Transcription of Appius Claudius in Roman square capitals.[note 1] The words are separated by engraved dots, a common but by no means universal practice, and some of the long vowels (e.g., in TVSCÓRVM) are marked by apices.

Latin phonology continually evolved over the centuries, making it difficult for speakers in one era to know how Latin was spoken before then. 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 Roman Republic. This article then touches upon later changes and other variants. Knowledge of how Latin was pronounced comes from Roman grammar books, common misspellings by Romans, transcriptions into other ancient languages, and from how pronunciation has evolved in derived Romance languages.[1]

Latin orthography is the spelling of Latin words written in the scripts of all historical phases of Latin from Old Latin to the present. All scripts use the Latin alphabet, but conventional spellings may vary from phase to phase. The Latin alphabet was adapted from the 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. The Latin alphabet most resembles the Greek alphabet around 540 BC, as it appears on the black-figure pottery of the time.


A papyrus fragment in 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.

Letters and phonemes

In ancient Latin spelling, individual letters mostly corresponded to individual phonemes, with three main exceptions:

  1. 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⟩;[2] 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 when necessary.
  2. Some pairs of vowel letters, such as ae, represented either a diphthong in one syllable or two vowels in adjacent syllables.
  3. 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 Alphabet.


This is a table of the consonant phonemes of Classical Latin. Those in parentheses have a debatable status as phonemes, and those marked with an asterisk are only found in Greek loanwords in educated pronunciation, except for some instances of /kʰ/. See below for further details.

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labialized
Plosive voiced b d ɡ (ɡʷ)
voiceless p t k ()
aspirated * * *
Fricative voiced z*
voiceless f s h
Nasal m n
Rhotic r
Approximant l j w

Notes on phonetics

Notes on spelling



Latin has ten native vowels, spelled a, e, i, o, u. In Classical Latin, each vowel had short and long versions: /a e i o u/ and /aː eː iː oː uː/. The long versions of the close and mid vowels e, i, o, u likely had a different vowel quality from the short versions,[note 3] so that long /eː, oː/ were similar to short /i, u/ (see following section). 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.

Front Central Back
long short short long short long
Close ɪ ʊ
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

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 ē ō [eː, oː] respectively. i, ē and u, ō were often written in place of each other in inscriptions:[36]

Short /e/ most likely had a more open allophone before /r/ and tended toward near-open [æ].[37]

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 it was almost never confused with e in this position.[38]

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/.[39] 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/.

Sonus medius

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.[40] 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 rounding, thus being more similar if not identical to the unreduced short /u/ [ʊ].[41] The Claudian letter Ⱶ ⱶ was possibly invented to represent this sound, but is never actually found used this way in the epigraphic record (it usually served as a replacement for the upsilon).

Vowel nasalization

Vowels followed by a nasal consonant were allophonically realised as long nasal vowels in two environments:[42]

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/ were restored, for example, 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 prefix in-.[43]

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,[15] possibly for cunnō bis [ˈkʊnnoː bɪs].


Diphthongs classified by beginning sound
Front Back
Close ui    ui̯
Mid ei    ei̯
eu    eu̯
oe    oe̯ ~ eː
Open ae    ae̯ ~ ɛː
au    au̯

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  and huic.[27] The diphthong ei mostly had changed to ī by the classical epoch; ei remained only in a few words such as the interjection hei.

If there is a tréma above the second vowel, both vowels are pronounced separately: [a.ɛ], [a.ʊ], [ɛ.ʊ] and [ɔ.ɛ]. However, disyllabic eu in morpheme borders is traditionally written without the tréma: meus [ˈmɛ.ʊs] 'my'.

