Mosaic image of Vergil.

Mosaic image of muse inspiring Vergil.

Image of Ovid.




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Instructions to correctly display macrons when a box (✏) shows up.
NOTE: For purposes of clarity, all words are
pronounced at a slower pace and enunciated more distinctly
than would be usual in normal reading or conversation.

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In Latin as in English, a word has as many syllables as it has vowels or diphthongs.

Dividing a word into syllables is called syllabification.

Two contiguous vowels or a vowel and a diphthong are separated:
dea, de-a, dea; deae, de-ae, deae.

A single consonant between two vowels goes with the second vowel:
amīcus, a-mī-cus, amīcus.

When two or more consonants stand between two vowels, generally only the last consonant goes with the second vowel:
mittō, mit-tō, mittō; servāre, ser-vā-re, servāre; cōnsūmptus, cōn-sūmp-tus, cōnsūmptus.

However, a stop (p, b, t, d, c, g) plus a liquid (l,r) generally count as a single consonant and go with the following vowel:
patrem, pa-trem, patrem; castra, cas-tra, castra.

Also counted as single consonants are qu and the aspirates ch, ph, th, which should never be separated in syllabification:
architectus, ar-chi-tec-tus, architectus; loquācem, lo-quā-cem, loquācem.

Syllable Quantity

A syllable is long by nature if it contains a long vowel or a diphthong; a syllable is long by position if it contains a short vowel followed by two or more consonants or by x, which is a double consonant: ks. Otherwise a syllable is short; again, the difference is rather like that between a musical half note and a quarter note.

Syllables long by nature (here underlined): lau-, -ma, a--cus.

Syllables long by position (underlined): ser-vat, sa-pi-en-ti-a, ax-is ( = ak-sis).

Examples with all long syllables underlined, whether long by nature or long by position:
lau--te, mo-ne-ō, sae-pe, cōn-ser--tis, pu-el--rum.

Even in English, syllables have this sort of temporal quantity, that is, some syllables take longer to pronounce than others, although it is not a phenomenon we think much about. Consider the word "enough" with its very short, clipped first syllable, and the longer second syllable. The matter is important in Latin, however, for at least two reasons: first, syllable quantity was a major determinant of the rhythm of Latin poetry, as you will learn later in your study of the language; and, of more immediate importance, syllable quantity determined the position of a word's stress accent, as explained below.


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