In scansion, a vowel is long by position if there are two or more consonants between it and the next vowel. Can a vowel be long by position if it ends a line and there is no next vowel? E.g. is the "E" in "REX" long if it is the last syllable in a line? I am particularly concerned with the case for dactylic hexameter if it makes a difference for the answer to the question.

  • Welcome to the site! Very interesting question. First, I think you mean "if there are two or more consonants". Secondly, I think the question that must be answered first is this: can a syllable in ancipital position (denoted by a cross: "can be either long or short") be long or short at all? Or does it have no decided length?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 3:08
  • In general, though, what makes a syllable long is either a long vowel, or closure by means of a consonant. When you see rex et, the syllables are rek-set, and that's why the first syllable is long. In cor et, the syllables are co-ret; and the o itself is short, so the first syllable is short, because it is open and it doesn't contain a long vowel. Because rex can never use all of its ending consonants, it must always contain a long syllable.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 3:14

1 Answer 1


In scansion, a vowel is long by position if there are more than two consonants between it and the next vowel.

This is the usual way of putting it, but it's inacccurate/misleading in a couple of ways.

First, it's not really the vowel that is long by position; it's the syllable that is long, or in a different terminology, "heavy". (Linguists these days speak of "light" and "heavy" syllables, to avoid possible confusion with "long" and "short" vowels.)

Second and relatedly, the reason that a vowel followed by two or more consonants is "long by position" is really that in such a case, the syllable ends with a consonant, and is therefore heavy: e.g. a word like centum gets syllabified cen-tum, and any syllable that ends with a consonant (like cen) is heavy, i.e. can fill a "long" verse position.

What this all leads to is that it doesn't matter whether the word is at the end of a line or not: a word like rex will always form a heavy syllable, so will always count as metrically long.

(That said, since you're asking about dactylic hexameter: in that meter, any syllable, light or heavy, can stand at the end of a line, so in that context, everything I said above actually doesn't matter. Even a syllable with a short vowel and no final consonant can stand at the end of a hexameter line.)

  • 2
    ...And additionally, "rex" had an actually long vowel, so the syllable would be heavy even without the final consonants.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 3:50
  • Do you mean that a syllable ending in a (single) consonant is always heavy? I wouldn't scan so at the end of a word if the next one starts with a vowel. Consider the (mock-up) pentameter: Illud abest mihi nunc excruciorque ab eo. Or would you say that the second and third syllables are lu and da instead of lud and a (and similarly in ab eo)? Rex has a double consonant so it's different.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 8:24
  • The last syllable of a verse is ALWAYS metrically long. This is true not only for hexameter, but for all metres.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 9:02
  • 1
    @JoonasIlmavirta In such cases, syllabification in verse crosses word boundaries. So yes: il-lu-da-best.
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 16:54
  • @fdb That was actually the way I initially phrased it. But since the long/short contrast is neutralized in that position, I wonder if there's any good basis for calling such syllables "long" (rather than simply saying that the meter allows any syllable to stand in that position).
    – TKR
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 17:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.