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 . In the late Old Latin period, the last element of the diphthongs was lowered to [e],[44] so that the diphthongs were pronounced [ae̯] and [oe̯] in Classical Latin. They were then monophthongized to [ɛː] and [eː] respectively, starting in rural areas at the end of the Republican period.[note 4] The process, however, does not seem to have been completed before the 3rd century AD, and some scholars say that it may have been regular by the 5th century.[45]

Vowel and consonant length

Vowel and consonant length were more significant and more clearly defined in 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. 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.[46] The Classical vowel length system faded in later Latin and ceased to be phonemic in Romance, having been replaced by contrasts in vowel quality. Consonant length, however, remains contrastive in much of Italo-Romance, cf. Italian nono "ninth" versus nonno "grandfather".[47]

Recording of ānus, annus, anus

A minimal set showing both long and short vowels and long and short consonants is ānus /ˈaː.nus/ ('anus'), annus /ˈan.nus/ ('year'), anus /ˈa.nus/ ('old woman').

Table of orthography

The letters b, d, f, h, m, n are always pronounced as in English [b], [d], [f], [h], [m], [n] respectively, and they do not usually cause any difficulties. The exceptions are mentioned below:

Pronunciation of Latin consonants
English approximation
⟨c⟩, ⟨k⟩ [k] Always hard as k in sky, never soft as in cellar, cello, or social. ⟨k⟩ is a letter coming from Greek, but seldom used and generally replaced by c.
⟨ch⟩ [kʰ] As ch in chemistry, and aspirated; never as in challenge or change and also never as in Bach or chutzpa. Transliteration of Greek ⟨χ⟩, mostly used in Greek loanwords.
⟨g⟩ [ɡ] Always hard as g in good, never soft as g in gem.
⟨gn⟩ [ɡn ~ ŋn] As ngn in wingnut.
⟨i⟩ [j] Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, as y in yard, never as j in just.
[jː] Doubled between vowels, as y y in toy yacht.
⟨l⟩ [l] When doubled ⟨ll⟩ or before ⟨i⟩, as clear l in link (l exilis).[48][49]
[ɫ] In all other positions, as dark l in bowl (l pinguis).
⟨n⟩ [n] As n in man.
⟨p⟩ [p] As p in spy, never aspirated.
⟨ph⟩ [pʰ] As p in party, always aspirated; never as in photo when being pronounced in English. Transliteration of Greek ⟨φ⟩, mostly used in Greek loanwords.
⟨qu⟩ [kʷ] Similar to qu in quick, never as qu in antique. Before ⟨i⟩, like cu in French cuir.
⟨quu⟩ [kʷɔ ~ kʷu ~ ku] There were two trends: the educated and popular pronunciation. Within educated circles it was pronounced [kʷɔ], evoking the Old Latin pronunciation (equos, sequontur); meanwhile, within popular circles it was pronounced [ku] (ecus, secuntur).[50][51]
⟨r⟩ [r] As r in Italian and several Romance languages.
⟨rh⟩ [r̥] As r in Italian and several Romance languages, but voiceless; e.g. diarrhoea ⟨διάῤῥοια⟩. (see Voiceless alveolar trill). Transcription of Greek ῥ, mostly used in Greek loanwords.
⟨s⟩ [s] As s in say, never as s in rise or measure.
⟨t⟩ [t] As t in stay, never as t in nation.
⟨th⟩ [tʰ] As th in thyme, and aspirated; never as in thing, or that. Transliteration of Greek ⟨θ⟩, mostly used in Greek loanwords.
⟨v⟩ [w] Sometimes at the beginning of a syllable, or after ⟨g⟩ and ⟨s⟩, as w in wine, never as v in vine.
⟨vu⟩ [wɔ ~ wu] As one is pronounced in some English accents, but without the nasal sound: parvus [ˈpɐr.wɔs], vivunt [ˈwiː.wɔnt]. The spelling vu is post-classical (in order to become regular in spelling).[50][52]
⟨x⟩ [k͡s] A letter representing ⟨c⟩ + ⟨s⟩, as well as ⟨g⟩ + ⟨s⟩: as x in English axe.
⟨z⟩ [d͡z ~ zː] As in zoom, never as in pizza (mostly used in Greek loanwords). Transliteration of Greek ⟨ζ⟩.
Pronunciation of Latin vowels
English approximation
⟨a⟩ [a] Similar to u in cut when short. Transliteration of Greek short ⟨α⟩.
[aː] Similar to a in father when long. Transliteration of Greek long ⟨α⟩.
⟨e⟩ [ɛ] As e in pet when short. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ε⟩.
[eː] Similar to ey in they when long. Transliteration of Greek ⟨η⟩, and ⟨ει⟩ in some cases.
⟨i⟩ [ɪ] As i in sit when short. Transliteration of short Greek ⟨ι⟩.
[iː] Similar to i in machine when long. Transliteration of Greek long ⟨ι⟩, and ⟨ει⟩ in some cases.
⟨o⟩ [ɔ] As o in sort when short. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ο⟩.
[oː] Similar to o in holy when long. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ω⟩, and ⟨ου⟩ in some cases.
⟨u⟩ [ʊ] Similar to u in put when short.
[uː] Similar to u in true when long. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ου⟩.
⟨y⟩ [ʏ] As in German Stück when short (or as short u or i) (mostly used in Greek loanwords). Transliteration of Greek short ⟨υ⟩.
[yː] As in German früh when long (or as long u or i) (mostly used in Greek loanwords). Transliteration of Greek long ⟨υ⟩.
Pronunciation of Latin diphthongs
English approximation
⟨ae⟩ [ae̯] As in aisle. Transliteration of Greek ⟨αι⟩.
⟨au⟩ [au̯] As in out. Transliteration of Greek ⟨αυ⟩.
⟨ei⟩ [ei̯] As to ey in they. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ει⟩ in some cases.
⟨eu⟩ [eu̯] As in Portuguese eu. Transliteration of Greek ⟨ευ⟩.
⟨oe⟩ [oe̯] As in boy. Transliteration of Greek ⟨οι⟩.
⟨ui⟩ [ui̯] As in Spanish muy, approximately to hooey.
⟨yi⟩ [ʏɪ̯] Transliteration of the Greek diphthong ⟨υι⟩.

