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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
dea, de-a, dea; deae, de-ae,
||A single consonant between two vowels goes with the
amīcus, a-mī-cus, amīcus.
||When two or more consonants stand between two vowels,
generally only the last consonant goes with the second
mittō, mit-tō, mittō;
servāre, ser-vā-re, servāre;
||However, a stop (p, b, t, d,
c, g) plus a liquid (l,r)
generally count as a single consonant and go with the
patrem, pa-trem, patrem; 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.
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-dō,
||Syllables long by position (underlined): ser-vat,
( = ak-sis).
||Examples with all long syllables underlined, whether
long by nature or long by position:
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.