How did Latins distinguish short or long vowels when they read a text? Does exist any rule such as open / closed syllable?

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    Welcome to the site! What do you exactly mean by "distinguish"? Are you asking about how they could tell the difference when listening, or perhaps when speaking? Or is this about written instead of spoken language? Please edit your question to elaborate. (Edit, don't just comment.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 15, 2021 at 14:02
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    Assuming you're talking about writing (as opposed to speaking), this has actually been covered elsewhere. I'll close this for now and if you like you can edit it to differentiate this question from answers elsewhere.
    – cmw
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:14
  • And feel free to ask if you have any questions!
    – cmw
    Aug 15, 2021 at 20:09
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    I think the downvotes are due to the question being so short. If you show that you have searched and read past questions on similar topics and elaborate on what you want to know, our users tend to receive the question much better. The underlying question is good, I think, so the score is mostly due to presentation.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 15, 2021 at 20:26
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    If your question is whether there are general rules for predicting vowel length, the answer is no -- it has to be learned separately for each word/morpheme.
    – TKR
    Aug 15, 2021 at 20:49

1 Answer 1


Vowel quantity is an aspect of spoken Latin that is typically not represented in writing. This is the case today, and was in the antiquity. I find this to be no different to how in many languages (like Russian, Italian, and English) stress is a significant feature of the spoken language but is not indicated in writing. Writing is only a hint to pronunciation, and proficiency is needed to turn text into speech.

The Romans did have ways to mark long vowels, but they rarely used them. In modern contexts macrons are typically considered supporting material for learners. A fluent speaker of Latin, be it in ancient Rome or in today's world, is simply expected to be familiar with the quantities of most vowels in the words and endings.

Over time a Latin learner develops a good sense of what is a likely quantity, but nothing is foolproof, not even to a native. So, in answer to your question, the Romans didn't distinguish long and short vowels in writing because they didn't feel a sufficient need to do so.

  • Thank you, I mean Old English also didn't distinguish long ī and short i in writing but this distinction could be defined by consonants i.e. if "i" was followed by a consonant cluster it was always short i (at least this is true for verbs, class 3 strong verbs bindan, stincan) if "i" wasn't followed by a consonant cluster it was long ī class 1 strong verbs rīdan, slīdan) Aug 15, 2021 at 20:20
  • In other words in my opinion the written distinction between long ī and short i in OE is redundant. Aug 15, 2021 at 20:31

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