When a stress falls on a long vowel or a diphthong as in, for example:

dīcō (IPA /ˈdiː.koː/)
coepiō (IPA: /ˈkoe̯.pi.oː/)

should I think that the emphasis:

  1. falls on the first mora,
  2. falls on the second mora,
  3. is evenly distributed between the two, or
  4. can do one of them or something else, but it depends.

Which one of these is the case in classical Latin?


I am trying to make sure that I am not overlooking some distinction similar to:

λύων vs. λῦον

  • Are you interested in classical pronunciation or some later variant? I can tell you where my stress is, but Cicero might disagree.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 10:39
  • 1
    imho in dīcō the first mora is stressed (CVV.CVV), whereas in coepiō the second mora is stressed (CVV.CV.VV).
    – Alex B.
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 16:31
  • 1
    What I mean is that in Greek, a long vowel or diphthong always has one of two possible pitch contours, and the difference is grammatically significant. In other words, accent (phonetically expressed by high pitch) is linked to individual moras. In Latin, this isn't the case -- accent (expressed most probably by a combination of volume and pitch prominence) is only linked to syllables, so it doesn't make sense to ask the question "which mora is accented?". Latin doesn't have a distinction of the kind you describe in the last part of the question.
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 3:22
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    @TKR. That was the sort of thing I wanted to find out; that some distinction I neglected was not going to rear its head later and bite me. Thanks.
    – Catomic
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 3:53
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    @AlexB., not with specific reference to Latin accentuation, I don't think. But I'd certainly be interested in hearing more if you know of recent work that contradicts what I said above.
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 4:14

1 Answer 1


We don't know any phonetic details about Latin stress/accentuation.

The phonology of Latin stress is also somewhat uncertain, but it is not thought that there was a phonologically distinctive contrast in Latin between different types of stress contours for a syllable.

("Coepio" might be a confusing example since apparently there is evidence that the "o" and "e" in this word were sometimes were pronounced as separate syllables. I would guess pronunciation as separate syllables might be theoretically possible wherever "oe" is derived from separate morphemes, rather than from an Old Latin diphthong. An example of "oe" that Lewis and Short seems to indicate was never pronounced as a diphthong is "coemo"—although there was a contracted form "como". Another similarly ambiguous sequence of letters is "eu" as in "neuter" < "ne + uter".)

Some ancient grammarians alleged there was a difference between "acute" and "circumflex" accentuation that was conditioned by the word's phonological form

Some Latin authors describe Latin syllables as being able to be pronounced with either an "acute" or "circumflex" accent, as in Greek, but there doesn't actually seem to have been a contrast in any context between acute and circumflex accentuation in Latin the way that there could be in Greek ultima syllables with long vowels. Rather, the described distribution of acute and circumflex accents in Latin is apparently predictable based on the vowel length and the position of the accent.

Sturtevent 1920 (p. 216) cites Donatus iv, p. 371 8 ff. K. as giving the following rules. The acute accent is used in most contexts; the circumflex accent was only supposed to be used when the accented vowel was long and occurred in a monosyllable or in the penult syllable of a word with a short vowel in the ultima.

Based on these rules, dīcō and coepiō would both have an acute accent, while pīla and rēs would have a circumflex accent.

But modern scholars tend to dismiss these accounts as misrepresentations based on the model of Greek accentuation.

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