I am rather ashamed to admit that I used to pronounce Alexandrea (or Alexandria, cf. Ἀλεξάνδρεια) incorrectly in Latin, that is I mistakenly applied the famous rule "vocalis ante vocalem corripitur" whereas this word is an exception, so the stress is on the penultimate here, Alexandrēa (or Alexandrīa). I was told that in (some?) Greek loans (and some other words?) this rule doesn't apply and the vowel length is preserved.

So, I was wondering what other examples have been reported where the vowel is not shortened before another vowel in the penultimate and thus the penultimate attracts stress, e.g. Aenēas (cf. Αἰνείας, which I had no trouble with for some reason - I guess I just didn't put two and two together) or Academīa (cf. Ἀκαδημία), or Menelāus (cf. Μενέλαος) or Elēus (cf. Ἐλευσίς) but Ptolomaeus (cf. Πτολεμαῖος)?

Why does this exception not apply to Pausanĭas (cf. Παυσανίας)? Why Thalīa (cf. Θάλεια) but Uranĭa (cf. Οὐρανία)?

Does it apply to all Greek loans? Are they all proper nouns or are there any exceptions with common nouns?

What is your own experience with such cases? Do you learn (or teach) them on a case-by-case basis or do you deal with them somehow systematically? Does Greek help you or does it make it more confusing?

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    Academīa is from Ἀκαδήμεια, so with -īa as in Thalīa < Θάλεια. Likewise Elēus < Ἠλεῖος. Οὐρανία has short ι, as I think does Παυσανίας.
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


I think of hiatus vowel shortening in Latin as a historical rule. Some linguistic analyses might treat it as a synchronically active morphophonological rule in certain contexts, like the conjugation of regular fourth-declension verbs (where we can explain the variation between long i and short i in different forms if there is a single underlying base with long ī which is shortened in certain contexts) or the combination of the vowel-final prefixes prō- and dē- with vowel-initial bases. I don't think shortening before another vowel regularly applied in loaned words, although shortening might have occurred in some words as a way of naturalizing an uncommon sequence of sounds.

The pronoun genitive forms in -īus, such as nūllīus, are a notable example of a long vowel in hiatus in native Latin vocabulary (these forms do coexist with short-vowel variants in -ĭus).

Greek ει in hiatus

For Greek words, I am used to hiatus shortening not applying for vowels corresponding to Greek ει, whether ē as in panacēa or ī as in Thalīa.

There are Latin forms where a short vowel (appears to) correspond with Greek ει

However, Lewis and Short does list plătĕa as a variant of plătēa, and the Romance reflexes like French place, Italian piazza point to a short e. So there is evidence for shortening in some words, but I'd say that forms with a short vowel for Greek ει are exceptional from the point of view of a student of Classical Latin.

Variation between ει and ι or ε in Greek may be relevant in some cases

The situation with Academia is hard for me to figure out because distinct Greek forms Ἀκαδήμεια and Ἀκαδημία apparently coexist. I'm not sure whether Latin Acadēmīa is from the first, or from the second with vowel length based on the position of the Greek stress. Greek words ending in ία can correspond in Romance languages to pronunciations with penultimate stress, as if from Latin *īa; this shows up very often in Italian, for example, as in filosofia with stress on the penult i. I don't know how far back these penult-stressed forms go; I've read that words like this were sometimes scanned as containing a long vowel in Medieval Latin poetry.

Another similar confusing example for me is aristolochia; if from ἀριστολοχία, it shows Latin unstressed short i for Greek stressed short /i/, while if from ἀριστολόχεια, it shows Latin unstressed short i for Greek unstressed ει.

Allen and Greenough1 gives Malĕa as an example of a Latinized form (vs. Mălēa from Μάλεια), but Lewis and Short and Gaffiot 2016 say instead that Latin Malĕa corresponds to the Greek form Μαλέα with a short vowel.

Greek monophthongs in hiatus

In Greek, ι before another vowel can be short or long. I think it is most often short. But in cases where it is long, I would expect the Latinized form to also have a long vowel. An example is Ixīōn.

The same goes for other long monophthongs,

I'm not sure of any examples with ȳ.


