In the following, vowel quantities which I am uncertain of, will be marked with both a breve and a macron, so they should not be considered the answer; that is what I am searching for.

This whole investigation began with collē̆ctiō. I was surprised to see that both Gaffiot and L&S listed it as collectiō, whereas Wiktionary lists it as collēctiō. The Wikipedia entry lists it as following:

  1. collēctiō < collēctus +‎ -tiō, from colligō.
  2. colligō < con- +‎ legō
  3. legō, legere, lēgī, lēctum

Gaffiot and L&S agree on 1 and 2, but on 3, they list the following:

  • Gaffiot: lĕgo lēgi, lectum, ĕre
  • L&S: lĕgo, lēgi, lectum

Both agree that it has no clear vowel length; they do not specify it as neither short nor long. I then tried to have a look at the PIE origin of legō via the Wiktionary entry, to see if there could be any clue there, here with the entries relevant for Latin listed:

*leǵ- (imperfective)
to gather, collect, with derivatives meaning to speak

Derived terms
Terms derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *leǵ-

  • *leǵ- (root present)
    • Proto-Italic: *legō
      • Latin: legō (see there for further descendants)
  • leǵ-s
    • Proto-Italic: *lēks
      • Latin: lēx

This is about where my ability to gather clues and derive any firm conclusions stop. Thus my question: What is the correct vowel quantity for the participle of legō: lē̆ctum? Adding an explanation of why would be most helpful. I am aware of the phenomenon of creating perfect tenses by vowel lengthening, and suspect therefore that the Wiktionary entry in fact is the more precise, but am not well-enough versed in this to arrive at any conclusions myself.


3 Answers 3


Hidden quantity in long syllables

The convention adopted by Lewis and Short seems to be not to indicate a vowel quantity if the syllable is long anyway. For example, they write făcĭo, fēci, factum, without indicating whether it is făctum or fāctum. In fact, what they indicate with a macron might well be the length of the whole syllable, not just the vowel, and the consonant cluster ct makes it evident that the syllable is long. In cases like this the quantity of the vowel is hidden: no metric considerations will reveal it.

I find this annoying. While knowing the length of each syllable is enough for figuring out whether you are scanning poetry right, it is not all there is to pronunciation. (This might have to do with my native language making a distinction between 'autonsa' and 'autoonsa', so to me hidden quantities make an audible difference in pronunciation.) I would be interested in knowing whether they have deemed hidden quantities just uninteresting or also unknowable. The conclusion is: Don't take the lack of a macron or breve as a sign of anything in L&S if the quantity of the vowel is hidden.

The OLD also gives the past participle as lectum without diacritics. The conventions section at the start explicitly states: "Normally only long vowels in a metrically indeterminate position are marked."

Dictionaries that do have an opinion

Many otherwise good dictionaries don't seem to indicate hidden quantities. But there are dictionaries out there that do, so let's look at them.

  • Reijo Pitkäranta's Lexicon Finnico–Latino–Finnicum (or Suomi–latina–suomi-sanakirja) says lēctum (and lēctor and lēctiō).
  • The older Finnish dictionary by Adolf V. Streng (Latinalais-suomalainen sanakirja) does the same.
  • Wiktionary, as you mention, gives lēctum.

These are all the dictionaries I was able to locate that did state something about the quantity. They all agree, so lēctum it is. I am fully aware that this is not a linguistic proof by any means; this is just an exercise in using dictionaries. Perhaps someone can provide something more etymologically-natured in another answer?

In general

If you need to figure out the hidden length of a vowel, it can be a little tedious to ask here every time. (You are welcome to if you want to!) What you need is to find a reliable dictionary that does indicate these quantities, and use it as reference material. You could even purchase a copy of either of the two dictionaries for Finns I mentioned; you only need to look up the spellings of the Latin words.

If anyone has good suggestions for dictionaries of this kind, especially online, I would be happy to mention them here. Wiktionary is the only one I know to fit the bill, and it is not the most trustworthy of sources.

  • 1
    Thank you for this answer; it explains the cause of the problem excellently; I had not considered that they could have made such editorial choices. I just unpacked (box 5 today!) my Latinsk ordbok, and am pleasantly surprised to see that it does in fact list all long vowels, as your Finnish dictionary does. ••• In my dialect too (though this would be neither Bokmål nor Nynorsk pronunciation of Norwegian), as well as that of my wife’s, we can have both short vowel + long consonant and long vowel + long consonant, e.g. /mɑɲː/ means ‘man’ and /mɑːɲː/ ‘the man’, so I can feel your frustration!
    – Canned Man
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 15:02
  • 2
    Gaffiot 2016 is a good source for 'hidden' vowel lengths (that is not publicly edited, unlike Wiktionary) and is available at Logeion: logeion.uchicago.edu/lego
    – Asteroides
    Commented Mar 5 at 22:29
  • @Asteroides Thanks! That does indeed look very useful for that purpose.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 6 at 0:55

It's long.

