How to Accent Latin Words:
General Rules for Latin Accentuation

Grammar Helps Index


1. Accent the second-to-last syllable, unless that syllable is short:

forna   /    amus   /   Roni   /   argûMENtum


Remember: The syllable can be long even when its vowel is short: argûMENtum's second-to-last syllable is long because its vowel is followed by two consonants, N and T. See the General Rules for Syllable Length below, Rule 3.



2. Accent the third-to-last syllable if the second-to-last syllable is short:

philoSOphia   /   penia   /   HOminis   /   PRObitâs




Hint:  The last syllable is never accented. If the word has only two syllables, the accent must be on the first syllable:

MAG-na cum LAU-de  /  CAR-pe DI-em  /  ex post FAC-to  /   AL-ma MA-ter.

Hint:With words of more than two syllables you will only have the choice of second-to-last or third-to-last. Pick the second-to-last if it is long.

Major Hint: You will only have to look at the second-to-last syllable to determine the accent of the word. The length of the third-to-last syllable does not matter since it receives the accent whether it is short or long, only on the basis of a short second-to-last syllable.

Hint: Remember the phrase mystérium treméndum. The -ri-is not a long syllable, so the accent falls back to the third-to-last syllable. The -en- is long by the rules below, so it takes the accent.



General Rules for Syllable Length

1. Syllables are long if they contain a long vowel (often indicated by a macron or a circumflex mark above the letter):  ser--re.

2. Syllables are long if they contain a "double-vowel sound" (diphthong):  sae-pe; lau-das.

3. Syllables are long if their vowel sound is placed before two consonant-sounds (including doubled consonants):

pu-el-la  /  ter-ra  /  a-du-les-cen-ti-a  /  sum -ma


But see the exceptions below.




Exceptions to the Syllable-length Rules

1. Double-sounds like the letter X count as two consonant-sounds.

2. Single-sounds even if written with two letters, count as one sound (ch, ph, th).

3. A stop (p, b, t, d, c, g) plus a liquid (l, r) can count as one consonant: te-nebra.


Hint: Learn the rules in the first section above before you go on to learn those of the second; learn the rules of the third section last. But you will need to know all these rules to accentuate Latin correctly.





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Latin Teaching Materials at Saint Louis University: © Claude Pavur 1997 - 2009.  This material is being made freely available for non-commercial educational use.