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Emphasis vs. Syllable Quantity

Salvēte! I have a question concerning the difference between emphasized syllables and long syllables. How does emphasis manifest in Latin, and how is it different from syllable length?

I have always considered stressed syllables in English to be fundamentally long. For example, the word "forest" is accented on the first syllable, so we say "fooorest" instead of "foreeest."

As for Latin, in "A Latin Grammar", Charles E. Bennet (1908) writes: "Syllables are distinguished as long or short according to the length of time required for their pronunciation" (p. 5). Shortly thereafter he writes that "words of two syllables are accented on the first" (p. 5), and he gives "tegit" as an example. What effect does emphasis have on the short "te-" in "tegit," if not to make it long? How does the emphasis manifest?

Many thanks for help on this confusing topic. :-)

September 5, 2019



I suppose the purpose in Latin would be to correctly conjugate a word. To emphasize a syllable is to stress a certain consonant or vowel sound. Stressing a syllable doesn't necessarily make it long, but the manner at which it is stressed can decipher the difference between long -ere endings from short -ere endings, which are important in Latin. Without placing emphasis on certain syllables, a word will be mispronounced and translate into a completely different word. Hope this helps


Ah, I begin to understand. So emphasis can be applied by strengthening the sounds of a syllable without necessarily lengthening the vowels. Thank you :-)


It is also possible that the Romans used a bit higher pitch of voice on the stressed syllables. It's either that, or that they used a bit more 'force' or emphasis, without making the vowel any longer.


Some Latin-speaking Youtubers seem to use pitch like you describe. Thanks, this information helps me too


Yeah there are 2 different things going on. Some vowels are longer or shorter, literally actually pronounced for a longer or shorter time, and one syllable in each word has stress (like English words have stress).

The stress rule is (slightly simplified): stress is the third-to-the-last syllable, unless the second-to-the-last has a long vowel in it, or a vowel followed by two consonants, in which case it's the second-to-last syllable.

You can totally have a stressed short vowel in Latin or an unstressed long vowel, they're independent of each other.

Unfortunately you just have to learn the long/short vowels, and unfortunately that's not taught directly in the lessons (they don't have macrons) so that might be a little extra credit thing you do for yourself.

If you listen closely to the audio you'll get the general right idea, though it might not be possible to sort them all out precisely ("wait was that a long or a short a??")


Or: Stress is one to last (penult) unless the "one to last" is short, in which case it's the second-to-last syllable. See here and here for a nice visual version.

As a tip on emphasis, you say that "For example, the word "forest" is accented on the first syllable, so we say "fooorest" instead of "foreeest." This is true in American English, but not British English. We don't stretch out vowels when they are stressed but instead give them a bit more of emphasis. This is usually a slightly louder sound, but not a longer sound. So Forest rather than Farrest. (We pronounce o very differently to US accepted pronunciation, it is between e and u in your mouth; while US 'o' sounds like a to us. So drop sounds like drahp in US to us.) See Wiktionary for forest and drop for audio versions.

EDIT: I mis-stated this a bit and edited it: @edheil's version isn't wrong but isn't perhaps how I'd say it. In practice, emphasis in generally on the one-to-last

FURTHER EDIT: Here is Wikibook's guide, edited a bit to make it simpler - feedback appreciated.

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