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6. Latin spelling varied somewhat with the changes in the language and was never absolutely settled in all details.

Thus, we find lubet, vortō , as earlier, and libet , vertō , as later forms. Other variations are optumus and optimus , gerundus and gerendus .

The spelling of the first century of our era, known chiefly from inscriptions, is tolerably uniform, and is commonly used in modern editions of the classics.

a. After v (consonant u ), o was anciently used instead of u (voltus, servos), and this spelling was not entirely given up until the middle of the first century of our era.

b. The older quo became cu in the Augustan period; in the second century of our era the spelling quu established itself in some words:—

  1. cum , older quom; 1 equos , ecus , later equus; sequontur, secuntur , later sequuntur; similarly exstinguont, exstingunt, later exstinguunt .

Note.--In most modern editions the spelling quu is adopted, except in cum .

c. Between consonant i and a preceding a, e, o, or u, an i was developed as a transient sound, thus producing a diphthong ai , ei , etc., before the consonant i. In such cases but one i was written: as, âiō (for † ai- ), mâius (for † mai-ius ), pêius (for † pei-ius ).

d. Similarly in compounds of iaciō but one i was written (as, con-iciō, not con-iiciō ); but the usual pronunciation probably showed consonant i followed by vowel i (see § 11. e).

Note.--Some variations are due to later changes in Latin itself, and these are not now recognized in classical texts.

  1. Unaccented ti and ci , when followed by a vowel, came to be pronounced alike; hence nūntiō was later spel'ed with a c and diciōwith a t.
  2. The sound of h was after a time lost and hence this letter was often omitted (as, arēna for harēna) or mistakenly written (as, hūmor for ūmor).
  3. The diphthong ae early in the time of the Empire acquired the value of long open e (about like English e in there), and similarly oe after a time became a long close e (about like the English ey in they); and so both were often confused in spelling with e: as, coena or caena for the correct form cēna .


7. Every Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels or diphthongs:—

a-ci-ē , mo- , -li-us , fe-rō-ci-tā-te.

a. In the division of words into syllables a single consonant (including consonant i and ) between two vowels is written and pronounced with the following vowel. Doubled consonants are separated:—

pa-ter , -li-tēs , in--ri-a , -vi-; mit-, tol- .

Note 1.--Some extend the rule for single consonants to any consonant group (as sp, st, gn) that can begin a word. In this book, dīx-it , sax-um, etc. are preferred to -xit , sa-xum; the pronunciation was probably dīc-sit, sac-sum.

Note 2.--A syllable ending with a vowel or diphthong is called open: all others are called close. Thus in pa-ter the first syllable is open, the second close.

b. In compounds the parts are separated:—

ab-est , ob-lātus, dis-cernō, du-plex, dī-stō.


8. The so-called Roman Pronunciation of Latin aims to represent approximately the pronunciation of classical times.

VOWELS: ā as in father; ă as in idea.
ē as eh? (prolonged), or a in date; ĕ as eh? (clipped) or e in net.
ī as in machine; ĭ as in holiest or sit.
ō as in holy; ŏ as in obey.
ū as oo in boot; ŭ as oo in foot.
y between u and i (French u or German ü).

DIPHTHONGS: ae like ay; ei as in eight; oe like oy in boy;
eu as eh'oo; au like ow in now ui as oo'ee.

Consonants are the same as in English, except that—

  1. c and g are as in come, get, never as in city, gem.
  2. s as in sea, lips, never as in ease.
  3. Consonant i is like y in young; v (consonant u ) like w in wing.
  4. n in the combinations ns and nf probably indicates nasalization of the preceding vowel, which was also lengthened; and final m in an unaccented syllable probably had a similar nasalizing effect on the preceding vowel.
  5. ph, th, ch, are properly like p, t, k, followed by h (which may, for convenience, be neglected); but ph probably became like (or nearly like) f soon after the classical period, and may be so pronounced to distinguish it from p.
  6. z is as dz in adze.
  7. bs is like ps; bt is like pt.

Note.--Latin is sometimes pronounced with the ordinary English sounds of the letters. The English pronunciation should be used in Roman names occurring in English (as, Julius Cæsar); and in familiar quotations, as, e pluribus unum; viva voce; vice versa; a fortiori; veni, vidi, vici, etc.


9. The Quantity of a Vowel or a Syllable is the time occupied in pronouncing it. Two degrees of Quantity are recognized,— long and short.

a. In syllables, quantity is measured from the beginning of the vowel or diphthong to the end of the syllable.

