Latin Pronunciation - A Beginner's Guide Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Latin Pronunciation - A Beginner's Guide

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Latin pronunciation may at first look like yet another big thing to learn, but once you have practised a bit, any English or Romantic language speaker is sure to pick it up quickly. For your amusement, here are some handy Latin phrases that you might just find come in useful one day!

The sections below cover the three important areas, and should give you a start with pronunciation, but one good way to improve it is to try reading some Roman poetry as this has strong rhythm, which in turn aids pronunciation for beginners. One good author with some rather fun poems is Catullus, or you could try Virgil's Aeneid which is strong on rhythm.


English speakers will find consonants easy to learn as they're mostly pronounced the same as in English. The table below shows the exceptions:

 c  This is always pronounced hard - like a 'k', not an 's'. 
 g  Also a hard sound in Latin, pronounced as in 'get'. 
 i  When before a vowel, it is a consonant and is pronounced like a 'y'. 
 r  Roll your 'r's. 
 t  Always pronounced hard in Latin, like 'take' not soft like 'nation' 
 v  Pronounced like a 'w'1 


Vowels can be pronounced either long or short. In English this affect isn't very noticeable, but in Latin, it's important to get right. Additionally, long vowels should audibly be held for longer. This is because Latin rhythm in poetry depends upon the length of syllables, instead of stresses2.

 a  Like the English 'ah!'  Like the English 'ha!' 
 e  Like the English 'pet'  Like the English 'they' 
 i  Like the English 'skit'  Like the English 'ski' 
 o  Like the English 'for'  Like the English 'holy' 
 u  Like the English 'put'  Like the English 'true' 


Latin has three diphthongs (two vowel sounds pronounced as one syllable), ae3, au, and ei.

 ae  Pronounced as the y in the English 'sky'. 
 au  Pronounced as the ow in the English 'how'. 
 ei  Pronounced as the ay in the English 'say'. 

Stress Accent

Just as in English and other languages, certain syllables were stressed. A general rule for working out where the stress should fall is the following:

  • If a word has only two syllables, the accent will fall on the first syllable eg, ámo, únus.

  • If a word has more than two syllables:

    • The stress will fall on the second last syllable if that syllable contains a long or a short vowel followed by two consonants, eg amátis, deféssus;.

    • Otherwise the stress will fall on the third last syllable, eg celériter, sollícitus.


And finally, remember to have fun speaking Latin and that quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur, or 'Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound'.

1Not strictly necessary all the time as people will still understand you if you do not use it. Some words tend to sound better with a 'w' than a 'v' while some don't, for example civis and villa.2Some poems feature interplay between the stresses and the length of vowels that is not fully appreciated by the English speaker.3Sometimes seen in printed works (particularly old ones) as a ligature, æ.

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