  1. Allen and Greenough 603
  • So, I guess, without Greek (or Romance data), it's going to be just exceptions in Latin, to be learned as you go?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 2:57
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    @AlexB. I think knowing the Greek form is the most straightforward way to be able to predict the presence of a long vowel in Latin in this context. Someone who doesn't know any Greek might be able to get a sense for which words have a suffix containing this vowel, like the examples you list in your answer, but aside from that, it seems like it would have to be learned word by word.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 3:21

What do historical grammars of Latin usually say on this?

Usually such exceptions do not get enough treatment in historical grammars of Latin, e.g.

“Bei den klassischen Messungen wie āēr, Aenēās usw. ist auf die griechische Quantität Rücksicht genommen, vgl. noch Niedermann3 85.” (Pfister and Sommer 1977, p. 103, Anm. 2)

“Bei den in der klassischen Zeit üblichen Messungen wie āer, Aenēas u.s.w. ist natürlich auf die Quantität der betreffenden Wörter im Griechischen bewußt Rücksicht genommen.” (Sommer 1902, p. 138, footnote 1)

There is one sentence about such Greek exceptions in the 2nd edition of Michael Weiss's Outline of the historical and comparative grammar of Latin (Weiss 2020):

"Some Greek loanwords are surface exceptions to the shortening rule: āēr 'air' < Gk. ᾱ̓ήρ, Īō (the daughter of Inachus) < Ἰ̄ώ" (p. 137, section I.C).

They are not mentioned at all in Meiser 2010 (§57.3, p. 76) Silher 1995 (see section 85).

A new study by Frédérique Biville (Biville 1995)

I found a very interesting discussion of this phenomenon in Biville 1995, Les emprunts du Latin au Grec. Approche phonétique, tome II. Vocalisme et conclusions.

Partly because of such inadequate treatment, I decided to post a summary of the relevant section 2.2 Voyelles longues en hiatus from Chapter 16 (Chapitre 16. Voyelles et diphtongues en hiatus), pp. 164-168. This is the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of such exceptions.

Biville argues that, excluding the well-known cases (gen. -īus for pronouns, some verb forms of fio, and Plautine archaisms like gen.sg. -āī or fūit or rēī), a long vowel before another vowel is a sign of a Greek loan (cf. “En dehors de ces cas précis, la présence d'une voyelle longue devant une autre voyelle est l'indice d'une forme d'origine grecque”, p. 165).

The number of such exceptions is quite large, and they are overwhelmingly proper nouns (cf. “ce sont en majorité des noms propres appartenant à la tradition épique”, p. 167).

Such words are characteristic of epic poetry (cf. “Les textes poétiques abondent en séquence rythmiques vocaliques — —/∪ [X - Alex B.], en particulier dans les noms propres”, p. 165), and they are literary or artificial (cf. “Ces formes présentent de toute évidence un caractère savant et artificiel”, p. 167).

Biville writes that vowel length was preserved in such cases to match the one in Greek (cf. “le maintien de la longue antévocalique s’accompagne souvent du maintien de la flexion grecque”, p. 167).


That being said, Biville also notes that in some cases such a vowel was shortened, unlike in Greek, for metrical reasons:

“Ils [poètes – Alex B.] permettent d'éviter les séquences rythmiques non dactyliques — ∪ —, ainsi dans les mots en -ῑων”, e.g. we can find non-shortened Āmphīōn and Ōrīōn alongside shortened Dēucălĭōn and Ēĕtĭōn or in Virgil chorēis (Aen. 9, 615) and chorĕas (6, 644).

Biville also notes that variants with a shortened vowel are observed from the very beginning of the Roman literary tradition; for example, we can find such examples of mostly common nouns in Plautus, and such shortened forms stayed on in later poetry,

cf. “Des abrègement de voyelles longues en hiatus se constatent en effet dans les mots latins d’origine grecque dès les débuts de la tradition littéraire. Ils sont fréquents dès Plaute, en particulier dans les noms communs, qui ont conservé leur voyelle brève chez les poètes postérieurs” (pp. 167-168),

e.g. bal(i)nĕum, caducĕum, gyn(a)ecĕum, olĕum, ostrĕum, platĕa.