The two consonants after the vowel mean that poetic meter can't tell us anything about the vowel length. However, ē and ĕ had different descendants in Romance: ē became Proto-Romance e, while ĕ became Proto-Romance ɛ.

In stressed syllables, Spanish generally shows e for Romance e, but ie for Romance ɛ: miedo < mĕtum "fear", but deber < dēbēre "owe". And fortunately for us, a derivative of collēctus with appropriate stress survived into Spanish: cosecha < collēcta "gathered (crops)".

  • 1
    Spanish "e" didn't diphthongize before Latin -ct- > "ch", possibly because of vowel raising from the following palatal. Thus lĕctum, *pĕctum > Sp. lecho, pecho rather than *liecho, piecho. (Although the etymology still supports reconstructing a long vowel in collēctum.)
    – Asteroides
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 17:52

Per Bennett (The Latin Language, 1907:52), Aulus Gellius in Attic Nights 9.6 tells us that lēctus has a long vowel. Bennett also mentions an inscription with an apex.

Here is the relevant context in Noctes Atticae 9.6:

Ab eo, quod est 'ago' et 'egi', uerba sunt, quae appellant grammatici 'frequentatiua', 'actito' et 'actitaui'. Haec quosdam non sane indoctos uiros audio ita pronuntiare, ut primam in his litteram corripiant, rationemque dicunt, quoniam in uerbo principali, quod est 'ago', prima littera breuiter pronuntiatur. Cur igitur ab eo, quod est 'edo' et 'ungo', in quibus uerbis prima littera breuiter dicitur, 'esito' et 'unctito', quae sunt eorum frequentatiua, prima littera longa promimus et contra 'dictito' ab eo uerbo, quod est 'dico', correpte dicimus? num ergo potius 'actito' et 'actitaui' producenda sunt? quoniam frequentatiua ferme omnia eodum modo in prima syllaba dicuntur, quo participia praeteriti temporis ex his uerbis, unde ea profecta sunt, in eadem syllaba pronuntiantur, sicuti 'lego, lectus' facit 'lectito'; 'ungo, unctus' 'unctito'; 'scribo, scriptus' 'scriptito'; 'moueo, motus' 'motito'; 'pendeo, pensus' 'pensito'; 'edo, esus' 'esito'; 'dico' autem 'dictus' 'dictito' facit; 'gero, gestus' 'gestito'; 'ueho, uectus' 'uectito'; 'rapio, raptus' 'raptito'; 'capio, captus' 'captito'; 'facio, factus' 'factito'. Sic igitur 'actito' producte in prima syllaba pronuntiandum, quoniam ex eo fit, quod est 'ago' et 'actus'.

My translation:

From "ago" and "egi", there are verbs, that the grammarians call "frequentatives", "actito" and "actitavi". I hear some certainly not unlearned men pronounce these such that they shorten the first letter in them, and say the reason is that in the original verb, which is "ago", the first letter is pronounced short. Why then from "edo" and "ungo", in which verbs the first letter is said short, "esito" and "unctito", which are their frequentatives, we utter with a long first letter and on the other hand "dictito" from "dico" we pronounce shortened? Should "actito" and "actitavi" be lengthened instead? Since nearly all frequentatives are pronounced in the first syllable in the same way as the participles of the preterite tense of these verbs, from which they are derived, are pronounced in that same syllable, just as "lego, lectus" makes "lectito"; "ungo, unctus" "unctito"; "scribo, scriptus" "scriptito"; "moveo, motus" "motito"; "pendeo, pensus" "pensito"; "edo, esus" "esito"; but "dico, dictus" makes "dictito", "gero, gestus" "gestito", "veho, vectus" "vectito"; "rapio, raptus" "raptito"; "capio, captus" "captito"; "facio, factus" "factito". Therefore "actito" should be pronounced lengthened in the first syllable, since it is from "ago" and "actus".

There is a disputed explanation for length in such participles, called Lachmann's law (as mentioned by Alex B.'s comment). Bennett mentions an obsolete formulation of this law; a modified version of Lachmann's explanation is accepted by some present-day scholars, rejected by others.

Pace Draconis's answer, Spanish cosecha doesn't help us here because -ech- is the regular outcome in Spanish of both Latin -ĕct- and -ēct-: Latin lĕctum, pectus~*pĕctum, tēctum, dērēctum yield Spanish lecho, pecho, techo, derecho (contrast French lit, pis 'udder' vs. toit, droit).

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