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A Guide to the Pronunciation of Latin


This guide follows the instructions in the "Liber Usualis", which is the definitive version for Gregorian chant.

Vowels:

  1. A, E, I, O and (normally, but see iii below) U are pronounced as in Italian or Spanish, that is more or less like the vowels in father, red, feet, for and moon respectively.
  2. Y (which is rare and mainly in Greek words) is pronounced the same as Latin i.
  3. After q and after ng if another vowel follows, u is pronounced like an English w; for example: quam (kwahm), sanguis (sahngwees).
  4. Æ and Œ (sometimes printed as ae and oe) are both pronounced the same as Latin e.
  5. Otherwise, if two vowels occur together, each is pronounced separately. The common combination AU, therefore, sounds like the English ow in cow.

Which vowel to stress:

  1. in words of two syllable, stress is always on the first vowel.
  2. In words of three or more syllables, the rules are more complicated. Helpful texts show stress by putting an acute accent on the stressed vowel; this is how stress is shown in our Website's page with prayers in English and Latin; e.g. sǽcula sæculórum.

The consonants:

Double consonants should be clearly sounded and pronounced double, as in Italian.
(Consonants not shown below are given their normal English pronunciation.)
C
  • before e, æ, œ, i or y as English ch in church. Note that CC before the same vowels is pronounced t-ch as, for example, in ecce (et-cheh).
  • For the combinations SC and XC, see below.
  • Otherwise Latin C is like English k.
     
CH
  • Latin CH is always like English k.
     
G
  • before e, æ, œ, i or y as English g in ginger.
  • GN has the sound given to these letters in French agneau and the Italian signor, that is similar to the English ny in canyon
  • Otherwise Latin G is like English g in get.
     
H
  • H is pronounced like k in the two words nihil (neekeel)and mihi (meekee) and their compounds. (In medieval times these words were often written "nichil" and "michi").
  • In all other cases Latin H is silent as in English hour.
     
J
  • Latin J is always as in Hallelujah - the sound that is usually spelt in English with a y as in yes, yellow etc.
    Note: before the Renaissance both I and J were written the same way; there has been a tendency in recent times to write this consonant as I; we keep the spelling J on our web-pages.
     
R
  • Latin R should always be sounded. Strictly it should be trilled as in Italian or in Scots. Care shoud be taken NOT to pronounce Latin ER, IR and UR like the er as commonly pronounced in English herd; the two sounds should be given their own proper sounds as they are, for example, in Scots English.
     
SC
  • before e, æ, œ, i or y as English sh in shed.
  • Before any other sounds, Latin SC is like English sk.
    (Latin S is otherwise like English so or rose)
     
TH
  • Latin TH is always as in Thomas.
     
TI
  • before a vowel (except when it comes after after S, T or X) is pronounced 'tsee'; for example propítia (proPEEtsee-ah).
  • Otherwise Latin TI is like English tee.
     
XC
  • before e, æ, œ, i or y as English ksh sound in bikeshed; for example excélsis (ek-SHELL-sees)
  • Before any other sounds, Latin XC is like English xc in excuse.
    (Latin X is otherwise like English fox)
     
Z
  • Latin Z is always as in English dz in adze.