Syllables and stress

Nature of the accent

Although some French and Italian scholars believe that the classical Latin accent was purely a pitch accent, which had no effect on the placing of words in a line of poetry, the view of most scholars is that the accent was a stress accent. One argument for this is that unlike most languages with tonal accents, there are no minimal pairs like ancient Greek φῶς (falling accent) "light" vs. φώς (rising accent) "man" where a change of accent on the same syllable changes the meaning.[53] Among other arguments are the loss of vowels before or after the accent in words such as discip(u)līna and sinist(e)ra; and the shortening of post or pre-accentual syllables in Plautus and Terence by brevis brevians, for example, scansions such as senex and voluptātem with the second syllable short.[54]

Old Latin stress

In Old Latin, as in Proto-Italic, stress normally fell on the first syllable of a word.[55] 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:

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, in the 3rd century BC.[56] The placement of the stress then shifted to become the pattern found in classical Latin.

Classical 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.[57] 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.[58]


To determine stress, syllable weight of the penult must be determined. To determine syllable weight, words must be broken up into syllables.[59] 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 (ui: VV).[60]

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.[60]

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.[61]

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 clusters.[61]

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 C (or both) 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 three consonants.

In Latin 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 positiōne longa ('long by position'). These terms are translations of Greek συλλαβὴ μακρά φύσει (syllabḕ makrá phýsei = 'syllable long by nature') and μακρὰ θέσει (makrà thései = 'long by proposition'), respectively; therefore positiōne should not be mistaken for implying a syllable "is long because of its position/place in a word" but rather "is treated as 'long' by convention". This article uses the words heavy and light for syllables, and long and short for vowels since the two are not the same.[61]

Stress rule

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.[61] Below, stress is marked by placing the stress mark ˈ before the stressed syllable.