“Les poètes tirent parti des doublets que leur offre la tradition poétique grecque.” (p. 167)

Data under closer examination

ā + vowel

āē: āēr, āĕris ἀήρ, άέρος

āĭ: in words ending in -ίς, -ίδος and their adjectives ending in -ικός, e.g. Achāĭdos, Achāĭca

āŏ/āŭ: particularly in cognomina-compounds containing Λᾱο- / -λᾱος, e.g. Lāŏcŏŏn, Īŏlāŭs (or, my extra example, Menelāus Μενέλᾱος)

ē + vowel: (ē < η, ει)

ēĭ: ηϊ, e.g. Dēĭdămīă and fem. deriv. -ηϊσ, -ηϊδος, e.g. Thēsēĭdĕ

ēȳ: Cēȳcă (Κήϋξ)

ēa, ēu: deriv. - εια, -ειος, -ειον, e.g. Aenēās (Αἰνείας), Argēō (Ἀργεῖος), mausōlēă (μαυσώλειον)

ī + vowel:

In Greek loans in -ῑα, -ῑος, -ῑων: e.g. Phthīam Φθῑ́α, Phthīōtica, Chīum Χῖος (adj.), Chĭos Κίος (n.), Amphīōn, Arīōn

NB: Dēucălĭōn, Ēĕtĭōn — ∪ —

“Ces formes en -īa, -īus, -īum peuvent également représenter des formes grecques en -εια, -ειος, - ειον, -ει = [ē] ayant évolué en [ī] à partir du 5e s. a.C.” (p. 166)

-īa < - εια, e.g. Plīăs (var. Plēĭădas), Īphĭgĕnīa

-īō < -ειω, e.g. Clīō, Spīō

-īus, -īum < -ειος, - ειον, e.g. Lycīĕ (but Lycĭō), Sperchīus, Sperchēus

What did Latin grammarians say on this?

Biville notes that “Le caractère étranger des pénultièmes en [ī + voyelle] est bien mis en valeur par Priscien (GL 2, 41, 15-22; cf. aussi 2, 71, 12-16)” (p.165).

I pura paenultima ante -us uel -a uel -um, per nominatiuos non inuenitur producta in Latinis dictionibus, nisi in disyllabis et ipsis Graecis. Nam in Graecis saepe inuenimus, ut “Chīus” et “dīa”, et in uno trisyllabo, quod apud Statium legi: “Lycīus” (Stat., Th. 10, 343: Lycīe).” [the quote from Priscian is given here as it appears in Biville, preserving her (?) spelling, emphasis, and punctuation – Alex B.]

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-covert this image to text (second quote)-

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I can only answer parts of your question, but I hope this is of some use before a more elaborate answer appears.

Are they all proper nouns or are there any exceptions with common nouns?

Two words come to mind: fīō and āēr. I cannot think of other examples outside Greek names, but perhaps there are some. These two are notable in that they are common (especially the first one) and perhaps not seen as foreign.

However, these two examples have only two syllables and therefore the length of the vowel before the other one has no effect on the stress pattern. The effect becomes more clear in āëris. With fieri we have prefixed versions and imperfect forms like fīēbat, but length does not change stress unless a prefix can take the stress in a short word.

What is your own experience with such cases? Do you learn (or teach) them on a case-by-case basis or do you deal with them somehow systematically?

The way I see it and would teach it — the closest thing to actually teaching Latin I do is using this site — is that this is not a hard rule but a strong tendency. Exceptions are to be expected in Greek loans and the peculiar conjugation of fieri is the most striking exception. This rule improves intuition greatly but is not infallible.

Why does this exception not apply to Pausanĭas (cf. Παυσανίας)? Why Thalīa (cf. Θάλεια) but Uranĭa (cf. Οὐρανία)?

This is nothing but a guess but something worth considering: metric constraints. Especially names like Urania are likely to appear in poetry, and it simply will not go into hexameter as Ūranīa. Hexameter would explain nicely why Pausanias and Urania have a short I whereas Thalia has a long one. Surely more data points are needed to see if rhythmic considerations like this correlate with the observed phenomenon. It could also be that some names are slightly modified to fit metre, and our knowledge of quantities comes from that biased sample. Modifications due to metric constraints may have happened in Greek before loaning to Latin.

  • An interesting point about metric constraints - thanks!
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 12:46
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    @AlexB. Thanks! I updated that point slightly. The metre may have already played a role in Greek before Latin.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 16:56

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