernaːtaːs] (helmsman).
That suggests that
Latin speakers felt the Greek voiceless plosives to
sound less aspirated than their own native equivalents.
The aspirated consonants /pʰ tʰ kʰ/ as distinctive phonemes were
originally foreign to Latin, appearing in educated loanwords and names
from Greek. In such cases, the aspiration was likely produced only by
/z/ was also not native to Classical Latin. It appeared in Greek
loanwords starting around the first century BC, when it was probably
pronounced [z] initially and doubled [zz] between vowels, in contrast
to Classical Greek [dz] or [zd]. In Classical
Latin poetry, the letter
⟨z⟩ between vowels always counts as two consonants for metrical
In Classical Latin, the coronal sibilant /s/ was likely unvoiced in
all positions. In Old Latin, single /s/ between vowels was pronounced
as voiced [z] but had changed to /r/ by rhotacism by the time of
Classical Latin, as in gerō /ˈɡe.roː/ as compared with gestus
/ˈɡes.tus/. Intervocalic /s/ in Classical usually derives from an
earlier double /ss/ after a long vowel or diphthong, as in causa,
cāsus from earlier caussa, cāssus; or from loanwords, such as
pausa from Greek παῦσις (pausis).
In Old Latin, final /s/ after a short vowel was often lost, probably
after first changing to [h] (debuccalization), as in the inscriptional
form Cornelio for Cornelios (Classical
Latin Cornelius). Often in the
poetry of Plautus, Ennius, and Lucretius, final /s/ before a word
beginning in a consonant did not make the preceding syllable
/f/ was labiodental in Classical Latin, but it may have been bilabial
[ɸ] in Old Latin, or perhaps [ɸ] in free variation with [f].
Lloyd, Sturtevant, and Kent make this argument based on certain
misspellings in inscriptions, the Proto-Indo-European phone *bʰ from
which many instances of the
Latin f descended (others are from *dʰ
and *gʷʰ) and the way the sound appears to have behaved in Vulgar
Latin, particularly in Spain.
In most cases /m/ was pronounced as a bilabial nasal. At the end of a
word, however, it was generally lost beginning in Old
when another nasal or a plosive followed it), causing the preceding
vowel to be lengthened and nasalized, as in decem [ˈdɛ.kẽː]
listen (help·info). In Old
Latin inscriptions, it is often
omitted, as in viro for virom (Classical virum). It was frequently
elided before a following vowel in
Latin poetry, and it was lost
without a trace (apart from the lengthening) in the Romance
languages, except in monosyllabic words.
/n/ assimilated to /m/ before labial consonants as in impar
[ˈɪm.par] listen (help·info) < *in-par, to [ɱ]
before /f/ (if it did not represent nasalization) and to [ŋ] before
velar consonants, as in quīnque [ˈkᶣiːŋ.kᶣɛ]
listen (help·info). This assimilation likely also
occurred between the preposition in and a following word: in causā
[ɪŋ ˈkau̯.saː], in pace [ɪm ˈpa.kɛ].
/ɡ/ assimilated to a velar nasal [ŋ] before /n/. Allen and
Greenough say that a vowel before [ŋn] is always long, but W.
Sidney Allen says that is based on an interpolation in Priscian, and
the vowel was actually long or short depending on the root, as for
example rēgnum [ˈreːŋ.nũː] from the root of rēx [reːks], but
magnus [ˈmaŋ.nʊs] from the root of magis [ˈma.ɡɪs]. /ɡ/
probably did not assimilate to [ŋ] before /m/. The cluster /ɡm/
arose by syncope, as for example tegmen [ˈtɛɡ.mɛn] from tegimen.
Original /ɡm/ developed into /mm/ in flamma, from the root of
flagrō. At the start of a word, [ŋn] was reduced to [n],[citation
needed] and this change was reflected in the orthography in later
texts: gnātus [ˈnaː.tʊs] became nātus, gnōscō [ˈnoː.skoː]
In Classical Latin, the rhotic /r/ was most likely an alveolar trill
Gaius Lucilius likens it to the sound of a dog, and later writers
describe it as being produced by vibration. In Old Latin, intervocalic
/z/ developed into /r/ (rhotacism), suggesting an approximant like the
English [ɹ], and /d/ was sometimes written as /r/, suggesting a tap
[ɾ] like Spanish single r.
/l/ had two allophones in Latin: [l] and [ɫ]. Roman grammarians
called these variants exīlis ('thin') and plēnus or pinguis ('full'
or 'thick'). Those adjectives are used elsewhere for front and back
vowels respectively, which suggests that the "thin" allophone was a
plain alveolar lateral approximant [l], like the clear /l/ in English
leaf in some English dialects or that of languages like Spanish or
German, while the "full" or "thick" allophone was velarized like the
English dark /l/ in full. It is partly uncertain where these
allophones occurred. Sihler and Allen agree that /l/ was clear when
the sound was doubled as /ll/, and dark when it occurred before
another consonant or at the end of a word, but disagree on whether
clear or dark l occurred before vowels. Sihler says that /l/ was clear
before /i/ and dark before other vowels, but Allen says that /l/ was
dark before back vowels in pre-Classical
Latin and clear before both
front and back vowels in Classical Latin. This represents a partial
agreement, however, in that Sihler argues the Classical
Latin /l/ had
three degrees of velarization, with a darker enunciation before
consonants than vowels.
