Allen's Vox Latina, 2nd edition (1988) metions that there is occasional "poetic interchange" in Latin of syllabic [u] and non-syllabic [w], mentioning trisyllabic silua and disyllabic genva as examples ("Consonants", u, page 41).

I'd like to know more about where this interchange can be seen.

I found the following list of examples of -u- in place of -v- in An elementary manual of Latin prosody by William Ramsay (1859):

Lucretius has su̇ėmus, su̇ėti, su̇ėrit, su̇ėrint, su̇ėsse, su̇ȧdent, reliqu̇ȧs, reliqu̇ȯ, although ua and ue in these words is almost uniformly a single syllable in other poets. Catullus has solu̇it, solu̇u̇nt, dissolu̇ȯ, evolu̇ȧm, pervolu̇ėnt.
Tibullus, dissolu̇ėnda, dissolu̇isse, solu̇isse.
Horace, silu̇aė, su̇ėtae, milu̇ȯ.
Propertius, evolu̇isse.
Ovid, dissolu̇ȧntur, evolu̇isse, involu̇isse, exsolu̇isse, persolu̇ėre, persolu̇ėnda, milu̇u̇s. Lucan and Silius, Su̇ėvos, &c.
Some prosodians class with these relangu̇it [...] But this is a bad example, for in relanguit, the perfect tense of relanguesco, the vowels u and i always form separate syllables.

(page 69)

-qu- and -gu-

The most surprising part to me of Ramsay's list was reliqu̇ȧs, reliqu̇ȯ. I looked through De Rerum Natura in the PHI Latin texts corpus and I think the following lines are what the above quote refers to:

  • numquam relicuo reparari tempore posset. - De Rerum Natura 1.560

  • corpore relicuo pugnam caedesque petessit, - De Rerum Natura 3.648

  • relicuas tamen esse vias in mente patentis, - De Rerum Natura 4.976

In apparent conflict with these examples, though, a comment by Alex B. mentions a passage in The Phonology of Classical Latin (2020), where András Cser writes that syllabification of [w] to [u] "never happens to the [w] involved in〈qu〉or〈gu〉: a word like aqua or inguen is always two syllables" (page 31).

Is there possibly a difference between the behavior of〈qu〉or〈gu〉that come from PIE simple labiovelar stops, versus 〈qu〉or〈gu〉that come from a PIE labiovelar or velar stop followed by an originally separate [u] or [w]?

I found a reference in Adam's Latin Grammar to a trisyllabic pronunciation even of aquae, which seems truly incredible to me. The section on diaeresis mentions this line:

Quae calidum faciunt aqüae tactum atque vaporem. Lucr.

(Adam's Latin Grammar, by Allen Fisk, 1822, "Figures in Scanning", 4, page 186)

However, I did find sources that indicate that the reading aqüae is debatable, as manuscripts apparently have laticis instead of aquae and there is an alternative scan (discussed by Bede) of "aquae" as a disyllable with a heavy first syllable (1, 2, 3).

But then after finding those sources, I found a source that says that trisyllabic aquae is in fact found in other places in Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura 6.552 and 6.1072 (The Early Textual History of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, by David Butterfield, 2013, page 81).

  • Fit quoque, ubi in magnas aquae vastasque lucunas - De Rerum Natura 6.552

  • vitigeni latices aquai fontibus audent - De Rerum Natura 6.1072

It looks like to make meter, aquai in this second line would have to scan as either trisyllabic *āquāī or quadrisyllabic *ăqŭāī; please let me know if I understood this correctly.

Aside from the specific matter of -qu-/-gu-, I would also be interested in any other information that leads me to a more complete understanding of this phenomenon (or these phenomena) and any applicable limits. A related past question by Joonas Ilmavirta♦, Synizesis in perfect tense 'ui', indicates that maybe we do not see -ui- > -vi- in perfect forms of verbs.


  1. The Latin language; an historical account of Latin sounds, stems and flexions, by Wallace Martin Lindsay, 1894, page 87

  2. "The Christianisation of Latin Metre A Study of Bede’s De arte metrica", by Seppo Heikkinen, page 128

  3. De rerum natura, Book 6, commentary by Carlo Giussani, 1898

  • 3
    Re: aquai (or acuai) in Lucretius, the relevant TLL entry says, "prosodiaca: aquae trium syllabarum: LVCR. 6, 552 (ubi v. Lachmannum)" publikationen.badw.de/en/thesaurus/lemmata#9975 and Garrod, H. W. "Aquai in Lucretius." The Classical Review 28, no. 8 (1914): 264-66. jstor.org/stable/699581
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 2:23
  • 2
    That being said, about Lucr. 6. 1072, the same TLL entry says "aqua<i> quattuor syllabarum" (!) - and hence Garrod's conjecture ăquăī <cum> (not accepted by others?), cf. Lachmann 1860 has aqūai archive.org/details/tlucreticarider01lachgoog/page/n250/mode/… David Butterfield or Marcus Deufert should know why. You could also ask Michael Reeve classics.cam.ac.uk/directory/michael-reeve
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 3:25
  • 1
    And I suspect Cser is merely reporting someone else's findings - it's very possible his never statement is too strong. Anyway, I encourage you to look into this and summarize your findings!
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 3:50

1 Answer 1


An interesting discussion.

