Stress in Latin Syllables

Diphthongs and Triphthongs and More

The syllables in the first line of Vergil's Aeneid separated word-internally by "/":
(1) ár/ma vi/rúm/que cá/no Tró/jae qui prí/mus ab ó/ris

Knowing the way Latin words are divided into syllables will help you to pronounce Latin and translate Latin poetry. There are a few basic points you need to know. As with most things, there are always exceptions.

  1. The number of syllables = the number of vowels/diphthongs pronounced separately. For example, Caesar contains 1 vowel and one diphthong, so there are 2 syllables: Cae-sar. There are no silent vowels in Latin.
    Exercise:
    • Q.
      How many syllables in the English word alphabet?
      A.
      There are 3 in alphabet and they center around the 3 vowels in the word.
    • Q.
      How many syllables in the English word same?
      A.
      There are 2 vowels in same, but 1 is silent, so there is only one syllable.
    • Q.
      How many syllables in the Latin example (1) above?
      A.
      15
      Check for vowels. The first word ár/ma has two vowels and two syllables, the second word vi/rúm/que has three vowels and three syllables. What's that you say? There are 4 vowels? The u after q acts as it does in English, and doesn't count. The third word cá/no has two vowels and two syllables. The fourth word Tró/jae has three vowels, but only two are pronounced separately, since the ae, being a diphthong (see below), is pronounced together. You can analyze the last three words (qui prí/mus ab ó/ris) on your own.
  1. The Latin diphthongs are ae (earlier, ai), au, ei, eu, oe, and ui (rare) [See Wheelock].
    Examples:
    • Trojae
    • Aurum 'gold'
    • deinde 'then'
    • Europa
    • proelium 'battle'
    • cui 'who'
  2. Like English, the Latin syllable divides between consonants or after a vowel and before a consonant. For example, mitto has two vowels and therefore two syllables. Mitto has a double consonant, so the syllable is divided between the ts: mit-to.
    More examples:
    • Caesar: Cae-sar
    • Deinde: dein-de
    • Proelium: proe-li-um
  3. This page is a quick tip about syllables, not stress, but since they are related, and both are necessary for a reasonable pronunciation of Latin, you may be interested. Stress is normally on the penultimate (second to last) syllable if it is long and on the one before (the antepenultimate), otherwise, generally. If you look up "amicus" in a Latin dictionary, there will be a long mark or macron on the "i". That means the "i" is long and so the syllable is stressed. If there is a diphthong in the penultimate syllable or it is followed by two consonants, it is generally counted as long and therefore stressed.

    Look at the opening example:
    (1) ár/ma vi/rúm/que cá/no Tró/jae qui prí/mus ab ó/ris

    The ictus is marked with an accent mark. This shows the stress.