/j/ generally appeared only at the beginning of words, before a vowel,
as in iaceō /ˈja.kɛ.oː/, except in compound words such as adiaceō
/adˈja.kɛ.oː/ listen (help·info). Between vowels, this
sound was generally not found as a single consonant, only as doubled
/jː/, as in cuius /ˈkuj.jus/ listen (help·info), except
in compound words such as trāiectus /traːˈjek.tus/. /j/ varied with
/i/ in the same morpheme in iam /jãː/ and etiam /ˈe.ti.ãː/, and
in poetry, one could be replaced with the other for the purposes of
/w/ was pronounced as an approximant until the first century AD, when
/w/ and /b/ began to develop into fricatives. In poetry, /w/ and /u/
could be replaced with each other, as in /ˈsi.lu.a/ for silva
/ˈsil.wa/ and /ˈɡen.wa/ for genua /ˈɡe.nu.a/. Unlike /j/, it was
not doubled as /wː/ or /ww/ between vowels, except in Greek
loanwords: cavē /ˈka.weː/, but Evander /ewˈwan.der/ from
Notes on spelling
Doubled consonant letters, such as cc, ss, represented geminated
(doubled or long) consonants: /kː sː/. In Old Latin, geminate
consonants were written singly like single consonants, until the
middle of the 2nd century BC, when they began to be doubled in
writing.[note 2] Grammarians mention the marking of double consonants
with the sicilicus, a diacritic in the shape of a sickle. This mark
appears in a few inscriptions of the Augustan era.
c and k both represent the velar stop /k/; qu represents the
labialized velar stop /kʷ/. The letters q and c distinguish minimal
pairs between /ku/ and /kʷ/, such as cui /kui̯/ and quī
/kʷiː/. In Classical Latin, k appeared in only a few words, such
x represented the consonant cluster /ks/. In Old Latin, this sequence
was also spelled as ks, cs, and xs. X was borrowed from the Western
Greek alphabet, in which the letterform of chi Χ was pronounced as
/ks/. In the standard Ionic alphabet, used for modern editions of
Ancient Greek, on the other hand, Χ represented /kʰ/, and the letter
xi Ξ represented /ks/.
Latin inscriptions, /k/ and /ɡ/ were not distinguished. They
were both represented by c before e and i, q before o and u, and k
before consonants and a. The letterform of c derives from Greek
gamma Γ, which represented /ɡ/, but its use for /k/ may come from
Etruscan, which did not distinguish voiced and voiceless plosives. In
Classical Latin, c represented /ɡ/ only in c and cn, the
abbreviations of the praenomina (first names) Gaius and
The letter g was created in the third century BC to distinguish the
voiced /ɡ/ from voiceless /k/. Its letterform derived from c by
the addition of a diacritic or stroke.
Plutarch attributes this
Spurius Carvilius Ruga around 230 BC, but it may have
Appius Claudius Caecus
Appius Claudius Caecus in the fourth century BC.
The combination gn probably represented the consonant cluster [ŋn],
at least between vowels, as in agnus [ˈaŋ.nʊs]
listen (help·info). Vowels before this cluster
were sometimes long and sometimes short.
The digraphs ph, th, and ch represented the aspirated plosives /pʰ/,
/tʰ/ and /kʰ/. They began to be used in writing around 150 B.C.,
primarily as a transcription of Greek phi Φ, theta Θ, and chi Χ, as
in Philippus, cithara, and achāia. Some native words were later also
written with these digraphs, such as pulcher, lachrima, gracchus,
triumphus, probably representing aspirated allophones of the voiceless
plosives near /r/ and /l/. Aspirated plosives and the glottal
fricative /h/ were also used hypercorrectively, an affectation
satirized in Catullus 84.
In Old Latin, Koine Greek initial /z/ and /zz/ between vowels were
represented by s and ss, as in sona from ζώνη and massa from
μᾶζα. Around the second and first centuries B.C., the Greek
letter zeta Ζ was adopted to represent /z/ and /zz/. However, the
Latin spellings z or zi for earlier di and d before e, and the
spellings di and dz for earlier z, suggest the pronunciation /dz/, as
for example ziomedis for diomedis, and diaeta for zeta.
In ancient times u and i represented the approximant consonants /w/
and /j/, as well as the close vowels /u(ː)/ and /i(ː)/.
i representing the consonant /j/ was usually not doubled in writing so
a single i represented double /jː/ or /jj/ and the sequences /ji/ and
/jːi/, as in cuius for *cuiius /ˈkuj.jus/, conicit for *coniicit
/ˈkon.ji.kit/, and rēicit for *reiiicit /ˈrej.ji.kit/. Both the
consonantal and vocalic pronunciations of i could occur in some of the
same environments: compare māius /ˈmaj.jus/ with Gāius
/ˈɡaː.i.us/, and Iūlius /ˈjuː.li.us/ with Iūlus /iˈuː.lus/.
The vowel before a doubled /jː/ is sometimes marked with a macron, as
in cūius. it indicates not that the vowel is long but that the first
syllable is heavy from the double consonant.
v between vowels represented single /w/ in native
Latin words but
double /ww/ in Greek loanwords. Both the consonantal and vocalic
pronunciations of v sometimes occurred in similar environments, as in
genua [ˈɡɛ.nʊ.a] and silva [ˈsɪl.wa].
Latin has ten native vowels, spelled a, e, i, o, u. In Classical
Latin, each vowel had short and long versions: /a ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ/ and
/aː eː iː oː uː/. The long versions of the close and mid vowels
e, i, o, u had a different vowel quality from the short versions, so
that long /eː, oː/ were similar to short /ɪ, ʊ/. Some loanwords
from Greek had the vowel y, which was pronounced as /y yː/ by
educated speakers but approximated with the native vowels u and i by
less educated speakers.
