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FUNDAMENTALS OF LATIN METRICS

Syllabification
A Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels and
diphthongs. In dividing words into syllables:
1.

Contiguous vowels and diphthongs are separated.


de-ae

2.

me-o

e-o

A single consonant between vowels

goes with the second vowel. pau-cae


3.

lau-do

a-mi-cus

Two or more consonants between vowels are split in such a way that
each syllable begins with a consonant or consonants that can
normally begin a w ord . Combinations that do not normally begin a
word in classical Latin must be divided.
mit-to

ar-ma

om-nis

sanc-to

Exceptions to these general rules:


1.

Although 's' followed by one or more consonants may begin a word


in classical Latin, the same group may not begin a syllable within
a word. Division occurs after the s.
sci-o but fus-ca
stre-nu-us but cas-tra
spe-ro but as-pe-ra

2.

When a prepositional prefix ending in a mute (b, p, d, t, g,


c) is immediately followed by a liquid (1, r), division occurs
after the prefix.
ab-ri-pi-o (not a-bri-pi-o)

3.

Any other word in which a liquid follows a mute normally is not


divided between the mute and the liquid, but poetic license allows
occasional division between them.
pa-tri or pat-ri
/

4.

a-gro or ag-ro

The letters x and z are double consonants representing the sounds cs


and ds/sd, respectively. Their phonetic spelling must be restored, and
division occurs between the two consonants.
saxum --> sac-sum

gaza -->gad-sa

5.

The Greek aspirated consonants (ch, ph, th) are never separated.

6.

The letter u combined with g, q, or s forms a consonantal


unit. In other words, the u is not a vowel.
quis

in-gui-nis

sua-vis

In spoken Latin, liaison occurs between the final syllable of one word
and the initial syllable of the next word as follows:
1. If a word ends with a consonant (other than m) and is followed by
a word beginning with a vowel (alone or preceded only by h), the
final consonant is pronounced with the initial syllable of the
next word.
incipit Aeneas heros: non ulla laborum is pronounced as:
in-ci-pi-tAe-ne-a-s(h)e-ros:"no-nul-la-la-bo-rum
2. Elision. If a word ends in a vowel (with or without m) and comes
before a word beginning with a vowel (alone or preceded only by h), the
final vowel of the first word is elided, or "struck out."
men-sa e-rat men-se-rat
pri-mum au-so-ni-is pri-mau-so-ni-is
il-le hu-mi-lis il-lu-mi-lis
The failure of elision to occur when all the conditions for elision
are present is called hiatus.

3.

Prodelision. When a word ending in a vowel (with or without m)


precedes es or est (from esse), the e of es or est is elided.
fe-mi-na es fe-mi-nas
bo-num est bo-numst

Quantity of Syllables
A syllable is long if its vowel is long (macron or diphthong) or
the syllable ends in a consonant. Otherwise, the syllable is
short.
Exceptions:
1. When hic (m. nom. sing.) and hoc (n. nom sing.) occur before a
word beginning with a vowel (or a vowel preceded only by h),
another c must be added to close the syllable and make it long.
(h)ic-c a-li-e-nus
(h)oc-c e-rat
2. When i appears between two vowels (in words such as aio, eius, maior,
Gaius, Maia, and Troia), it is really a double consonant (jj). In
scansion, the second consonantal i must be restored.
ai-io

ei-ius

3. A consonantal i must also be added in scansion for the compounds and


derivatives of iacere (reicere, obicere, subicere, obex, etc.).
ob-ii-ci-t il-le