Words with stress on antepenult
volucris fēminae puerō
/ˈ /ˈfeː.mi.nae̯/ /ˈpu.e.roː/
Words with stress on penult
volucris vidēre intellēxit beātae puella coāctus
/woˈluk.ris/ /wiˈdeː.re/ /in.telˈleːk.sit/ /beˈaː.tae̯/ /puˈ /koˈaːk.tus/

Iambic shortening

Main article: Brevis brevians

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 vowel.[62]

The term also refers to shortening of closed syllables following a short syllable, for example quid ĕst, volŭptātem, apŭd iudicem and so on. This type of shortening is found in early Latin, for example in the comedies of Plautus and Terence, but not in poetry of the classical period.


Where one word ended with a vowel (including the nasalized vowels written am em im um~(om) and the diphthong ae) 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 es, and possibly when the second word was 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 scriptum est.[63]

Modern conventions



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.[64]

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 5]


Textbooks and dictionaries usually 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).[65]

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 have never heard it spoken aloud.


Post-Medieval Latin

Main article: Pronunciation of Neo-Latin

Since around the beginning of the Renaissance period onwards, with the language being used as an international language among intellectuals, pronunciation of Latin in Europe came to be dominated by the phonology of local languages, resulting in a variety of different pronunciation systems. See the article Latin regional pronunciation for more details on those (with the exception of the Italian one, which is described in the section on Ecclesiastical pronunciation below).

Loan words and formal study

When 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 Latin feel 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, curriculum vitae.

However, using loan words in the context of the language borrowing them is a markedly different situation from the study of Latin itself. 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,[citation needed] 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 languages").

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.

Ecclesiastical pronunciation

See also: Ecclesiastical Latin

Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an Italianate pronunciation of Latin has grown to be accepted as a universal standard in the Catholic Church. Before then, the pronunciation of Latin in church was the same as the pronunciation of Latin in other fields and tended to reflect the sound values associated with the nationality and native language of the speaker.[66] Other ecclesiastical pronunciations are still in use, especially outside the Catholic Church.

A guide to this Italianate pronunciation is provided below. Since the letters or letter-combinations b, d, f, m, n, ph, v, x are pronounced as they are in English, they are not included in the table.

Grapheme Pronunciation Context Example English approximation
⟨c⟩ [t͡ʃ] Before ae, e, i, oe, y procella change
[ʃ] Before ae, e, i, oe, y and after x excellit shade
[k] Before a, o, u carnem sky (never aspirated as in kill)
⟨ch⟩ [k] Always Antiochia
⟨g⟩ [d͡ʒ] Before ae, e, i, oe, y agere gem
[ɡ] Before a, o, u plaga gate
⟨gn⟩ [ɲ(ː)] Always signum canyon (roughly); precisely Italian gnocchi
⟨h⟩ In nearly all cases hora (silent)
[k] Between vowels in a few words mihi sky (never aspirated as in kill)
⟨i⟩ [j] Beginning of a word and before a vowel ianua yard
[jː] Between vowels Gaius Doubled, as in toy yacht
⟨k⟩ [k] Always kalendae sky (never aspirated as in kill)
⟨l⟩ [l] Always paulum slip (never 'dark' as in pools)
⟨p⟩ [p] Always praeda spy (never aspirated as in pill)
⟨qu⟩ [kʷ] Always atque quick (never as in antique)
⟨r⟩ [r] Always regina (rolled like Italian or Spanish rana)
⟨s⟩ [s] Always (formally) sanctum sing
[z] Between vowels (informally) miser tease
⟨sc⟩ [ʃ] Before ae, e, i, oe, y ascendit shade
[sk] Before a, o, u pascunt scare
⟨t⟩ [t] Generally tironibus stay (never aspirated as in table nor soft as in nation)
[t͡s] Before unstressed i and not after s/t/x nationem pizza
⟨z⟩ [d͡z] Always zona mad zebra (pronounced quickly)
Grapheme Pronunciation English approximation
⟨a⟩ [ä] father (roughly)

precisely Spanish ramo

⟨ae⟩ [ɛ]/[e] pet
⟨i⟩ [i] seek
⟨o⟩ [ɔ]/[o] sort
⟨u⟩ [u] cool
⟨y⟩ [i] seek
Grapheme Pronunciation English approximation
⟨au⟩ [au̯] out
⟨ei⟩ [ɛi̯] they
⟨eu⟩ [ɛu̯] no obvious example;

roughly EH-oo

⟨ui⟩ [ui̯] screwy

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.[67] The introduction to the Liber Usualis indicates that Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation should be used at Church liturgies.[68] The Pontifical Academy for Latin is the pontifical academy in the Vatican that is charged with the dissemination and education of Catholics in the Latin language.