Long and short vowels
Each vowel letter (with the possible exception of y) represents at
least two phonemes. a can represent either short /a/ or long /aː/, e
represents either /e/ or /eː/, etc.
Short mid vowels (/e o/) and close vowels (/i u/) were pronounced with
a different quality from their long counterparts, being also more
open: [ɛ], [ɔ], [ɪ] and [ʊ]. This opening made the short vowels i
u [ɪ ʊ] similar in quality to long é ó [eː oː] respectively. i
é and u ó were often written in place of each other in
trebibos for tribibus [ˈtrɪ.bɪ.bʊs]
minsis for mensis [ˈmẽː.sɪs]
sob for sub [sʊb]
punere for pōnere [ˈpoː.næ.rɛ]
Short /e/ most likely had a more open allophone before /r/ and tended
toward near-open [æ].
Short /e/ and /i/ were probably pronounced closer when they occurred
before another vowel. mea was written as mia in inscriptions. Short
/i/ before another vowel is often written with i longa, as in dīes,
indicating that its quality was similar to that of long /iː/ and is
almost never confused with e in this position.
Adoption of Greek upsilon
y was used in Greek loanwords with upsilon Υ. This letter represented
the close front rounded vowel, both short and long: /y yː/. Latin
did not have this sound as a distinctive phoneme, and speakers tended
to pronounce such loanwords with /u uː/ in Old
Latin and /i iː/ in
Classical and Late
Latin if they were unable to produce /y yː/.
An intermediate vowel sound (likely a close central vowel [ɨ] or
possibly its rounded counterpart [ʉ]), called sonus medius, can be
reconstructed for the classical period. Such a vowel is found in
documentum, optimus, lacrima (also spelled docimentum, optumus,
lacruma) and other words. It developed out of a historical short /u/,
later fronted by vowel reduction. In the vicinity of labial
consonants, this sound was not as fronted and may have retained some
Examples of nasalized vowels at ends of words and before -ns-, -nf-
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Vowels followed by a nasal consonant were allophonically realised as
long nasal vowels in two environments:
Before word-final m:
monstrum /ˈmon.strum/ > [ˈmõː.strũː].
dentem /ˈden.tem/ > [ˈdɛn.tẽː]
Before nasal consonants followed by a fricative:
censor /ˈken.sor/ > [ˈkẽː.sɔr] (in early inscriptions, often
written as cesor)
consul /ˈkon.sul/ > [ˈkõː.sʊl] (often written as cosol and
abbreviated as cos)
inferōs /ˈin.fe.roːs/ > [ˈĩː.fæ.roːs] (written as iferos)
Those long nasal vowels had the same quality as ordinary long vowels.
In Vulgar Latin, the vowels lost their nasalisation, and they merged
with the long vowels (which were themselves shortened by that time).
This is shown by many forms in the Romance languages, such as Spanish
costar from Vulgar
Latin cōstāre (originally constāre) and Italian
mese from Vulgar
Latin mēse (Classical
Latin mensem). On the other
hand, the short vowel and /n/ was restored in French enseigne and
enfant from insignia and infantem (e is the normal development of
Latin short i), likely by analogy with other forms beginning in the
When a final -m occurred before a plosive or nasal in the next word,
however, it was pronounced as a nasal at the place of articulation of
the following consonant. For instance, tan dūrum [tan ˈduː.rũː]
was written for tam dūrum in inscriptions, and cum nōbīs [kʊn
ˈnoː.biːs] was a double entendre, possibly for cunnō bis
Diphthongs classified by beginning sound
oe oi̯ ~ oe̯
ae ai̯ ~ ae̯
ae, oe, au, ei, eu could represent diphthongs: ae represented /ae̯/,
oe represented /oe̯/, au represented /au̯/, ei represented /ei̯/,
and eu represented /eu̯/. ui sometimes represented the diphthong
/ui̯/, as in cui listen (help·info) and huic.
If there is a tréma above the second vowel, both vowels are
pronounced separately: aë [a.ɛ], aü [a.ʊ], eü [ɛ.ʊ] and oë
In Old Latin, ae, oe were written as ai, oi and probably pronounced as
[ai̯, oi̯], with a fully closed second element, similar to the final
syllable in French travail (help·info). In the late Old
Latin period, the last element of the diphthongs was lowered to
[e], so that the diphthongs were pronounced /ae̯/ and /oe̯/ in
Classical Latin, similar to the diphthongs in English high and
boy. They were then monophthongized to /ɛː/ and /eː/,
starting in rural areas at the end of the Republican period.[note 3]
The process, however, does not seem to have been completed before the
3rd century AD in Vulgar Latin, and some scholars say that it may have
been regular by the 5th century.
Vowel and consonant length
Vowel and consonant length were more significant and more clearly
Latin than in modern English. Length is the duration of
time that a particular sound is held before proceeding to the next
sound in a word. Unfortunately, "vowel length" is a confusing term for
English speakers, who, in their language, call "long vowels" what are
usually diphthongs rather than monophthongs. (That is a relic of the
Great Vowel Shift, during which vowels that had once been pronounced
phonemically longer turned into diphthongs.) In the modern spelling of
Latin, especially in dictionaries and academic work, macrons are
frequently used to mark long vowels: ⟨ā ē ī ō ū ȳ⟩, while
the breve is sometimes used to indicate that a vowel is short: ⟨ă
ĕ ĭ ŏ ŭ y̆⟩.