10. Vowels are either long or short by nature, and are pronounced accordingly (§ 8).

a. A vowel before another vowel or h is short: as in vĭa, nĭhil.

b. A diphthong is long: as in aedēs , foedus . So, also, a vowel derived from a diphthong: as in exclūdō (from † ex-claudō ).

c. A vowel formed by contraction is long: as in nīl (from nihil ).

d. A vowel before ns, nf, gn, is long: as in cōnstāns , īnferō , māgnus .

Note.--But the quantity of the vowel before gn is not certain in all cases.

e. A vowel before nd, nt, is regularly short: as in amandus , amant .

In this book all vowels known to be long are marked (ā, ē, etc.), and short vowels are left unmarked (a, e, etc.). Vowels marked with both signs at once (ā˘, ē˘, etc.) occur sometimes as long and sometimes as short.

Note.--The Romans sometimes marked vowel length by a stroke above the letter (called an apex), as, Á; and sometimes the vowel was doubled to indicate length. An I made higher than the other letters was occasionally used for ī. But none of these devices came into general use

11. The Quantity of the Syllable is important for the position of the accent and in versification.

a. A syllable containing a long vowel or a diphthong is said to be long by nature: as, mā-ter, aes , au-la .

b. A syllable containing a short vowel followed by two consonants (except a mute before l or r) or by a double consonant (x, z) is said to be long by position, but the vowel is pronounced short: as, est , ter-ra , sax-um, Me-zen-tius.

Note.--When a consonant is doubled the pronunciation should show this distinctly. Thus in mit- both t's should be pronounced as in out-talk (not merely a single t as in better).

c. A syllable containing a short vowel followed by a mute before l or r is properly short, but may be used as long in verse. Such a syllable is said to be common.

Note 1.--In syllables long by position, but having a short vowel, the length is partly due to the first of the consonants, which stands in the same syllable with the vowel. In syllables of “common” quantity (as the first syllable of patrem ) the ordinary pronunciation was pa-trem , but in verse pat-rem was allowed so that the syllable could become long.

Note 2.--In final syllables ending with a consonant, and containing a short vowel, the quantity in verse is determined by the following word: if this begins with a vowel the final consonant is joined to it in pronunciation; if it begins with a consonant the syllable is long by position.

Note 3.--In rules for quantity h is not counted as a consonant, nor is the apparently consonantal u in qu, gu, su (see § 5. N. 2).

d. A syllable whose vowel is a, e, o, or u, followed by consonant i, is long whether the vowel itself is long or short: as, â- , -ior , -ius .

In such cases the length of the syllable is indicated in this book by a circumflex on the vowel.

Note.--The length of a syllable before consonant i is due to a transitional sound (vowel i ) which forms a diphthong with the preceding vowel: as, â- (for † ai- ), -ior (for † mai-ior ). See § 6. c.

e. In some compounds of iaciō (as, in-iciō ) the consonant i of the simple verb was probably pronounced (though not written). Thus the first syllable was long by position: as, in-iciō (for in-iiciō ). See § 6. d.

In such cases the length of the syllable is not indicated in this book by a circumflex on the vowel.

f. When a syllable is long by position the quantity of the vowel is not always determinable. The vowel should be pronounced short unless it is known to be long.

Note.--The quantity of a vowel under these circumstances is said to be hidden. It is often determined with a greater or less degree of certainty by inscriptional evidence (see § 10. N.) or by other means. In this book, the quantity of all such vowels known to be long is marked.


12. Words of two syllables are accented on the first syllable: as, Rō'ma, fi'dēs, tan'gō.

Words of more than two syllables are accented on the Penult2 if that is long (as, amī'cus, monē'tur, contin'git); otherwise on the Antepenult (as, do'mĭnus, a'lăcris, dissociā'bĭlis).

a. When an enclitic is joined to a word, the accent falls on the syllable next before the enclitic, whether long or short: as, dĕă'que, ămārĕ've, tĭbĭ'ne, ită'que (and ... so), as distinguished from i'tăque (therefore). So (according to some) ex'inde, ec'quandō, etc.


  1. Certain apparent compounds of faciō retain the accent of the simple verb: as,benefă'cit,calefă'cit (see § 266. a).

    Note.--These were not true compounds, but phrases.

  2. In the second declension the genitive and vocative of nouns in -ius and the genitive of those in -ium retain the accent of the nominative: as, Cornē'lī,Vergi'lī, inge'nī (see § 49. c).
  3. Certain words which have lost a final vowel retain the accent of the complete words: as, illī'c forillī'ce,prōdū'c forprōdūce, sati'n for sati'sne.


