Latin for beginners (1911)/Part I

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1. The Latin alphabet contains the same letters as the English except that it has no w and no j.

2. The vowels, as in English, are a, e, i, o, u, y. The other letters are consonants.

3. I is used both as a vowel and as a consonant. Before a vowel in the same syllable it has the value of a consonant and is called I consonant.

Thus in Iū-li-us the first i is a consonant, the second a vowel.


4. Latin was not pronounced like English. The Romans at the beginning of the Christian era pronounced their language substantially as described below.

5. The vowels have the following sounds:

Vowels[2] Latin Examples
ā as in father hāc, stās
ă like the first a in aha’, never as in hat ă'-măt, că'-nās
ē as in they tē'-lă, mē'-tă
ĕ as in met tĕ'-nět, mĕr'-cēs
ī as in machine sĕr'-tī, pră'tī

Vowels Latin Examples
ĭ as in bit sĭ'-tĭs, bĭ'-bī
ō as in holy Rō-mă, ō'-rĭs
ŏ as in wholly, never as in hot mŏ'-dŏ, bŏ'-nōs
ū as in rude, or as oo in boot ū'-mŏr, tū'-bĕr
ŭ as in full, or as oo in foot ŭt, tū'-tŭs

Note. It is to be observed that there is a decided difference in sound, except in the case of a, between the long and the short vowels. It is not merely a matter of quantity but also of quality.

6. In diphthongs (two-vowel sounds) both vowels are heard in a single syllable.

Diphtongs Latin Examples
ae as ai in aisle tae'-dae
au as ou in out gau'-dĕt
ei as ei in eight hei
eu as ĕ'o͝o (a short e followed by a short u in one syllable) seu
oe like oi in toil foe'-dŭs
ui like o͝o'ĭ (a short u followed by a short i in one syllable. Cf. English we) cui, huic

Note. Give all the vowels and diphthongs their proper sounds and do not slur over them in unaccented syllables, as is done in English.

7. Consonants are pronounced as in English, except that

Consonants Latin Examples
c is always like c in cat, never as in cent că'-dō, cĭ'-bŭs, cē'-nă
g is always like g in get, never as in gem gĕ'-mō, gĭg'-nō
i consonant is always like y in yes iăm, iŏ'-cŭs
n before c, qu, or g is like ng in sing (compare the sound of n in anchor) ăn'-cŏ-ră (ang'-ko-ra)
qu, gu, and sometimes su before a vowel have the sound of qw, gw, and sw. Here u has the value of consontant v and is not counted a vowel ĭn'-quĭt, quī, lĭn'-guă, săn'-guĭs, suā'dĕ-ō'
s is like s in sea, never as in ease rǒ'-să, ĭs
t is always like t in native, never as in nation ră'-tĭ-ō, nā'-tĭ-ō

Consonants Latin Examples
v is like w in wine never as in vine vī'-nǔm, vǐr
x has the value of two consonants (cs or gs) and is like x in extract, not as in exact ěx'-trā, ěx-āc'-tǔs
bs is like ps and bt like pt ǔrbs, ǒb-tǐ'-ně-ō
ch, ph, and th are like c, p, t pǔl'-chěr, Phoe'-bē, thě-ā'-trǔm
a. In combinations of consonants give each its distinct sound. Doubled consonants should be pronounced with a slight pause between the two sounds. Thus pronounce tt as in rat-trap, not as in rattle; pp as in hop-pole, not as in upper. Examples, mǐt'-tō, Ǎp'pǐ-ǔs, běl-lǔm.


8. A Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels and diphthongs. Thus aes-tā'-tě has three syllables, au-dǐ-ěn'-dǔs has four.

a. Two vowels with a consonant between them never make one syllable, as is so often the case in English. Compare English inside with Latin īn-sī'-dě.