Long consonants were usually indicated through doubling, but ancient
Latin orthography did not distinguish between the vocalic and
consonantal uses of i and v.
Vowel length was indicated only
intermittently in classical sources and even then through a variety of
means. Later medieval and modern usage tended to omit vowel length
altogether. A short-lived convention of spelling long vowels by
doubling the vowel letter is associated with the poet Lucius Accius.
Later spelling conventions marked long vowels with an apex (a
diacritic similar to an acute accent) or, in the case of long i, by
increasing the height of the letter (long i); in the second century
AD, those were given apices as well. Distinctions of vowel length
had become less important in later
Latin and have ceased to be
phonemic in the modern Romance languages, in which the previous long
and short versions of the vowels have been either lost or replaced by
other phonetic contrasts.
Recording of ānus, annus, anus
A minimal set showing both long and short vowels and long and short
consonants is ānus /ˈaː.nus/ ('buttocks'), annus /ˈan.nus/
('year'), anus /ˈa.nus/ ('old woman').
Table of orthography
Always hard as k in sky, never soft as in cellar, cello, or social
As t in stay, never as t in nation
As s in say, never as s in rise or issue
Always hard as g in good, never soft as g in gem
As ngn in wingnut
As n in man
Before ⟨c⟩, ⟨x⟩, and ⟨g⟩, as ng in sing
When doubled ⟨ll⟩ and before ⟨i⟩, as clear l in link (l
In all other positions, as dark l in bowl (l pinguis)
Similar to qu in quick, never as qu in antique
Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, or after ⟨g⟩ and
⟨s⟩, as w in wine, never as v in vine
Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, as y in yard, never as j in
Doubled between vowels, as y y in toy yacht
A letter representing ⟨c⟩ + ⟨s⟩: as x in English axe, never as
x in example
similar to u in cut when short
similar to a in father when long
as e in pet when short
similar to ey in they when long
as i in sit when short
similar to i in machine when long
as o in sort when short
similar to o in holy when long
similar to u in put when short
similar to u in true when long
as in German Stück when short (or as short u or i)
as in German früh when long (or as long u or i)
Syllables and stress
In Old Latin, as in Proto-Italic, stress normally fell on the first
syllable of a word. During this period, the word-initial stress
triggered changes in the vowels of non-initial syllables, the effects
of which are still visible in classical Latin. Compare for example:
faciō 'I do/make', factus 'made'; pronounced /ˈfa.ki.oː/ and
/ˈfak.tus/ in later Old
Latin and Classical Latin.
afficiō 'I affect', affectus 'affected'; pronounced /ˈaf.fi.ki.oː/
and /ˈaf.fek.tus/ in Old
Latin following vowel reduction,
/af.ˈfi.ki.oː/ and /af.ˈfek.tus/ in Classical Latin.
In the earliest
Latin writings, the original unreduced vowels are
still visible. Study of this vowel reduction, as well as syncopation
(dropping of short unaccented syllables) in Greek loan words,
indicates that the stress remained word-initial until around the time
of Plautus, the 3rd century BC. The placement of the stress then
shifted to become the pattern found in classical Latin.
Latin syllables and stress
See also: Dreimorengesetz
In Classical Latin, stress changed. It moved from the first syllable
to one of the last three syllables, called the antepenult, the penult,
and the ultima (short for antepaenultima 'before almost last',
paenultima 'almost last', and ultima syllaba 'last syllable'). Its
position is determined by the syllable weight of the penult. If the
penult is heavy, it is accented; if the penult is light and there are
more than two syllables, the antepenult is accented. In a few
words originally accented on the penult, accent is on the ultima
because the two last syllables have been contracted, or the last
syllable has been lost.
To determine stress, syllable weight of the penult must be determined.
To determine syllable weight, words must be broken up into
syllables. In the following examples, syllable structure is
represented using these symbols: C (a consonant), K (a stop), R (a
liquid), and V (a short vowel), VV (a long vowel or diphthong).
Every short vowel, long vowel, or diphthong belongs to a single
syllable. This vowel forms the syllable nucleus. Thus magistrārum has
four syllables, one for every vowel (a i ā u: V V VV V), aereus has
three (ae e u: VV V V), tuō has two (u ō: V VV), and cui has one
Onset and coda
A consonant before a vowel, or a consonant cluster at the beginning of
a word, is placed in the same syllable as the following vowel. This
consonant or consonant cluster forms the syllable onset.
fēminae /feː.mi.nae̯/ (CVV.CV.CVV)
vidēre /wi.deː.re/ (CV.CVV.CV)
puerō /pu.e.roː/ (CV.V.CVV)
beātae /be.aː.tae̯/ (CV.VV.CVV)
graviter /ɡra.wi.ter/ (CCV.CV.CVC)
strātum /straː.tum/ (CCCVV.CVC)
After this, if there is an additional consonant inside the word, it is
placed at the end of the syllable. This consonant is the syllable
coda. Thus if a consonant cluster of two consonants occurs between
vowels, they are broken up between syllables: one goes with the
syllable before, the other with the syllable after.
puella /pu.el.la/ (CV.VC.CV)
supersum /su.per.sum/ (CV.CVC.CVC)
coāctus /ko.aːk.tus/ (CV.VVC.CVC)
intellēxit /in.tel.leːk.sit/ (VC.CVC.CVVC.CVC)
There are two exceptions. A consonant cluster of a stop p t c b d g
followed by a liquid l r between vowels usually goes to the syllable
after it, although it is also sometimes broken up like other consonant
volucris /wo.lu.kris/ or /wo.luk.ris/ (CV.CV.KRVC or CV.CVK.RVC)
Heavy and light syllables
As shown in the examples above,
Latin syllables have a variety of
possible structures. Here are some of them. The first four examples
are light syllables, and the last six are heavy. All syllables have at
least one V (vowel). A syllable is heavy if it has another V or a VC
after the first V. In the table below, the extra V or VC is bolded,
indicating that it makes the syllable heavy.
