All dictionaries I have seen that state vowel quantities simply state them but do not explain how the quantity of each vowel was determined. The same goes for the distinctions between vocalic and consonantal I/J and U/V. Is there a dictionary which explains how the pronunciation is known? I suppose it would be an etymological dictionary of sorts.

For example, a dictionary might tell me that a perfect form of velle is voluī. But how do we know that it is not volvī or vōluī? (Please don't answer this specific question. I am looking for a resource where answers like this could be found.) The explanations could be, for example, citations of specific verses where scansion indicates the pronunciation.

I recently answered a question about the pronunciation of quoniam. Lewis and Short indicate that it is quoniam instead of quonjam (despite being related to jam) but there is no indication of how the conclusion was reached. The process of making a corpus search for metric evidence and parsing the output for a useful conclusion can take a while, and usually the end result can be condensed down to what would work in a dictionary: "quonjam would not scan right in Catullus 61.196."

Is there a dictionary of metric evidence for pronunciation? Of course some things are hidden (like vowel quantity in closed syllables), but I would be happy enough with the metrically visible features. (See this question for hidden quantities.) They would also be easy to justify by quoting poets.

If there is no such resource, what comes closest?

  • 1
    I wish there were such a dictionary! Unfortunately, I have never seen anything like that. Typically such information is scattered across historical grammars of Latin (most of them in German, some in English). That being said, we have the Thesaurus linguae Latinae (TLL) thesaurus.badw.de/en/project.html , so sometimes it is mentioned there, especially in those cases when it was mentioned by the grammarians or posited on etymological grounds. see e.g. how comprehensive their treatment of iam is publikationen.badw.de/en/thesaurus/lemmata#47477
    – Alex B.
    Dec 17, 2020 at 16:52
  • The OLD also helps in some cases (I think they use a lot of the TLL data, naturally). For instance, for quoniam they say "trisyll." (i.e. three syllables)
    – Alex B.
    Dec 17, 2020 at 16:56
  • Only related, maybe useful here: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/1850/… Dec 20, 2020 at 21:13

1 Answer 1


The Oxford Latin dictionary typically provides the etymology of any given word, whether it is another Latin word, or one of Greek, Sanskrit, PIE, Celtic, Iberian, Germanic, Carthaginian, etc origin. It will also tell you the number of syllables in ambiguous words volvi vs volui (both would be listed as uolui), as far as distinguishing them yourself, there are a few helpful hints to remember.

If you're looking at a dictionary form and see the uolui example as before, the other principle parts can help clear it up. Also v is usually followed up by a vowel, u is almost always with a consonant.

I and J work the same way, with nearby vowels and consonants helping clear it up.

The main source of confusion I've seen is with some compounds like diiudico for example. But breaking it up shows you have dī then iūdicō.

Part of the issue your facing is that when most of these dictionaries were put together, like the OLD and Lewis and Shorts (both started 100 years ago at least), people were much better at, and familiar with Latin than they are today, so knowing this sort of thing was reflexive.

As for your quoniam remark, if you realize that it was originally spelled (and pronounced) quomjam (with the consonantal pronunciation) and say that aloud to yourself a few times, you'll find that you're basically saying quoniam (with the vowel i) already. M does not do well followed by consonants, hence the similar eundem (instead of eumdem). The spelling came after the pronunciation.

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