Greek Aspirates in Latin

Greek Aspirates in Latin

Appearance of Aspirates

“The aspirates are almost wholly confined to words borrowed from Greek” (AG, 4.1 ftn)

These are ‘ph’ (cf. φ), ‘ch’ (cf. χ) and ‘th’ (cf. θ)

Because words containing aspirates are nearly always Greek, consider aspirates a marker of caution for the dreaded Greek declensions of Latin nouns

Pronunciation of Aspirates

The world ‘aspirate’ is from the Latin aspīrāre (ad + spīrāre, to breath on)

  • The sound we ‘breath onto’ these letters is an ‘h’
  • The aspirates, in Latin (ph, ch and th) are pronounced p+h, c+h, and t+h 

In late antiquity, ph began to approach f, to distinguish it from p

Quick Sample of Some Greek Nouns with Aspirates

I’ll review these declensions more fully later on:

  • Anchīsēs, Anchīsae, Anchīsae, Anchīsēn/am, Anchīsā (first declension)
  • Panthūs, Panthī, Panthō, Panthūn, Panthō (second declension)
  • Xenophōn, Xenophontis, Xenophontī, Xenophonta/em, Xenophonte (third declension)

Famous Phrase: ad usum Delphinī (for the use of Dauphin)

[used to demarcate works banned or edited for improper passages; originally used on special editions of Greek and Roman classics which Louis XIV gave to his heir apparent, the Dauphin of France]



2 comments on “Greek Aspirates in Latin

  1. Interesting post. What does Allen have to say on this in Vox Latina? By the way, I believe your last example is supposed to be ad/in usum Delphini (

    • rsmease says:

      You’re correct about Delphini; I wasn’t reading carefully. A new curiosity that’s just popped up, though: why not ad Delphini usum? I think that’d be more typical word order. Perhaps it’s just a neo-Latin pitfall.

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