Thus, a syllable is heavy if it ends in a long vowel or diphthong, a
short vowel and a consonant, a long vowel and a consonant, or a
diphthong and a consonant. Syllables ending in a diphthong and
consonant are rare in Classical Latin.
The syllable onset has no relationship to syllable weight; both heavy
and light syllables can have no onset or an onset of one, two, or
A syllable that is heavy because it ends in a long vowel or diphthong
is traditionally called syllaba nātūrā longa ('syllable long by
nature'), and a syllable that is heavy because it ends in a consonant
is called positióne longa ('long by position'). These terms are
translations of Greek συλλαβὴ μακρά φύσει (syllabḕ
makrá phýsei) and μακρὰ θέσει (makrà thései),
respectively. longa and μακρά (makrá) are the same terms used
for long vowels. This article uses the words heavy and light for
syllables, and long and short for vowels since the two are not the
In a word of three or more syllables, the weight of the penult
determines where the accent is placed. If the penult is light, accent
is placed on the antepenult; if it is heavy, accent is placed on the
penult. Below, stress is marked by placing the stress mark [ˈ]
before the stressed syllable.
Words with stress on antepenult
Words with stress on penult
Iambic shortening or brevis brevians is vowel shortening that occurs
in words of the type light–heavy, where the light syllable is
stressed. By this sound change, words like egō, modō, benē, amā
with long final vowel change to ego, modo, bene, ama with short final
Where one word ended with a vowel (including a nasalized vowel,
represented by a vowel plus m) and the next word began with a vowel,
the former vowel, at least in verse, was regularly elided; that is, it
was omitted altogether, or possibly (in the case of /i/ and /u/)
pronounced like the corresponding semivowel. When the second word was
est or et, a different form of elision sometimes occurred
(prodelision): the vowel of the preceding word was retained, and the e
was elided instead. Elision also occurred in Ancient Greek, but in
that language, it is shown in writing by the vowel in question being
replaced by an apostrophe, whereas in
Latin elision is not indicated
at all in the orthography, but can be deduced from the verse form.
Only occasionally is it found in inscriptions, as in scriptust for
Latin spelling and pronunciation today
Modern usage, even for classical
Latin texts, varies in respect of I
and V. During the Renaissance, the printing convention was to use I
(upper case) and i (lower case) for both vocalic /i/ and consonantal
/j/, to use V in the upper case and in the lower case to use v at the
start of words and u subsequently within the word regardless of
whether /u/ and /w/ was represented.
Many publishers (such as Oxford University Press) have adopted the
convention of using I (upper case) and i (lower case) for both /i/ and
/j/, and V (upper case) and u (lower case) for both /u/ and /w/.
An alternative approach, less common today, is to use i and u only for
the vowels and j and v for the approximants.
Most modern editions, however, adopt an intermediate position,
distinguishing between u and v but not between i and j. Usually, the
non-vocalic v after q or g is still printed as u rather than v,
probably because in this position it did not change from /w/ to /v/ in
post-classical times.[note 4]
Textbooks and dictionaries indicate the length of vowels by putting a
macron or horizontal bar above the long vowel, but it is not generally
done in regular texts. Occasionally, mainly in early printed texts up
to the 18th century, one may see a circumflex used to indicate a long
vowel where this makes a difference to the sense, for instance, Româ
/ˈroːmaː/ ('from Rome' ablative) compared to Roma /ˈroːma/
('Rome' nominative). Sometimes, for instance in Roman Catholic
service books, an acute accent over a vowel is used to indicate the
stressed syllable. It would be redundant for one who knew the
classical rules of accentuation and made the correct distinction
between long and short vowels, but most
Latin speakers since the 3rd
century have not made any distinction between long and short vowels,
but they have kept the accents in the same places; thus, the use of
accent marks allows speakers to read a word aloud correctly even if
they never heard it spoken aloud.
Main article: Pronunciation of New Latin
Since around the beginning of the
Renaissance period onwards, with the
language being used as an international language among intellectuals,
Latin in Europe came to be dominated by the phonology
of local languages, resulting in a variety of different pronunciation
Loan words and formal study
Latin words are used as loanwords in a modern language, there is
ordinarily little or no attempt to pronounce them as the Romans did;
in most cases, a pronunciation suiting the phonology of the receiving
language is employed.
Latin words in common use in English are generally fully assimilated
into the English sound system, with little to mark them as foreign,
for example, cranium, saliva. Other words have a stronger
to them, usually because of spelling features such as the digraphs ae
and oe (occasionally written as ligatures: æ and œ, respectively),
which both denote /iː/ in English. The digraph ae or ligature æ in
some words tend to be given an /aɪ/ pronunciation, for example,
However, using loan words in the context of the language borrowing
them is a markedly different situation from the study of
In this classroom setting, instructors and students attempt to
recreate at least some sense of the original pronunciation. What is
taught to native anglophones is suggested by the sounds of today's
Romance languages, the direct descendants of Latin.
