The Latin Alphabet
and the Sounds of the Letters

Errāre hūmānum est — To err is human
From Seneca, a Roman philosopher.


1. The Latin alphabet is the same as the English except that it has no j or w.

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

3. The letter i is used both as a vowel and as a consonant. When standing first with a vowel following it, or between vowels within a word, it has the value of a consonant, and is called i consonant.

Thus, in iam and maior, i is a consonant; in ianitor the first i is a consonant, the second is a vowel.

See these simple rules for Latin Pronunciation

See the evolution of the alphabet
from Prof. Robert Fradkin at University of Maryland


4. The sounds of the letters are best learned by hearing them correctly pronounced. The matter in sections 5-7 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.

5. Vowels. Vowels are either long or short. In this book long vowels are marked (ā), short ones are unmarked (a). The vowels have the following sounds:


    ā as in artist: hāc, stās
    ē as a in fate: tēla, mēta
    ī as in machine: sertī, prātī
    ō as in bone: Rōma, ōris
    ū as in rude: ūmor, tūber


    a as in artistic: amat, canās
    e as in net: tenet, pedēs
    i as in bit: sītis, bibī
    o as in obey: modō, bonōs
    u as in full: ut, tūtus

6. Diphthongs. A diphthong is a combination of two vowels in a single syllable. The Latin diphthongs and their sounds are as follows:

    ae as ai in aisle: taedae
    au as ou in out: gaudet
    ei as in eight: hei
    eu almost like ew in new: seu
    oe as oi in boil: foedus
    ui almost like we: cuī,huic

7. Consonants. Consonants are pronounced as in English, with the following exceptions:

    c always has the sound of k: cadō, cibus, cēna
    g is always like g in get: gemō, gignō
    i, when a consonant, is sounded like y in yes: iam, iocus, cuius
    qu, gu, and sometimes su before a vowel, have the sound of qw, gw, and sw, respectively: inquit, lingua, suādeō
    s is always like s in sea: rosa, is
    t is always like t in native (never as in nation): ratiō, nātiō
    v has the sound of w: vīnum, vir
    x always has the sound of ks: extrā, exāctus
    bs, bt, are like ps, pt: urbs, obtineō
    ch, ph, th, are like c, p, t: pulcher, Phoebē, theātrum

8. Learn the following Latin mottoes:

Ē plūribus ūnum
one out of many (motto of the United States)

Ad astra per aspera
to the stars through difficulties (motto of Kansas)

Labor omnia vincit
toil conquers all things (quotation from the Latin poet Vergil)

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