Outside of Austria, Germany, Czechia and Slovakia, 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.[citation needed] 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.

Pronunciation shared by Vulgar Latin and Romance languages

Further information: Phonological changes from Classical Latin to Proto-Romance, Vulgar Latin, and Romance languages

Because it gave rise to many modern languages, Latin did not "die"; it merely evolved over the centuries in different regions 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 Latin and Romance languages include:


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 Latin pronunciation
  1. Ancient Roman orthography (before 2nd century)[note 6]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. [Reconstructed] Classical Roman pronunciation
    [ˈ wɪ|ˈrũː.kᶣɛ ˈka|noː ˈtroː|jae̯ kᶣiː |ˈpriː.mʊs‿a‖ˈb‿oː.riːs
    iː.ˈ|ãː ˈfaː|toː ˈprɔ.fʊ|ɡʊs laː|ˈwiː.nja.kᶣɛ ‖ˈweː.nɪt
    ˈliː.tɔ.ra | ˈmʊɫ.t(ᶣ)‿ɪl|l‿ɛt ˈtɛr|riːs jak|ˈtaː.tʊ.s‿ɛ‖ˈt.aɫ.toː
    wiː ˈsʊ.pæ|rũː ˈsae̯|wae̯ ˈmɛ.mɔ|rẽː juː|ˈnoː.nɪ.s‿ɔ‖ˈb‿iː.rãː]

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 Dactylic hexameter.

Some manuscripts have "Lāvīna" rather than "Lāvīnia" in the second line.

From Medieval Latin

Beginning of 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
    • Córporis mystérium,
    • Sanguinísque pretiósi,
    • quem in mundi prétium
    • fructus ventris generósi
    • Rex effúdit géntium.
  2. Italianate ecclesiastical pronunciation (broadly transcribed):
    • [ˈpand͡ʒe ˈliŋɡwa ɡlori'osi
    • ˈkorporis misˈterium
    • saŋɡwiˈniskwe pret͡si'osi
    • kwem in ˈmundi ˈpret͡sium
    • ˈfruktus ˈventris d͡ʒeneˈrosi
    • reks efˈfudit ˈd͡ʒent͡sium]

See also


  1. ^ Appivs Clavdivs
    C(ai) f(ilivs) Caecvs
    censor co(n)s(vl) bis dict(ator) interrex III
    pr(aetor) II aed(ilis) cvr(vlis) II q(vaestor) tr(ibvnvs) mil(itvm) III com(-)
    plvra oppida de( )Samnitibvs cepit
    Sabinorvm et Tvscórvm exerci(-)
    tvm fvdit pácem fierí cvm Pyrrho
    rege prohibvit in censvra viam
    Appiam stravit etaqvam in
    vrbem( )addvxit aedem Bellonae
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ There is, however, a minority view that the short high vowels <ĭ, ŭ> were tense [i, u] and that the long mid vowels <ē, ō> were lax [ɛː, ɔː] (Calabrese, 2005).
  4. ^ 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).
  5. ^ This approach is also recommended in the help page for the Latin Wikipedia.
  6. ^ "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