Instructors who take this approach rationalize that Romance vowels
probably come closer to the original pronunciation than those of any
other modern language (see also the section below on "Derivative
However, other languages—including Romance family members—all have
their own interpretations of the
Latin phonological system, applied
both to loan words and formal study of Latin. But English, Romance, or
other teachers do not always point out that the particular accent
their students learn is not actually the way ancient Romans spoke.
Because of the central position of Rome within the Catholic Church, an
Italian pronunciation of
Latin became commonly accepted, but this was
not the case until the latter part of the 19th century. This
pronunciation corresponds to that of the Latin-derived words in
Italian. Before then, the pronunciation of
Latin in church was the
same as the pronunciation as
Latin in other fields and tended to
reflect the sound values associated with the nationality of the
The following are the main points that distinguish modern
ecclesiastical pronunciation from Classical
Vowel length is not phonemic. As a result, the automatic stress accent
of Classical Latin, which was dependent on vowel length, becomes a
phonemic one in Ecclesiastical Latin. (Some Ecclesiastical texts mark
the stress with an acute accent in words of three or more syllables.)
The digraphs ae and oe (sometimes written as ligatures æ and œ)
c denotes [t͡ʃ] (as in English ⟨ch⟩) before ae (æ), oe (œ), e,
i or y.
g denotes [d͡ʒ] (as in English ⟨j⟩) before ae (æ), oe (œ), e,
i or y.
h is silent except in two words: mihi and nihil, where it represents
/k/ (in the Middle Ages, these words were spelled michi and
s between vowels represents /z/ or /s/; sc before ae (æ), oe
(œ), e, i or y. represents /ʃ/.
ti, if followed by a vowel, not word-initial or stressed, and not
preceded by s, t, or x represents [t͡si].
the letter v when it starts a syllable is pronounced /v/, and not /w/
as in classical Latin. Between g or q and a vowel, it retains the
ancient /w/ pronunciation, and as a syllable nucleus, it retains /u/.
Unlike in the ancient orthography, the letter v is now written v when
it is pronounced /v/, but u when it is pronounced /w/ or /u/.
th represents /t/.
ph represents /f/.
ch represents /k/.
y represents /i/.
gn represents /ɲ/.
x represents /ks/, the /s/ of which merges with a following c that
precedes ae (æ), oe (œ), e, i or y to form /ʃ/, as in excelsis
z represents /dz/.
Word-final m and n are pronounced fully, with no nasalization of the
In his Vox Latina: A guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin,
William Sidney Allen remarked that this pronunciation, used by the
Catholic Church in Rome and elsewhere, and whose adoption Pope Pius X
recommended in a 1912 letter to the Archbishop of Bourges, "is
probably less far removed from classical
Latin than any other
'national' pronunciation"; but, as can be seen from the table above,
there are, nevertheless, very significant differences. The
introduction to the
Liber Usualis indicates that Ecclesiastical Latin
pronunciation should be used at Church liturgies. Ecclesiastical
pronunciation is also the preferred pronunciation of Catholics
Latin even if not as part of liturgy. The Pontifical
Latin is the pontifical academy in the Vatican that is
charged with the dissemination and education of Catholics in the Latin
Outside of Austria and Germany, it is the most widely used standard in
choral singing which, with a few exceptions like Stravinsky's Oedipus
rex, is concerned with liturgical texts.
Anglican choirs adopted it
when classicists abandoned traditional English pronunciation after
World War II. The rise of historically informed performance and the
availability of guides such as Copeman's Singing in
Latin has led to
the recent revival of regional pronunciations.
See also: Ecclesiastical Latin
Pronunciation shared by Vulgar
Latin and Romance languages
Further information: Latin, Vulgar Latin, and Romance languages
Because it gave rise to many modern languages,
Latin did not strictly
"die"; it merely evolved over the centuries in diverse ways. The local
dialects of Vulgar
Latin that emerged eventually became modern
Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian, Portuguese, Catalan, Romansh,
Dalmatian, Sardinian, and many others.
Key features of Vulgar
Romance languages include:
Almost total loss of /h/ and final unstressed /m/.
Conversion of the distinction of vowel length into a distinction of
height, and subsequent merger of some of these phonemes. Most Romance
languages merged short /u/ with long /oː/ and short /i/ with long
Monophthongization of /ae̯/ into /ɛː/ and /oe̯/ into /eː/.
Loss of marginal phonemes such as aspirates (/pʰ/, /tʰ/, and /kʰ/),
which became tenues, and the close front-rounded vowel [y], which
Loss of /n/ before /s/ (CL spōnsa > VL spōsa) but this
influence on the later development of
Romance languages was limited
from written influence, analogy, and learned borrowings.
Palatalization of /k/ before /e/ and /i/ (not in all varieties),
probably first into /kʲ/ and then /tʲ/ before it finally developed
into /ts/ or /tʃ/.
Palatalization of /ɡ/ before /e/ and /i/, and of /j/, into /dʒ/ (not
in all varieties) and then further into /ʒ/ in some Romance
Palatalization of /ti/ followed by a vowel (if not preceded by s, t,
x) into /tsj/. It merged with /ts/ in dialects in which /k/ had
developed into this sound, but it remained separate elsewhere (such as
Palatalization of /li/ and /ni/ followed by a vowel into /ʎ/ and
/ɲ/. /ŋn/ (orthographic gn) also coalesced to become /ɲ/.
