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602. The poetry of the Indo-European people seems originally to have been somewhat like our own, depending on accent for its metre and disregarding the natural quantity of syllables. The Greeks, however, developed a form of poetry which, like music, pays close attention to the natural quantity of syllables; and the Romans borrowed their metrical forms in classical times from the Greeks. Hence Latin poetry does not depend, like ours, upon accent and rhyme; but is measured, like musical strains, by the length of syllables. Especially does it differ from our verse in not regarding the prose accent of the words, but substituting for that an entirely different system of metrical accent or ictus (see § 611. a). This depends upon the character of the measure used, falling at regular intervals of time on a long syllable or its equivalent. Each syllable is counted as either long or short in Quantity; and a long syllable is generally reckoned equal in length to two short ones (for exceptions, see § 608. c-e ).

The quantity of radical (or stem) syllables—as of short a in păter or of long a in māter—can be learned only by observation and practice, unless determined by the general rules of quantity. Most of these rules are only arbitrary formulas devised to assist the memory; the syllables being long or short because the ancients pronounced them so. The actual practice of the Romans in regard to the quantity of syllables is ascertained chiefly from the usage of the poets; but the ancient grammarians give some assistance, and in some inscriptions long vowels are distinguished in various ways,— by the apex, for instance, or by doubling (§ 10. e. N.).

Since Roman poets borrow very largely from the poetry and mythology of the Greeks, numerous Greek words, especially proper names, make an important part of Latin poetry. These words are generally employed in accordance with the Greek, and not the Latin, laws of quantity. Where these laws vary in any important point, the variations will be noticed in the rules below.


603. The following are General Rules of Quantity (cf. §§ 9-11):

Quantity of Vowels

a. Vowels. A vowel before another vowel or h is short: as, vĭa, trăhō .


  1. In the genitive form -ius,ī is long: as, utrīus , nūllīus . It is, however, sometimes short in verse (§ 113. c).
  2. In the genitive and dative singular of the fifth declension, e is long between two vowels: as, diēī; otherwise usually short, as in fidĕī , rĕī , spĕī .

    Note.--It was once long in these also: as, plēnus fidēī (Ennius, at the end of a hexameter). A is also long beforeī in the old genitive of the first declension: as, aulāī.

  3. In the conjugation of fīō , i is long except when followed by er . Thus, fīō , fīēbam , fīam , but fĭerī,fĭerem; so alsofĭt (§ 606. a. 3).
  4. In many Greek words the vowel in Latin represents a long vowel or diphthong, and retains its original long quantity: as, Trōes (Τρῶες),Thalīa (Θαλεῖα). hērōas (ἥρωας), āēr (ἄηρ).

    Note 2.--But many Greek words are more or less Latinized in this respect: as,Acadēmī˘a,chorē˘a, Malĕa , platĕa .

  5. In dīus , in ē˘heu usually, and sometimes inDī˘āna andō˘he, the first vowel is long.
b. Diphthongs. A Diphthong is long: as, foedus , cui ,1 aula .

Exception.—The preposition prae in compounds is generally shortened before a vowel: as, praĕ-ustīs (Aen. 7.524), praĕ-eunte (id. 5.186).

Note.-- U following q, s, or g, does not make a diphthong with a following vowel (see § 5. N. 2). For â- , -ior , pê-ior, etc., see § 11. d and N.

c. Contraction. A vowel formed by contraction (crasis) is long: as, nīl, from nihil; cōgō for †co-agō; mālō for mā-volō.

Note.--Two vowels of different syllables may be run together without full contraction ( synizēsis , § 642): as, deinde (for deinde ), ms (for meōs ); and often two syllables are united by Synæresis (§ 642) without contraction: as when părĭĕtĭbŭs is pronounced paryĕtĭbus.

d. A vowel before ns, nf, gn, is long: as, īnstō , īnfāns , sīgnum .

Quantity of Syllables

e. A syllable is long if it contains a long vowel or a diphthong: as, -rus , ō-men, foe-dus .

f. Position. A syllable is long by position if its vowel, though short, is followed by two consonants or a double consonant: as, adventus , cortex .

But if the two consonants are a mute followed by 1 or r the syllable may be either long or short (common); as, alacris or alăcris; patris or pătris .

Vowels should be pronounced long or short in accordance with their natural quantity without regard to the length of the syllable by position.

