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If not macrons, use ACUTE ACCENTS to indicate vowel length.

The modern acute accent evolved from the Latin apex which was used to indicate vowel length.


I understand macrons are hard to type and perhaps that’s why they’ve been excluded from this course, but acute accents are used throughout Duo and are far more accessible than macrons: á é í ó ú ý

Regardless of whether you go with macrons or acute accents, I think it’s important to indicate vowel length when introducing new vocab to the learner, as it’s phonemically distinctive in Latin. The video below makes the case very well.


November 11, 2019



Did the ancient Romans use macrons and/or accents to indicate vowel length? Or are you suggesting that it's an essential addition in order to be able to learn Latin properly?

I'm asking because when I first learned Latin, many years ago, it wasn't something I ever saw. So it seems odd to me. But so many people have asked for it or expressed dissatisfaction that it's not included, that I'd really like to know why they consider it so important.


Yes, they did. Watch the video and check out the Wiki article I linked in the OP. The ancient Romans were careful to indicate vowel length in their inscriptions, and if you don’t get the vowel length right, you’ll confuse the word for anus with the one for old woman!

The reason why you probably weren’t taught it is because these diacritics were carved much lighter than the letters themselves, and have worn away over time making them easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention. The Wiki article goes into this.

There’s been a revival in modern Latin with a push towards making macrons (or acutes) standard to avoid ambiguity in the pronunciation of minimal pairs. (e.g., annus, ánus, anus)


If the ancient Romans managed to confuse the word for anus with the word for old woman, then I'm very surprised they ever had an empire. Still, with all those parrots squawking and weasels biting at their heels, I can understand that it might have been difficult to pay attention to context.

And no, I've done further research. I'm not convinced. Roman writers mention them, and when they do it's usually to express an objection to using them. They clearly existed, but other than one particularly enthusiastic (over-enthusiastic?) researcher I can't see a lot of evidence they were actually used very much either in writing or inscriptions, other than in a very short period (possibly after the main classical period) and even then primarily only when the meaning really was ambiguous. And, of course, by those who wanted their writing/carving to look extravagant and pretentious.

More significant evidence of how they were used - or, at least, how the apex long vowel mark was used - is in the Vindolanda tablets. These, as you may know, are the (only surviving?) records of how ordinary people wrote. Yes, they show the apex mark to indicate long vowels, but only where the meaning is ambiguous and certainly not on every long vowel. Check it out.

So I'm not convinced. But it doesn't really bother me one way or the other. If they're flavour of the month with learners of Latin, that's fine.


The Romans did not need them. They knew which vowels are short and which one are long. But we can't know that without learning each word first. I skip the diacritics in informal e-mails in my native language. They are still perfectly understandable because I know all the words and all native Czechs do. But you wouldn't be able to read it correctly without knowing the words (with diacritics it is perfectly automatic and one does not need to know the words in advance).

It is possible to teach Latin without any vowel length at all. Medieval Latin did not distinguish long and short. But this course claims to use Classical pronunciation and the audio tries to do so, somewhere more successfully, somewhere less.

As a speaker of a language with free phonemic vowel length I am probably more sensitive about that because my ears are trained to carefully distinguish it since I was born.

It is also possible to teach Latin with long and short vowels without macrons. It is much better suited for classrooms though. An online course must make an exceptionally big effort to teach it clearly and stress it enough. I am afraid it is not the case here and probably cannot ever be. I guess most learners did not even notice some vowels were short and some long.


This is not possible in the current tree for technical reasons. The contributors may be considering changing how this is handled in a future tree version, I don't know. If so, and they do change, be aware that it will make the next tree version take far longer to develop, and when the new version is rolled out it will show skills as having a lot of new things to learn (possibly uncomplete them all) even if they were just old words with the macrons/accents added.

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