The change of /w/ (except after /k/) and /b/ between vowels, into
The following examples are both in verse, which demonstrates several
features more clearly than prose.
From Classical Latin
Virgil's Aeneid, Book 1, verses 1–4. Quantitative metre (dactylic
hexameter). Translation: "I sing of arms and the man, who, driven by
fate, came first from the borders of Troy to Italy and the Lavinian
shores; he [was] much afflicted both on lands and on the deep by the
power of the gods, because of fierce Juno's vindictive wrath."
Recording of first four lines of
Aeneid in reconstructed Classical
Ancient Roman orthography (before 2nd century)[note 6]
Traditional (19th century) English orthography
Arma virúmque cano, Trojæ qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Lavíniaque venit
Litora; multùm ille et terris jactatus et alto
Vi superum, sævæ memorem Junonis ob iram.
Modern orthography with macrons
Arma virumque canō, Trōiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs
Ītaliam, fātō profugus, Lāvīniaque vēnit
Lītora; multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
Vī superum, saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram.
Modern orthography without macrons
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
Litora; multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
Vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram.
[Reconstructed] Classical Roman pronunciation
[ˈarma wɪˈrũːkᶣɛ ˈkanoː ˈtroːjae̯ kᶣiː ˈpriːmʊs
iːˈtaliãː ˈfaːtoː ˈprɔfʊɡʊs laːˈwiːnjakᶣɛ
ˈliːtɔra ‖ ˈmʊɫtᶣ ɪ̃ll ɛt ˈtɛrriːs jakˈtaːtʊs
wiː ˈsʊpærũː ˈsae̯wae̯ ˈmɛmɔrẽː juːˈnoːnɪs
Note the elisions in mult(um) and ill(e) in the third line. For a
fuller discussion of the prosodic features of this passage, see
Some manuscripts have "Lāvīna" rather than "Lāvīnia" in the second
From Medieval Latin
Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium
Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium by Thomas
Aquinas (13th century). Rhymed accentual metre. Translation: "Extol,
[my] tongue, the mystery of the glorious body and the precious blood,
which the fruit of a noble womb, the king of nations, poured out as
the price of the world."
1. Traditional orthography as in Roman Catholic service books
(stressed syllable marked with an acute accent on words of three
syllables or more).
Pange lingua gloriósi
quem in mundi prétium
fructus ventris generósi
Rex effúdit géntium.
2. "Italianate" ecclesiastical pronunciation
[ˈpandʒe ˈliŋɡwa ɡloriˈoːzi
kwem in ˈmundi ˈprɛttsium
ˈfruktus ˈvɛntris dʒeneˈroːzi
rɛks efˈfuːdit ˈdʒentsium
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Latin regional pronunciation
Traditional English pronunciation of Latin
Deutsche Aussprache des Lateinischen (in German) – traditional
Schulaussprache des Lateinischen (in German) – revised "school"
Französische Aussprache des Lateins (in German) - traditional French
^ Appius Claudius
C(ai) f(ilius) Caecus
censor co(n)s(ul) bis dict(ator) interrex III
pr(aetor) II aed(ilis) cur(ulis) II q(uaestor) tr(ibunus) mil(itum)
plura oppida de( )Samnitibus cepit
Sabinorum et Tuscórum exerci(-)
tum fudit pácem fierí cum Pyrrho
rege prohibuit in censura uiam
Appiam strauit etaquam in
urbem( )adduxit aedem Bellonae
^ epistula ad tiburtes, a letter by praetor Lucius Cornelius from 159
BC, contains the first examples of doubled consonants in the words
potuisse, esse, and peccatum (Clackson & Horrocks 2007,
pp. 147, 149).
^ The simplification was already common in rural speech as far back as
the time of Varro (116 BC – 27 BC): cf. De lingua Latina, 5:97
(referred to in Smith 2004, p. 47).
^ This approach is also recommended in the help page for the Latin
^ This pronunciation of mihi and nihil may have been an attempt to
reintroduce /h/ intervocalically, where it seems to have been lost
even in literary
Latin by the end of the Republican period (Smith
2004, p. 48) as indicated by the alternative Classical spellings
mī and nīl.
^ "The word-divider is regularly found on all good inscriptions, in
papyri, on wax tablets, and even in graffiti from the earliest
Republican times through the Golden Age and well into the Second
Century. ... Throughout these periods the word-divider was a dot
placed half-way between the upper and the lower edge of the line of
writing. ... As a rule, interpuncta are used simply to divide words,
except that prepositions are only rarely separated from the word they
govern, if this follows next. ... The regular use of the interpunct as
a word-divider continued until sometime in the Second Century, when it
began to fall into disuse, and
Latin was written with increasing
frequency, both in papyrus and on stone or bronze, in scriptura
continua." Wingo 1972, pp. 15, 16
^ a b c Sihler 1995, pp. 20–22, §25: the Italic alphabets
^ a b Allen 1978, p. 25
^ Allen 1978, p. 17
^ Allen 1978, pp. 19, 20
^ a b c Allen 1978, pp. 26, 27
^ a b c Clackson & Horrocks 2007, p. 190
^ Allen 1978, pp. 12, 13
^ Levy, p. 150
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 45, 46
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 35–37
^ Allen 1978, pp. 34, 35
^ Lloyd 1987, p. 80
^ a b Lloyd 1987, p. 81
^ a b c Allen 1978, pp. 30, 31
^ Lloyd 1987, p. 84
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 27–30
^ Allen 1978, pp. 23–25
^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §10d
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 71–73
^ Allen 1978, p. 33
^ Allen 1978, pp. 33, 34
^ Sihler 1995, p. 174, §176 a: allophones of l in Latin
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 37–40
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 40–42
^ Allen 1978, p. 11
^ a b Allen 1978, p. 42
^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 15, 16
^ Allen 1978, p. 45
^ Allen & Greenough, §1a
^ a b Clackson & Horrocks 2007, p. 96
^ Allen 1978, p. 15
^ Allen 1978, p. 23
^ Sturtevant 1920, pp. 115–116
^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §6d, 11c
^ Allen 1978, pp. 47–49
^ Allen 1978, p. 51
^ Allen 1978, pp. 51, 52
^ Allen 1978, p. 52
^ Allen 1978, p. 56
^ Allen 1978, p. 59
^ Clackson 2008, p. 77
^ Allen 1978, pp. 55, 56
^ Ward 1962
^ Clackson & Horrocks 2007, pp. 273, 274
^ Allen 1978, pp. 65
^ Sihler 2008, p. 174.