9. Words are divided into syllables as follows:

1. A single consonant between two vowels goes with the second. Thus ǎ-mā'-bǐ-lǐs, mě-mǒ'-rǐ-ǎ, ǐn-tě'-rě-ā, ǎ'-běst, pě-rē'-gǐt. [3]
2. Combinations of two or more consonants:
a. A consonant followed by ll or r goes with the l or r. Thus pū'-blǐ-cǔs, ǎ'-grī.
Exception. Prepositional compounds of this nature, as also ll and rr, follow rule b. Thus ǎb'-lǔ-ō, ǎb-rǔm'-pō, ǐl-lě, fěr'-rǔm.
b. In all other combinations of consonants the first consonant goes with the preceding vowel.[4] Thus mǎg'-nǔs, ě-gěs'-tās, vǐc-tō'-rǐ-ǎ, hǒs'-pěs, ǎn'-nǔs, sǔ-bāc'-tǔs.
3. The last syllable of a word is called the ul'-ti-ma; the one next to the last, the pe-nult; the one before the penult, the an'-te-pe-nult'.



Divide the words in the following passage into syllables and pronounce them, placing the accent as indicated:

Vā́dĕ ăd fŏrmī́căm, Ō pĭ́gĕr, ĕt cōnsī́dĕrā vĭ́ās ĕ́iŭs ĕt dĭ́scĕ săpĭĕ́ntĭăm: quae cŭm nōn hắbĕăt dŭ́cĕm nĕc praecĕptṓrĕm nĕc prī́ncĭpĕm, pắrăt ĭn aestā́tĕ cĭ́bŭm sĭ́bĭ ĕt cŏ́ngrĕgăt ĭn mĕ́ssĕ quŏd cŏ́mĕdăt.

[Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which, having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.]


11. The quantity of a vowel or a syllable is the time it takes to pronounce it. Correct pronunciation and accent depend upon the proper observance of quantity.

12. Quantity of Vowels. Vowels are either long ( ¯ ) or short ( ˘ ). In this book the long vowels are marked. Unmarked vowels are to be considered short.

1. A vowel is short before another vowel or h ; as pŏ-ē'-ta, tră'-hō.
2. A vowel is short before nt and nd, before final m or t, and, except in words of one syllable, before final l or r. Thus a'-mănt, a-măn'-dus, a-mā'-băm, a-mā'-băt, a'-ni-măl, a'-mŏr.
3. A vowel is long before nf, ns, nx, and nct. Thus īn'-fe-rō, re'-gēns, sān'-xī, sānc'-tus.
4. Diphthongs are always long, and are not marked.

13. Quantity of Syllables. Syllables are either long or short, and their quantity must be carefully distinguished from that of vowels.

1. A syllable is short,
a. If it ends in a short vowel; as ă'-mō, pĭ'-grī.

Note. In final syllables the short vowel may be followed by a final consonant. Thus the word mĕ-mŏ'-rĭ-ăm contains four short syllables. In the first three a short vowel ends the syllable, in the last the short vowel is followed by a final consonant.

2. A syllable is long,
a. If it contains a long vowel or a diphthong, as cū'-rō, poe'-nae, aes-tā'-te.
b. If it ends in a consonant which is followed by another consonant, as cor'-pus, mag'-nus.
Note. The vowel in a long syllable may be either long or short, and should be pronounced accordingly. Thus in ter'-ra, in'-ter, the first syllable is long, but the vowel in each case is short and should be given the short sound. In words like saxum the first syllable is long because x has the value of two consonants (cs or gs).
3. In determining quantity h is not counted a consonant.
Note. Give about twice as much time to the long syllables as to the short ones. It takes about as long to pronounce a short vowel plus a consonant as it does to pronounce a long vowel or a diphthong, and so these quantities are considered equally long. For example, it takes about as long to say cǔr'-rō as it does cū'-rō, and so each of these first syllables is long. Compare mǒl-lis and mō'-lis, a-mǐs'-sī and ā-mī'-sī.


14. Words of two syllables are accented on the first, as mēn'-sa, Cae'-sar.

15. Words of more than two syllables are accented on the penult if the penult is long. If the penult is short, accent the antepenult. Thus mo-nē'-mus, re'-gi-tur, a-gri'-co-la, a-man'-dus.

