Latin – Moreland & Fleischer Introduction


A. The Alphabet and Pronunciation

B. Syllabification

C. Accentuation

D. Word Order


A. The alphabet and pronunciation were something that I picked up on quickly back in high school when I first started taking Latin. Because we don’t really know how Latin was pronounced phonetically (ie what Latin sounded like), the alphabetic pronunciation of letters is similar to the language you learn Latin in (in my case, this is English). Long and short vowels have slightly different sounds than do English vowels, but that’s neither here nor there, at least not until you get to syllabification and accentuation, below.

B. In Latin, every word has as many syllables as it has vowels or diphthongs. When identifying syllables, if there are two consonants together, divide them up between the prior and following syllable (for example: for/tu/na). From this example, you can also see that a single consonant after a vowel goes with the following syllable.

C. One of the things I learned much later, and therefore am working backwards to strengthen, is an understanding of long vowels, short vowels, and diphthongs so that I can scan primary sources for rhythm and poetic meter. I am also hoping to develop a more readily accessible knowledge of where stress falls on a word depending on its consonants.

Interestingly, reviewing the ultima, penult, and antepenult was something I started doing when I was studying Ancient Greek in graduate school and am now rediscovering as I review Latin grammar.

Several tidbit rules here:

  1. The law of the penult – if a word only has two syllables, the accent goes on the penult
  2. The accent gravitates towards long syllables – if the penult is long, it gets the accent; if the penult is short, the antepenult gets the accent (it can go no further back than the antepenult, same as in Greek)
  3. There are two ways a syllable can receive an accent: 1) if it is long by nature (a long vowel or a diphthong), or; 2) if it is long by position (if the syllable is followed by two consonants or an ‘x’)

By the end of the year, I would like to be able to translate the Curse of Dido from Book IV of the Aeneid of Vergil and also be able to read it aloud with correct accentuation. Wish me luck!

D. Word order is very fluid in Latin because of its inflected and conjugated endings, which can show how words relate to each other regardless of their position in a sentence. However, the two most emphatic positions in a Latin sentence are the first and last words. Since the simplest Latin sentence is the subject-verb construction, these two words are vital to creating the sentence in the first place, and so their positions are coveted for their emphatic value.

Otherwise, the more unusual a word’s position in a sentence, the more emphatic that word. Here is the basic, ‘usual’ construction of Latin sentences:

  1. the subject (usually in nominative) is the first word
  2. the verb is usually at the end; forms of the verb ‘be’ come last if they are to be used as connecting or linking verbs, but are otherwise often assumed rather than stated in a sentence (ie. if you see a sentence without a verb, there’s a good chance that verb is a form of ‘be’)
  3. the accusative (direct object) and dative (indirect object) usually come before the verb, in marked contrast to how these words are used in English sentences
  4. the genitive usually follows the word it depends on
  5. adjectives that modify nouns regularly come after the noun (feminae decorae); however, demonstratives, interrogatives, numerals, and adjectives denoting size or quantity usually come before the noun (for example quattuor milites)
  6. adverbs and equivalents regularly precede the words they modify

Of course, all this simply means that words are often found in just about any order. This is just a rough sketch to base your translations on.


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