^ Allen 2004, pp. 33–34
^ Fortson 2004, p. 254
^ Sturtevant 1920, pp. 207–218
^ Allen 1978, p. 83
^ Allen 1978, p. 87
^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §11
^ a b Allen et al.
^ a b c d Allen 1978, pp. 89–92
^ Allen 1978, p. 86
^ Allen & Greenough 2001, p. 400, section 612 e, f
^ Gor example, Henri Estienne's Dictionarium, seu Latinae linguae
^ Gilbert 1939
^ Frederick Brittain,
Latin in Church; the history of its
^ a b c Liber Usualis, p. xxxviij
^ Introduction to the Liber Usualis
^ Robinson, Ray (1993). Up front!: becoming the complete choral
conductor. p. 192. ISBN 9780911318197. Not all authorities
agree that s between vowels in Church
Latin should be voiced. Of the
sources cited in the bibliography, Hines, May/Tolin and Wall prefer
the voiced s
^ Allen 1978, p. 108
^ Liber Usualis, p. xxxvj
^ Allen 1978, pp. 28–29
^ Allen 1978, p. 119
^ a b Pope 1952, chapter 6, §4
Alkire, Ti; Rosen, Carol (2010). Romance Languages: A Historical
Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
Allen, William Sidney (1978) . Vox Latina—a Guide to the
Pronunciation of Classical
Latin (2nd ed.). Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 0-521-37936-9.
Allen, William Sidney (1987). Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of
Classical Greek. Cambridge University Press.
Allen, Joseph A.; Greenough, James B. (2001) . Mahoney, Anne,
Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Newburyport,
Massachusetts: R. Pullins Company. ISBN 1-58510-042-0.
Brittain, Frederick (1955).
Latin in Church. The History of its
Pronunciation (2nd ed.). Mowbray.
Clackson, James; Horrocks, Geoffrey (2007). The Blackwell History of
Latin Language. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Clackson, James (2008). "Latin". In Roger D. Woodward. The Ancient
Languages of Europe. Cambridge University Press.
Gilbert, Allan H (June 1939). "Mock Accents in
Renaissance and Modern
Latin". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. 54
(2): 608–610. doi:10.2307/458579.
Hayes, Bruce (1995). Metrical stress theory: principles and case
studies. University of Chicago. ISBN 9780226321042.
Levy, Harry L. (1989). A
Latin Reader for Colleges. University of
Lloyd, Paul M. (1987). From
Latin to Spanish. Diane Publishing.
Neidermann, Max (1945) . Précis de phonétique historique du
latin (2 ed.). Paris.
McCullagh, Matthew (2011). "The Sounds of Latin: Phonology". In James
Clackson. A Companion to the
Latin Language. Blackwell Publishing.
Pekkanen, Tuomo (1999). Ars grammatica—Latinan kielioppi (in Finnish
and Latin) (3rd-6th ed.). Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.
Pope Pius X
Pope Pius X (November 22, 1903). "Tra le Sollecitudini". Rome, Italy:
Adoremus. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
Pope, M. K. (1952) . From
Latin to Modern French with especial
consideration of Anglo-Norman (revised ed.). Manchester: Manchester
Sihler, Andrew L. (1995). New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508345-8.
Smith, Jane Stuart (2004). Phonetics and Philology: Sound Change in
Italic. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925773-6.
Sturtevant, Edgar Howard (1920). The pronunciation of Greek and Latin.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ward, Ralf L. (June 1962). "Evidence For The Pronunciation Of Latin".
The Classical World. 55 (9): 273–275. doi:10.2307/4344896.
Wingo, E. Otha (1972).
Latin Punctuation in the Classical Age. De
Gruyter Mouton. ISBN 978-9027923233.
Library resources about
Latin spelling and pronunciation
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Hall, William Dawson, and Michael De Angelis. 1971. Latin
Pronunciation According to Roman Usage. Anaheim, CA: National Music
Trame, Richard H. 1983. "A Note On
Latin Pronunciation." The Choral
Journal 23, no. 5: 29. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23546146.Copy
phonetica latinæ: Classical and ecclesiastical
with audio examples
"Ecclesiastical Latin". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1910.
Lord, Frances Ellen (2007) . The Roman Pronunciation of Latin:
Why we use it and how to use it. Gutenberg Project.
Phonologies of the world's languages
Regional North American
Spanish dialects and varieties