Note. Observe that the position of the accent is determined by the length of the syllable and not by the length of the vowel in the syllable. (Cf.§ 13.2, Note.)

16. Certain little words called enclit'ics[5] which have no separate existence, are added to and pronounced with a preceding word. The most common are -que, and; -ve, or; and -ne, the question sign. The syllable before an enclitic takes the accent, regardless of its quantity. Thus populus'que, dea'que, rēgna've, audit 'ne.


17. To read Latin well is not so difficult, if you begin right. Correct habits of reading should be formed now. Notice the quantities carefully, especially the quantity of the penult, to insure your getting the accent on the right syllable. (Cf. § 15.) Give every vowel its proper sound and every syllable its proper length. Then bear in mind that we should read Latin as we read English, in phrases rather than in separate words. Group together words that are closely connected in thoughts. No good reader halts at the end of each word.

18. Read the stanzas of the following poem by Longfellow, one at a time, first the English and then the Latin version. The syllables inclosed in parentheses are to be slurred or omitted to secure smoothness of meter.


The shades of night were falling fast, Cadēbant noctis umbrae, dum
As through an Alpine village passed Ībat per vīcum Alpicum
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, Gelū nivequ(e) adolēscēns,
A banner with the strange device, Vēxillum cum signō ferēns,
Excelsior! Excelsior!
His brow was sad; his eye beneath, Frōns trīstis, micat oculus
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath, Velut ē vāgīnā gladius;
And like a silver clarion rung Sonantque similēs tubae
The accents of that unknown tongue, Accentus lingu(ae) incognitae,
Excelsior! Excelsior!
In happy homes he saw the light In domibus videt clārās
Of household fires gleam warm and bright; Focōrum lūces calidās;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone, Relūcet gladēs ācris,
And from his lips escaped a groan, Et rumpit gemitūs labrīs,
Excelsior! Excelsior!
"Try not the Pass!" the old man said; Dīcit senex, "Nē trānseās!
"Dark lowers the tempest overhead, Suprā nigrēscit tempestās;
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!" Lātus et altus est torrēns."
And loud that clarion voice replied, Clāra vēnit vōx respondēns,
Excelsior! Excelsior!
At break of day, as heavenward Iam lūcēscēbat, et frātrēs
The pious monks of Saint Bernard Sānctī Bernardī vigilēs
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer, Ōrābant precēs solitās,
A voice cried through the startled air, Cum vōx clāmāvit per aurās.
Excelsior ! Excelsior!
A traveler, by the faithful hound. Sēmi-sepultus viātor
Half-buried in the snow was found. Can(e) ā fīdō reperītur,
Still grasping in his hand of ice Comprēndēns pugnō gelidō
That banner with the strange device, Illud vēxillum cum signō.
Excelsior! Excelsior!
There in the twilight cold and gray, Iacet corpus exanimum
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay, Sed lūce frīgidā pulchrum;
And from the sky, serene and far, Et caelō procul exiēns
A voice fell, like a falling star, Cadit vōx, ut Stella cadēns.
Excelsior! Excelsior!
  1. N.B. The sounds of the letters are best learned by hearing them correctly pronounced. The matter in this section is, therefore, intended for reference rather than for assignment as a lesson. As a first step it is suggested that the teacher pronounce the examples in class, the pupils following.
  2. Long vowels are marked ¯, short ones ˘.
  3. In writing and printing it is customary to divide the parts of a compound, as inter-eā, ab-est, sub-āctus, per-ēgit, contrary to the correct phonetic rule
  4. The combination nct is divided nc-t, as fūnc-tǔs, sānc-tǔs.
  5. Enclitic means leaning back and that is, as you see, just what these little words do. They cannot stand alone and so they lean back for support upon the preceding word.
  6. Translation by C. W. Goodchild in Praeco Latinus, October, 1898.