13. In some cases adjacent words, being pronounced together, are written as one:—
  1. ūnusquisque ( ūnus quisque ), sīquis ( quis ), quārē ( quā ), quamobrem (quam ob rem; cf. quās ob rēs), rēspūblica ( rēs pūblica ), iūsiūrandum ( iūs iūrandum ), paterfamiliās ( pater familiās ).

Note.--Sometimes a slight change in pronunciation resulted, as, especially in the old poets, before est in homōst ( homō est ), perīculumst ( perīculum est ), ausust ( ausus est ), quālist ( quālis est . Similarly there occur vīn', scīn' for vīsne , scīsne , sīs ( vīs ), sōdēs ( audēs ), sūltis ( vultis ). Compare in English somebody, to breakfast; he's, I've, thou'rt.

Phonetic Changes

14. Latin, the language of the ancient Romans, was properly, as its name implies, the language spoken in the plain of Latium, lying south of the Tiber, which was the first territory occupied and governed by the Romans. It is a descendant of an early form of speech commonly called Indo-European (by some Indo-Germanic), from which are also descended most of the important languages now in use in Europe, including among others English, German, the Slavic and the Celtic languages, and further some now or formerly spoken in Asia, as Sanskrit, Persian, Armenian. Greek likewise

belongs to the same family. The Romance (or Romanic) languages, of which the most important are Italian, French, Provençal, Spanish, Portuguese, and Roumanian, are modern descendants of spoken Latin.

The earliest known forms of Latin are preserved in a few inscriptions. These increase in number as we approach the time when the language began to be used in literature; that is, about B.C. 250. It is the comparatively stable language of the classical period (B.C. 80-A.D. 14) that is ordinarily meant when we speak of Latin, and it is mainly this that is described in this book.

15. Among the main features in the changes of Latin from the earliest stages of the language as we know it up to the forms of classical Latin may be mentioned the following:—

Vowel Changes

  1. The old diphthong ai became the classical ae (aedīlis for old aidīlis), old oi became oe orū (ūnus for old oinos), and old ou became ū dūcō for old doucō ).
  2. In compound verbs the vowel a of the simple verb often appears as i or e, and ae similarly appears asī:—
    1. faciō , factum , but cōnficiō , cōnfectum; caedō, but occīdō , and similarly cecīdī , perfect of caedō (cf. cadō,occidō;cecidī, perfect of cadō).

    Note.--This change is commonly ascribed to an accentuation on the first syllable, which seems to have been the rule in Latin before the rule given above (see § 12) became established. The original Indo-European accent, however, was not limited by either of these principles; it was probably a musical accent so-called, consisting in a change of pitch, and not merely in a more forcible utterance of the accented syllable.

    Two vowels coming together are often contracted:—
    1. cōgō for †co-agō; prōmō for †pro-emō;nīl for nihil; dēbeō for †dē-hibed(† -habeō ).

Consonant Changes

    An old s regularly became rbetween two vowels (rhotacism), passing first through the sound of (English) z:—
    1. eram (cf. est ); generis , genitive of genus.3

    Note 2.--Final ssometimes became r by analogy: as,honor (older honōs ), from the analogy of honōris , etc.

  1. A dental (t, d) often became s, especially when standing next to t, d, or s: as,equestris for †equettris, cāsus for †cadtus (cf. 6, below).
  2. Many instances of assimilation, partial or complete, are found:—
    1. cessī for †ced-sī; summus for †supmus; scrīptus for scrībtusb unvoicing to p before the voiceless t); and in compound verbs (see § 16).
    Dissimilation, the opposite kind of change, prevented in some cases the repetition of the same sound in successive syllables:—

    Thus, parīlia for palīlia (from Palēs ); merīdiēs for †medīdiēs; nātūrālis with suffix -ālis (after r ), but populāris with -āris (after l ).

  3. Final s was in early Latin not always pronounced; as, plēnu s ) fidēī .

    Note 3.--Traces of this pronunciation existed in Cicero's time. He speaks of the omission of final s before a word beginning with a consonant as “countrified” ( subrūsticum ).

  4. A final consonant often disappears: as, virgō for †virgōn;lac for †lact; cor for †cord.
  5. G, c, and h unite with a following s to form x: as, rēx for †rēgs; dux for †ducs; trāxī for †trahsī.4
  6. G and h before t becomec: as, rēctum for †regtum; āctum for †agtum; trāctum for †trahtum.5
  7. Between m and s or mand t, a p is often developed: as, sūmpsī for †sūmsī; ēmptum for †ēmtum.
16. In compounds with prepositions the final consonant in the preposition was often assimilated to the following consonant, but usage varied considerably.

