The Latin Syllabe

Latin syllables are numbered according to the separate vowels and diphthongs within a word.

a-ci-ē (3), fī-li-us (3), etc.

A consonant is generally contained within the unit of a following vowel, except where there is a double consonant, since paired consonants are always separated, or where a consonant ends a word.

pa-ter (2), in-iū-ri-a (4), mit-tō (2)

(Not that is a semi-consonantal glide pairing, where the i is sounded as the English y.)

This rule becomes trickier with double consonants: what do we do with dixit? (dix-it or di-xit?)

  • A&G prefer dix-it, but acknowledge there is no hard and fast rule. Like the corresponding Greek ξ, this word would have been sounded as dic-sit, so it’s really a matter of preference where you put the double consonant.
  • Luckily, the double consonants, sd and ps, are much rarer in Latin

Note the distinction between a

  • Any syllable founding with a vowel or diphthong is open.
  • Any syllable ending with a consonant is closed.

In compounds, the rules are modified a little to mark the separation of compounded parts.

du-plex (2) instead of dup-lex (2) [it’s not clear to me whether this is a matter of A&G convention, or broader Latin phonological patterns of pronunciation.]

The Essential AG: 7, 7a-b


Short ‘i’ in Fīō

As I discussed in the last post, certain forms of fīō feature a short i instead of the usual long. I thought there would be a long and complicated phonological history to tell, but it turns out fīō is just following a few phonological rules that we already know.

Long vowels before final m, r and t are shortened.

  • amō, amās, amat
  • amem, amēs, amet
  • amer, amēris, amētur
  • so also fīō, fīs, fit

The second rule is more exclusive to fīō, but follows a consistent pattern: the ī is shortened before -er.

  • fierem, fierēs, fieret; fierī

The Essential AG: 603.3, 606.3a

Compounds of Fīō

Compounds of faciō vary between passives in -fīō and passives in -ficior. The distinction? Check the vowel a (faciō) in the compound. In the rare case that this is retain in the compound, then –fīō is also retained.

benefaciō, benefacere, benefēcī, benefactum (in place of the expected beneficio/ficere/fēcī/fectum, and hence the English ‘benefaction’ but also ‘infection.’)

  • benefīō, benefierī, benefactus sum

Several of the faciō compounds that feature -ficiō/-ficior forms will also feature passive -fīō forms, with separate meanings.

  • cōnfit, it happens
  • dēfit, it lacks
  • īnfit, he beings (to speak)
  • interfit, he perishes
  • superfit, there remains

The Essential AG: 204b-c


The essential verb faciō, facere, fēcī, factum, is generally regular, though features a few variant forms you may not have known, and a distinct set of rules for compounds which you may have always ‘sensed’ but never understood.

Exceptional Features

The two exceptional features of faciō are its imperative singular (just the fac, ma’am—not face, which sounds like a Canadian swearing), and its passive forms, derived from fīō (to be discussed in a later post).

Faciō also features a variant future perfect faxō (in place of the more common fēcerō) and a variant perfect subjunctive faxim (in place of the more common fēcerim).

Compound Rules

Compounds of faciō (i) replace a with i and (ii) replace the supine -actum with –ectum, and while retaining the -iō declension, sometimes they feature passive forms that are not derived from fīō.

  • cōnficiō, cōnficere, cōnfēcī, cōnfectum (finish)
  • cōnficior, cōnficī, cōnfectus sum (die) [but note that ‘ficior’ is not a word!]
  • afficiō, afficere, affēcī, affectum (affect)
  • afficior, afficī, affectus sum (be affected
  • inficiō, inficere, infēcī, infectum (dye, poison)
  • inficior, inficī, infectus sum (be poisoned)

Relation to PIE

For those interested in the topic discussed in the last post, the Latin faciō is derived from the PIE dʰeh₁, which also produced τίθημι, do, and (the German) tun.

The Essential AG: 204, 204a

Our Latin Kin

Not all relations between Latin and English counterparts may be described as derivation. There are a few genuine parallels that stem from a more distant common relation (proto-Indo-European). With these words, Latin is less a mother or grandmother, and more of a cousin.

As we can imagine, this kind of relationship features more striking variations in phonetic form than direct derivation. As Latin and (what A&G call) Primitive Germanic began to undergo separate consonantal and vowel shifts, their PIE derivations took on similar yet distinct forms, which eventually conformed to distinct phonological rules in each family of languages.

(*ph₂tḗr) —> pater / father

(*bʰer) —> ferō / bear, frater / brother

(*dwṓu) —> duo / two, (dēns) dentis / tooth

(*h₁rew) —> ruber / red

(*h₂wḗh) —> ventus / wind

(*sneygʷʰ) —> nive / snow

(*ǵʰans) —> ānser / goose

For those interested, you’ll find a larger list in A&G (19). There are some general phonological rules we see emerging: the aspirated b of PIE becomes Lain f/b and English f/b/v, the aspirated d of PIE becomes Latin f/b/d but in English only d, etc.

The Essential AG: 18, 19

Ablaut in Latin

Ablaut, by my reading, is the phenomenon of vowel gradation (phonetic variation) within related words of the same language, derived from parallel variations in the parent language.

Some English ablaut variations:

  • ‘strong verbs’ : sing, sang and sung / ring, rang and rung
  • nouns : man, men / goose, geese

This same variation exists within Latin:

  • tegō, I cover; toga, robe
  • pendō, I weigh; pondus, weight
  • fidēs, faith; fīdus, faithful, foedus, treaty
  • regō, I rule; rēx, king
  • dūcō, I lead; dux, leader

Ablaut will often demonstrate grammatical demarcations between nouns and related verbs, but also between various tense-stems of the same verb:

  • cadō, I fall; cecidī, I fell

The Essential AG: 17

I knew nothing whatsoever about ablaut before designing this post, so if any visiting linguists would like to expand in the comments below, I encourage them to do so.