Note 1.--The rules of Position do not, in general, apply to final vowels before a word beginning with two consonants.

Note 2.--A syllable is long if its vowel is followed by consonant i (except in bĭiugis, quadrĭiugis): see § 11. d.

Note 3.--Compounds of iaciō , though written with one i, commonly retain the long vowel of the prepositions with which they are compounded, as if before a consonant, and, if the vowel of the preposition is short, the first syllable is long by position on the principle of § 11. e.

    obicis hostī (at the end of a hexameter, Aen. 4.549).
    inicit et saltū (at the beginning of a hexameter, Aen. 9.552).
    prōice tēla manū (at the beginning of a hexameter, Aen. 6.836).

Later poets sometimes shorten the preposition in trisyllabic forms, and prepositions ending in a vowel are sometimes contracted as if the verb began with a vowel.

  1. (1) cūr an|nōs ŏbĭ|cis (Claud. iv C. H. 264).
  2. (2) reīcĕ că|pellās (Ecl. 3.96, at end).

Note 4.--The y or w sound resulting from synæresis (§ 642) has the effect of a consonant in making position: as, abietis (abyetis), fluviōrum (fluvyōrum). Conversely. when the semivowel becomes a vowel, position is lost: as, sĭlŭae, for silvae .


604. The Quantity of Final Syllables is as follows:—

a. Monosyllables ending in a vowel are long: as, , , , .

  1. The attached particles -, -quĕ, -, -, -ptĕ, and - (rĕd-) are short; - (sēd-) and - are long. Thus, sēcēdit , sēditiō , exercitumquĕ rĕdūcit , dīmittō . But re- is often long in rēligiō ( relligiō ), rētulī ( rettulī ), rēpulī ( reppulī ).
b. Nouns and adjectives of one syllable are long: as, sōl , ōs ( ōris ), bōs , pār , vās ( vāsis ), vēr, vīs .

Exceptions. cŏr , fĕl, lăc, mĕl, ŏs ( ossis ), văs ( vădis ), vĭr, tŏt , quŏt .

c. Most monosyllabic Particles are short: as, ăn, ĭn, cĭs, nĕc . But crās , cūr , ēn, nōn , quīn , sīn—with adverbs in c: as, hīc , hūc , sīc—are long.

d. Final a in words declined by cases is short, except in the ablative sin gular of the first declension; in all other words final a is long. Thus, stellă (nominative), cum stellā (ablative); frūstrā , vocā (imperative), posteā , trīgintā .

Exceptions. ēiă , ită , quiă , pută (suppose); and, in late use, trīgintă etc.

e. Final e is short: as in nūbĕ , dūcitĕ , saepĕ .

Exceptions.—Final e is long—

  1. In adverbs formed from adjectives of the first and second declension, with others of like form: as, altē , longē , miserē, apertē , saepissimē . So ferē , fermē .

    But it is short in benĕ , malĕ; īnfernĕ , supernĕ .

  2. In nouns of the fifth declension: as, fidē (also famē ), faciē , hodiē , quārē ( quā ).
  3. In Greek neuters plural of the second declension: as, cētē; and in some other Greek words: Phoebē,Circē, Andromachē, etc.
  4. In the imperative singular of the second conjugation: as, vidē .

    But sometimes cavĕ, habĕ , tacĕ , valĕ, vidĕ (cf. § 629. b. 1).

f. Final i is long: as in turrī , fīlī , audī .

Exceptions.—Final i is common in mihi , tibi , sibi , ibi , ubi; and short in nisĭ, quasĭ, sīcutĭ, cuĭ (when making two syllables), and in Greek vocatives: as, Alexĭ.

g. Final o is common: but long in datives and ablatives; also in nouns of the third declension. It is almost invariably long in verbs before the time of Ovid.

Exceptions. citŏ , modŏ ( dummodŏ ), immŏ , profectŏ , egŏ , duŏ , cedŏ (the imperative); so sometimes octŏ , īlicŏ , etc., particularly in later writers.

h. Final u is long. Final y is short

i. Final as, es , os , are long; final is, as, ys, are short: as, nefās , rūpēs, servōs (accusative), honōs; hostĭs, amīcŭs , Tethys.