Re aqua, it is a thorny problem. There are two (indirectly three) cases in Lucretius (and, save for an anonymous tragic line and an anonymous inscription, in Lucretius alone) where aqua cannot be scanned in the usual disyllabic way:

6.552 fit quoque, ubi in magnas aquae uastasque lacunas

where aquae must either be anapaestic or spondaic.

Older editors from Avancius (1500) onwards transposed in and magnas to restore an iambic scansion, but we must also take account of

6.1072 uitigeni latices aquai fontibus audent / misceri

where aquai must be a molossus or ionic a minore.

In fact, the mss here present aqua, which allows for the possibility that misceri is to be constructed with cum. You could then read cum aquai (with cum in prosodic hiatus, as occasionally elsewhere in the poem), or aquae cum (with spondaic/anapaestic scansion again).

But there is a third intriguing piece to the puzzle, as your summary shows.

The verse 6.868 is transmitted as quae calidum faciunt laticis tactum atque uaporem

where latex is used in the standard Lucretian fashion for 'water'. However, Audax (and Bede, who works from him and not from Lucretius) cites this verse as: quae calidum faciunt aquae tactum atque uaporem

What is fascinating, though, is that their discussions (GL VII 328,18-329,3; DAM 16,15-21) are about poets - evidenced only by Lucretius - allowing 'qu' to make position, i.e. they are scanning aquae as a spondee. Is 'laticis' in Lucretius a reader's/scribe's learned replacement for an 'aquae' that seemed unmetrical (either as a spondee or anapaest)? Or was Audax working from memory, and was aware that in Book 6 of Lucretius some funny things seem to happen with aqua, but he misreported a verse into which he introduced the word? All in all, the former may be more likely, in which case we are faced with three metrical oddities that only crop up in the latter half of the last book of the poem.

So, if the cases are not to be emended away, what is more likely:

(i) that Lucretius is allowing diaresis, creating trisyllabic aquae/acuae and, by extension, quadrisyllabic aquai/acuai? (reliquus/-cuus is quadrisyllabic in all four cases in the poem, and diaresis of compounds of soluo and suesco is frequent, alongside occasional instances of suadeo and the like.)


(ii) that Lucretius is allowing 'qu' to make position in this word?

While it is true that the Appendix Probi warns 'aqua non acqua', it may seem far-fetched to argue that option (ii) applied in late-Republican Rome. But the treatment of liquor and liquidus may be of relevance. Both of course have a short 'i' in Latin, and for the most part that is true in Lucretius (x14 nominal, x19 adjectival). But the first syllable can also be long in Lucretius alone (nominal at 1.453, adjectival at 1.349, 2.452, 3.427; the verse 4.1259 shows both quantities). It is unclear what led Lucretius to use the longer scansion - but, given that he did, and that this semantically similar word group is often juxtaposed with aqua - did it allow him an experimental/vulgar pronunciation/scansion of aqua? Does its occurrence twice/thrice in one part of the poem suggest that it was a short-lived licence?

The anonymous senarius (111R = 49 TRF, cited by Cicero at TD 1.10.2, from where Nonius and Priscian take it) can be scanned as spondaic or anapaestic: mento summam aquam attingens enectus siti (earlier editors emend the line in various ways, such as reading fem. amnem for aquam, or positing hiatus). Ritschl did not believe in this instance, or in two other cases adduced by Lachmann from Plautus.

A Pompeian inscription (CIL IV.3948 = CLE 930, first cent. AD?) reads talia te fallant utinam medacia, copo. / tu uendes acuam et bibes ipse merum. Given that uendes and bibes presumably stand for uendis and bibis, and that both cannot scan whether written thus or as -is, perhaps we can regard this as vulgar prosody. If so, notwithstanding the early date, the spondaic reading of aquam seems appreciably more likely than the anapaestic. (The case presented by Paulinus at Carm. 21.785 - quo totiens aquae possessor egere solebas - is generally emended away by inserting a word before aquae, of which more recent suggestions are aqua and et.)

(The most recent Lucretian text, Deufert's Teubner, reads acuae, acuae, acuai respectively.)

The question lies open...

  • 2
    Thanks a lot for such a detailed answer! A side note (you might know this already though) - just saw it in Deufert 2017 Prolegomena Zur Editio Teubneriana des Lukrez, where he explains his choice of acuae - "In Entsprechung hierzu schreibe ich auch sonst konsequent cu statt qu, wenn das u vokalisch gemessen werden muss, also acuae 6, 552 (aquae Ω) und 6, 868 (so die Sekundärüberlieferung; laticis Ω), acuai 6, 1072 (aqua Ω), consecue 5, 679 (consequiae Ω, corr. Lachmann)" (p. 232).
    – Alex B.
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 20:59

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