There is good authority for many complete or partial assimilations; as, for ad , acc-, agg-, app-, att-, instead of adc-, adg-, etc. Before a labial consonant we find com- (comb-, comp-, comm-), but con- is the form before c, d, f, g, cons. i, q, s, t, cons. v; we find conl- or coll-, conr- or corr-; - in cōnectō, cōnīveō, cōnītor , cōnūbium . In usually changes to im- before p, b, m. Ob and sub may assimilate b to a following c, f, g, or p; before s and t the pronunciation of prepositions ending in b doubtless had p; surr-, summ-, occur for subr-, subm-. The inseparable amb- loses b before a consonant. Circum often loses its m before i. The s of dis becomes r before a vowel and is assimilated to a following f; sometimes this prefix appears as -. Instead of ex we find ef- before f (also ecf-). The d of red and sēd is generally lost before a consonant. The preposition is better left unchanged in most other cases.

Vowel Variations

17. The parent language showed great variation in the vowel sounds of kindred words.6

a. This variation is often called by the German name Ablaut. It has left considerable traces in the forms of Latin words, appearing sometimes as a difference of quantity in the same vowel (as, u, ū; e, ē), sometimes as a difference in the vowel itself (as, e, o; i, ae):7

  1. tegō, I cover, toga, a robe; pendō, I weigh, pondus, weight; fidēs, faith, fīdus, faithful, foedus, a treaty; miser, wretched, maestus, sad; dare, to give, dōnum, a gift; regō, I rule, rēx, a king; dux, a leader, dūcō (for older doucō ), I lead. Compare English drive, drove (drave), driven; bind, bound, band; sing, sang, sung; etc.

Kindred Forms

18. Both Latin and English have gone through a series of phonetic changes, different in the two languages, but following definite laws in each. Hence both preserve traces of the older speech in some features of the vowel system, and both show certain correspondences in consonants in words which each language has inherited from the old common stock. Only a few of these correspondences can be mentioned here.

19. The most important correspondences in consonants between Latin and English, in cognate words, may be seen in the following table:—8

p: pater f: father, earlier fader 9
f from bh: ferō , frāter b: to bear, brother
b from bh: lubet, libet v, f: love, lief
t: , tenuis th: thou, thin 10
d: duo , dent- t: two, tooth
f from dh: faciō d: do
d from dh: medius d: mid
b from dh: ruber d: red
c: cord-, cornū h: heart, horn
qu: quod wh: what
g: genus, gustus c, k, ch: kin, choose
h (from gh ): hortus , haedus y, g: yard, goat
cons. i: iugum y: yoke
v: ventus , ovis w: wind, ewe
v from gv: vīvus (for † gvīvos ), veniō (for † gvemiō ). qu, c, k: quick, come

Note 1.--Sometimes a consonant lost in Latin is still represented in English: as, niv- (for †sniv-), Eng. snow; ānser (for † hānser ), Eng. goose.

Note 2.--From these cases of kindred words in Latin and English must be carefully distinguished those cases in which the Latin word has been taken into English either directly or through some one of the modern descendants of Latin, especially French. Thus faciō is kindred with Eng. do, but from the Latin participle ( factum ) of this verb comes Eng. fact, and from the French descendant (fait) of factum comes Eng. feat.

1 The spelling quum is very late and without authority.

2 The Penult is the last syllable but one; the Antepenult, the last but two.

3 A similar change can be seen in English: as, were (cf. was), lorn (cf. lose).

4 Really for †traghsī. The hof trahō represents an older palatal sound (see § 19).

5 Really for †traghtum. These are cases of partial assimilation (cf. 6, above).

6 This variation was not without regularity, but was confined within definite limits.

7 In Greek, however, it is more extensively preserved.

8 The Indo-European parent speech had among its consonants voiced aspirates (bh, dh, gh). All these suffered change in Latin, the most important results being, for bh, Latin f, b (English has b, v, or f); for dh, Latin f, b, d (English has d ); for gh, Latin h, g (English has y, g). The other mutes suffered in Latin much less change, while in English, as in the other Germanic languages, they have all changed considerably in accordance with what has been called Grimm's Law for the shifting of mutes.

9 The th in father is a late development. The older form fader seems to show an exception to the rule that English th corresponds to Latin t. The primitive Germanic form was doubtless in accordance with this rule, but, on account of the position of the accent, which in Germanic was not originally on the first syllable in this word, the consonant underwent a secondary change to d.

10 But to the group st of Latin corresponds also English st; as in Latin stō , English stand.

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