  1. as is short in Greek plural accusatives: as, lampadăs; and in anăs.
  2. es is short in the nominative of nouns of the third declension (lingual) having a short vowel in the stem2: as,mīlĕs (-ĭtis),obsĕs (dis),—except abiēs ,ariēs, pariēs , pēs; in the present of esse (ĕs, adĕs); in the preposition penĕs , and in the plural of Greek nouns: as,hērōĕs, lampadĕs .
  3. os is short in compŏs, impŏs; in the Greek nominative ending: as, barbitŏs; in the old nominative of the second declension: as,servŏs (later servus ).
  4. is in plural cases is long: as in bonīs , nōbīs , vōbīs , omnīs (accusative plural).
  5. is is long in the verb forms fīs , sīs , vīs (with quīvīs etc.), velīs , mālīs , nōlīs , edīs; in the second person singular of the present indicative active in the fourth conjugation: as, audīs; and sometimes in the forms in -eris (future perfect indicative or perfect subjunctive).
  6. us is long in the genitive singular and nominative, accusative, and vocative plural of the fourth declension; and in nouns of the third declension having ū (long) in the stem: as, virtūs (-ūtis),incūs (dis). But pecŭs , -ŭdis.
j. Of other final syllables, those ending in a single consonant are short Thus, amăt , amātŭr; dōnĕc, făc , procŭl , iubăr .

Exceptions. hīc (also hĭc ); allēc; the ablatives illōc , etc.; certain adverbs in -c: as, illīc , istūc; liēn, and some Greek nouns: as, āēr , aethēr , crātēr.

Perfects and Perfect Participles

605. Perfects and Perfect Participles of two syllables have the first syllable long: as, iūvī , iūtum ( iŭvō ), vīdī , vīsum ( vĭdeō ); fūgī ( fŭgiō ); vēnī ( vĕniō ).

Exceptions.bĭbī, dĕdī , fĭdī, scĭdī, stĕtī , stĭtī, tŭlī; cĭtum, dătum,ĭtum, lĭtum, quĭtum, rătum , rŭtum , sătum , sĭtum, stătum . In some compounds of stō , stātum is found (long), as praestātum .

a. In reduplicated perfects the vowel of the reduplication is short; the vowel of the following syllable is, also, usually short: as, cĕcĭdī ( cădō ), dĭdĭcī ( discō ), pŭpŭgī ( pungō ), cŭcŭrrī ( currō ), tĕtĕndī ( tendō ), mŏmŏrdī ( mordeō ). But cĕcīdī from caedō , pepēdī from pēdō .


606. Rules for the Quantity of Derivatives are:—

a. Forms from the same stem have the same quantity: as, ămō , ămāvistī; gĕnus, gĕneris.


  1. bōs , lār,mās, pār , pēs , sāl,—alsoarbōs,—have a long vowel in the nominative, though the stem-vowel is short (cf. genitive bŏvis etc.).
  2. Nouns in -or, genitive -ōris, have the vowel shortened before the final r: as,honŏr. (But this shortening is comparatively late, so that in early Latin these nominatives are often found long.)
  3. Verb-forms with vowel originally long regularly shorten it before final m, r, ort: as, amĕm , amĕr , dīcerĕr, amĕt (compare amēmus ), dīcerĕt , audĭt,fĭt.

    Note.--The final syllable in t of the perfect was long in old Latin, but is short in the classic period.

  4. A few long stem-syllables are shortened: as,ācer, ăcerbus . Sodē-iĕrō andpē-iĕrō, weakened from iūrō .
b. Forms from the same root often show inherited variations of vowel quantity (see § 17): as, dīcō (cf. maledĭcus ); dūcō (dŭx, dŭcis); fīdō ( perfĭdus ) vōx , vōcis ( vŏcō ); lēx , lēgis ( lĕgō ).

c. Compounds retain the quantity of the words which compose them as, oc-cĭdō ( cădō ), oc-cīdō ( caedō ), in-īquus ( aequus ).

Note.--Greek words compounded with πρό have o short: as, prŏphēta , prŏlŏgus . Some Latin compounds of prō have o short: as, prŏficīscor , prŏfiteor . Compounds with ne vary: as, nĕfās , nĕgō , nĕqueō , nēquam .

1 Rarely dissyllabic cŭĭ (as Mart. 1.104.22 ).

2 The quantity of the stem-vowel may be seen in the genitive singular.

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