Pronunciation, Syllable Division, and Accent


Guide to Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants

Syllable Division




Guide to Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants

(for Ecclesiastical and non-classical Latin , see below)
Nota: Every letter is pronounced; there are no silent letters, including on the end of words: et, est, amāre;

  • Vowels
    Vowels in Latin may be short or long. Long vowels are marked with a macron (ā, ē, etc.). Long vowels in Latin are not diphthongs as in English. For the Great Vowel Shift in English, accounting for some of the difference between the pronunciation of vowels in English compared to Latin (and many Romance languages, see the History of English.

    Long   Short  

     ah (English father): clāmō


     (cup, alike): ad, familia


     (they) salvē, mē


     (pet):  et


     (machine): fīlia, servī


     (pin): in, intrat


     (Ohio): nōn, habitō


     (often; British “o”): vocat


     (rude):  tū, cūra


     (put):  nunc, sub

    Nota: A glide “y” is not added between consonants and “u” in Latin, as in English:  pictūra, culīna, pecūnia

     (only in words borrowed from Greek):  French “u” or German “ü”:  syllabus

  • Diphthongs
    Diphthongs are two vowels that are pronounced together as a unit; they form one (long) syllable. Only the following combinations form diphthongs. All other vowel combinations are pronounced separately.

    ae  (ai as in aisle; this often becomes simple “e” in English derivatives): scae-na (>English scene), servae, haec
    au  (ou as in house): aula, aurum, autem
    ei  (reign; English long “a”): deinde
    eu  (only in words borrowed from Greek:  e-oo) Eurus, Eurōpa
    oe  (oi as in oil:  this often becomes simple “e” in English derivatives): coepit, poena (>English penalty)
    ui  (only in certain words: u + i, quickly ): huius
  • Consonants
    Most consonants are pronounced the same as in English; here are some that may cause problems:

     c  (always hard like ‘k,’ even before “i” and “e” or after “s”): e.g. circus, tībīcina, scaena
     ch  (like “k” but with extra breath; mostly in words borrowed from Greek):  pulcher; Echō
     g  (always hard) ‘g’ like green, even before “i” and “e”): genesis, agenda, igitur, ingenium
     gn  ( = ngn): magnus (mang-nus)
     i  (when consonant – at the beginning of a word followed by a vowel or in the middle between two vowels:  pronounced like the ‘y’ in you):  Iānus, iunior, maior
     ph  (“p” plus breath in classical Latin; some textbooks give the later Greek pronunciation, like “f” as in English; usually in words borrowed from Greek): philosophia
     qu  (“kw” like quiet): quis, quoque
    Nota: Thanks to the  Norman dialect of French, English derivatives retain the same pronounciation, as compared with modern French.
     r  (always a slight roll or flip of the tongue):  favor, ratiō, serva
     s  (“hiss,” never pronounced voiced like ‘z’): es, museum
     t  (always hard like “toy,” even before “i” and “e”):  ratiō (ra-ti-ō), ēlegantia
     th  (like “t” but with extra breath; only in words borrowed from Greek): thēsaurus
     u or v  (when a consonant: pronounced like “w”): salvē, serva, vocō, videō OR saluē, serua, uocō, uideō
     x  (“ks” as in English ax):  exit
     z  (same as English; only in words borrowed from Greek): Zephyrus, zōdiacus

    Nota: Double Consonants were pronounced double – in separate syllables: e-rat vs. er-rat; a-nus vs. an-nus.

  • Notes on the alphabet
    • “z” was sixth (zeta) in the Greek alphabet. The Romans did not need it at first, so they dropped it. When it was added back again later for words borrowed from Greek, it was put at the end.
    • “j” and “v” were added to distinguish consonantal from vocalic pronunciations. They did not become standardized until the 16th-17th centuries.
    • “k” is rarely found in Latin; originally it was used only before “a.”
    • “w” was added in the 11th century by Norman scribes. By then, Latin consonantal “u/v” was pronounced as modern “v.”
    • & (ampersand < and per se “and,” at the end of English alphabets) originated as a manuscript writing of Latin “et.” (**link)
  • Bibliography
    For more on the pronunciation of classical Latin, see W. Sidney Allen, Vox Latina, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978).
    **Ecclesiastical pronunciations, etc.
    For the pronunciation of Latin during the Renaissance, see T. Tunberg, Classical Outlook 82.2 (2005), 68-71.

Syllable Division

Syllable divisions are important for proper pronunciation, for distinguishing similar words, for analying forms of words, and for analyzing meters of Latin poetry. The rules are simple and regular in Latin.

There are as many syllables as there are vowels or dipthongs.

  • Vowels: a, ā, e, ē, *i, ī, o, ō, u, ū, y
    *may also be a consonant
  • Dipthongs: ae, au, ei, eu, oe

A syllable divides:

  • before a single consonant: pa-rā-tus
    Nota: “x” and “z” count as two consonants, so the syllable splits in the middle:
    x = c-s, vexō (vec-sō)
    z = s-d (in the original Greek), gaza
    qu counts as a single consonant, a-qua
  • between two vowels (not a dipthong): -li-a
  • between two consonants*: fes-sa, tan-dem
    *Nota: Except:

    • If the two consonants can begin a word, they can begin a syllable. These are usually “mute” + “liquid” combinations (tr, cr, etc.; see list below): pa-tris (or pat-ris)
    • “h” does not count, so: A-chil-lēs
    • “ch” “ph” “th” count as 1 consonant: Ze-phy-rus; ae-ther
    • If there are three or more consonants, it usually divides after the first consonant; find the combination that can begin a word, and divide the syllables accordingly (or between a prefix and verb stem): in-stru-ō
  • Mute: c, g, ch, b, p, ph, d, t, th
  • Liquid: l, m, n, r


Accent for words of three or more syllables:

The position of the accent is determined by the punultimate (next to last) syllable:
(S = Syllable, V = Vowel, C = Consonant)

  1. The penultimate keeps the accentif it:
    1. has a long vowel or dipthong: S V S
      la-bō-rō, thē-sau-rus
    2. is a closed syllable (ends in a consonant) (i.e. vowel followed by two consonants that are divided between the syllables): S Vc cS
  2. The accent shifts to the third from the end (ante-penultimate: regardless of the nature of that syllable) if the penultimate:
    has a short vowel in an open syllable (i.e.ends in a vowel)
    (i.e. followed by a vowel or only one consonant which goes at the begining of the last syllable)
    S V cS, -mi-na or, S V S, fa-mi-li-a

Nota: Those are the only two places the accent can be:

  • the penultimate (next to last)
  • or the antepenultimate (3rd from the end)

Nota: Two syllable words always have the accent on the next to last (or “first” by our counting) because there is no antepenultimate.

  • S S, a-mō

Note: The accent is not always on the same part of the word in different forms:

  • a-mō, a--mus


Where would you divide the syllables in the following words? Which syllable would have the accent?


puella Show Answer
labōrat Show Answer
proelium Show Answer
equus Show Answer
fortūna Show Answer
iubet Show Answer
necessaria Show Answer
quattuor Show Answer
mortuum Show Answer
aureus Show Answer
itaque Show Answer
interdum Show Answer
praemium Show Answer
nātūra Show Answer
aliquandō Show Answer