Latin Wikipedia and many other modern (Classical?) Latin texts use "u" for the vowel /u/ and "v" for the consonant /w/, but "i" for both the vowel /i/ and the consonant /j/. This practice is more common than having both an i/j and u/v distinction. In the Middle Ages, it seems that u and j were used as a variant form of v and i based on the position in a word, irrespective of whether it was used as a vowel or consonant, so it's not as though u/v is different from i/j in that regard. Descendant Romance languages like Spanish and French use j for consonants, and even Italian which doesn't use j uses it for Latin loanwords (using it to represent /j/). Why is it common in modern Latin texts to distinguish u/v but not i/j?

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    Welcome to the site and thanks for the good question! In classical Latin there was neither distinction, so I=J and U=V, but it is true that modern editions (and in general many modern spelling choices) do distinguish U from V but not I from J. I write this way too, and I'd be happy to learn why I was taught so.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:49
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    About Italian using "j" for Latin loanwords: not really. Only Juventus (name of a private football club, emphasis on "private") and junior, juniores (under the influence of English they've become more common than iunior and iuniores) come to mind. Off the top of my head I can think of the loans ius soli, de iure and repetita iuvant - they're all way more common than their "j" alternatives. Oct 18, 2019 at 18:10

2 Answers 2


I think the answer is plain: While consonant i is always a semivowel, non-classical (e.g., ecclesiastical) Latin does not treat consonant u as a semivowel. (See also this discussion.) Consequently it is really annoying to read Latin in many pronunciations, including those in universal use (modern scholars aside) since late antiquity, if v is not distinguished from u. There is no similar difficulty with i.

To translate a bit, when these consonants are pronounced like the English y and w, they are basically just slightly modified (highly shortened) versions of the vowels, so you won't sound like a fool if you initially take them as vowels when reading. (Think of why French oui is spelled the way it is.) It's no more difficult to read semivowel i and u this way than it is to read diphthongs that don't have special symbols. On the other hand, the English v sound, which is what consonant u began sounding like at least 1700 years ago, is a fricative and doesn't sound remotely like a shortened u.


There are in fact many scholarly editions of Latin texts that do not use “j” and “v” at all, and there is certainly a logic to this. On the other hand, even experienced Latinists can be forgiven for being taken by surprise by spellings like iuuenis or iuui and preferring the unambiguous juvenis and juvi.

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