The words "I want" and "I fly" are both volō. Was there ever any difference in pronunciation in the classical era or later? I expect such differences to be more likely in vulgar Latin. The rest of the forms of these two words differ, so the question only concerns this particular form.

This question arises from Italian, where the two forms are voglio and volo. This -gli- instead of -l- may well be due to interference with other forms of the irregular verb, but it could also be a reflex of a difference that developed within Latin. If there is no such difference, then the distinction must be a Romance or Italian invention. I am not aware of any differences in pronunciation between the two volō's, but I've been surprised before.

2 Answers 2


The Wiktionary article on Italian volere says that, as the infinitive suggests, the verb was moved to the second conjugation in Vulgar Latin, so it traces it to a "Vulgar Latin *volēre". The -gli- in voglio would come from -le- before a vowel (through steps something like [le] > [lj] > [ʎː]), as in Italian paglia from Latin palea. I don't see any indication that the form volō "I want" ever had a distinct pronunciation from the form volō "I fly" in Classical Latin.

  • Thanks! So it'd be safe to say that "I want" is conjectured to have evolved from volo (irregular) to *voleo (second conjugation) in vulgar Latin (but not attested), giving rise to the difference in Italian? That'd give a more definitive answer concerning the differences within Latin (classical or later).
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:20
  • @JoonasIlmavirta: Yes, *voleō is marked with an asterisk in Wiktionary, which should mean that it is unattested. I don't know of any evidence about the identity of the two pronunciations in Latin (aside from the obvious identity in spelling and vowel quantity). I'm just defaulting to assuming that they were pronounced the same. Perhaps someone can find a pun on the two senses, or some source that explicitly says that they're homophones.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:22
  • Do you a linguistic source that says that -gli- comes from -le- + vowel? I can think of a few counterexamples (famiglia*/*figlio from-li-).
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:25
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    @brianpck: What I meant is that -le- is one of the sources of -gli-, not the only one. At some point, unstressed -e- before a vowel merged into -i- in many words; words affected by that merger would naturally have the same development from that point on as words with original -i-. The second conjugation theme vowel is originally e, not i, which is why I said "-le- before a vowel", but the Wiktionary entry does in fact show the reconstruction with -li- for the ancestor of Italo-Western Romance.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:30

volō can indeed mean either “I want” or “I fly”, but the other forms of the two words are different (e.g. infinitive velle vs volāre), so they were definitely perceived as different words and this difference is expanded in Romance. Like Italian, French also has vouloir < *volēre and voler < volāre. The infinitive *volēre is not attested as such, but it is implied by the Vulgar Latin gerundive volendi (Augustine no less). Much information here: https://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/vouloir at the end of the article.

  • 4
    I may be missing something, but volendi could be a third conjugation form so doesn't necessarily imply voleo.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 20:52
  • @TKR exactly: ferre~ferens~ferendus : velle~volens~X > volendus Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 10:43
  • Yes, I took this from the cnrtl site. Either they got something wrong, or I did not understand it.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 11:44

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