  1. ^ Covington, Michael. (2019). Latin Pronunciation Demystified.
  2. ^ a b c Sihler 1995, pp. 20–22, §25: the Italic alphabets
  3. ^ a b Allen 1978, p. 25
  4. ^ Allen 1978, p. 17
  5. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 19, 20
  6. ^ a b c Allen 1978, pp. 26, 27
  7. ^ a b c Clackson & Horrocks 2007, p. 190
  8. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 12, 13
  9. ^ Levy, p. 150
  10. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 45, 46
  11. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 35–37
  12. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 34, 35
  13. ^ Lloyd 1987, p. 80
  14. ^ a b Lloyd 1987, p. 81
  15. ^ a b c Allen 1978, pp. 30, 31
  16. ^ Lloyd 1987, p. 84
  17. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 27–30
  18. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 23–25
  19. ^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §10d
  20. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 71–73
  21. ^ Allen 1978, p. 33
  22. ^ Cser 2020: §4.9. In footnote 206, he adds: "The evidence has been thoroughly assessed in the diachronic literature; see Sen (2012: 472–3; 2015: 15 sqq.), Meiser (1998: 68–9), Leumann (1977: 85–7)."
  23. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 37–40
  24. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 40–42
  25. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 43–45
  26. ^ Allen 1978, p. 11
  27. ^ a b Allen 1978, p. 42
  28. ^ a b Allen 1978, pp. 15, 16
  29. ^ Allen 1978, p. 45
  30. ^ Allen & Greenough, §1a
  31. ^ a b Clackson & Horrocks 2007, p. 96
  32. ^ Allen 1978, p. 15
  33. ^ Allen 1978, p. 23
  34. ^ Sturtevant 1920, pp. 115–116
  35. ^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §6d, 11c
  36. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 47–49
  37. ^ Allen 1978, p. 51
  38. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 51, 52
  39. ^ Allen 1978, p. 52
  40. ^ Allen 1978, p. 56
  41. ^ Allen 1978, p. 59
  42. ^ Clackson 2008, p. 77
  43. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 55, 56
  44. ^ Ward 1962
  45. ^ Clackson & Horrocks 2007, pp. 273, 274
  46. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 65
  47. ^ "Pronouncing Italian double consonants". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  48. ^ Sihler 2008, p. 174.
  49. ^ Allen 2004, pp. 33–34
  50. ^ a b Traina; Perini (1998), pp. 62–63 ((citation)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  51. ^ Traina, Alfonso (2002). L'alfabeto e la pronunzia del latino (5 ed.). Bologna: Pàtron. pp. 44 and 59–60.. Traina cites various sources: Quintilianus (I, 7, 26) certifies that his teachers had the group 'vo' written in its epoch by now writing 'vu'; Velio Longo (VII 58 K.) attests the spelling 'quu' pronounced [ku]; various inscriptions from different periods even show the spelling 'cu' for 'quu'.
  52. ^ Traina, Alfonso (2002). L'alfabeto e la pronunzia del latino (5 ed.). Bologna: Pàtron. pp. 44 and 59–60.. Traina cites various sources: Quintilianus (I, 7, 26) certifies that his teachers had the group 'vo' written in its epoch by now writing 'vu'; Velio Longo (VII 58 K.) attests the spelling 'quu' pronounced [ku]; various inscriptions from different periods even show the spelling 'cu' for 'quu'.
  53. ^ W. C. de Melo (2007), Review: Cesare Questa, La metrica di Plauto e Terenzio. Bryn Mawr Classical Review.
  54. ^ W. Sidney Allen (1978), Vox Latina, 2nd edition, pp. 85–86.
  55. ^ Fortson 2004, p. 254
  56. ^ Sturtevant 1920, pp. 207–218
  57. ^ Allen 1978, p. 83
  58. ^ Allen 1978, p. 87
  59. ^ Allen & Greenough 2001, §11
  60. ^ a b Allen et al.
  61. ^ a b c d Allen 1978, pp. 89–92
  62. ^ Allen 1978, p. 86
  63. ^ Allen & Greenough 2001, p. 400, section 612 e, f
  64. ^ For example, Henri Estienne's Dictionarium, seu Latinae linguae thesaurus (1531)
  65. ^ Gilbert 1939
  66. ^ Brittain 1955.
  67. ^ Allen 1978, p. 108
  68. ^ Liber Usualis, p. xxxvj
  69. ^ Allen 1978, pp. 28–29
  70. ^ Allen 1978, p. 119
  71. ^ a b Pope 1952, chapter 6, §4


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Further reading