I have come across the term brevis brevians a couple of times on this site. Unfortunately Google does not provide me with a clear definition with examples, so I am still not entire sure what it means.

Using the sources I found, it looks like brevis brevians means that a long syllable can be scanned short of it follows a short syllable and the metre requires it. But I'm not sure if my interpretation is correct. Maybe it means something more, something less, or something slightly different. If this was covered in my metric poetry class years ago, I have completely forgotten, although I remember most of my metric theory pretty well.

Could someone give me a definition and some examples?

  • 5
    Lindsay's Early Latin Verse gives a ton of examples.
    – cmw
    Apr 14, 2017 at 14:20
  • 1
    One interesting feature of brevis brevians that confuses me a little is that it could apparently make syllables that were heavy due to the presence of a final consonant (so-called "long by position) become light, just as well as it caused the shortening of long vowels. The long-to-short vowel conversion has clear implications for pronunciation, but it's hard for me to imagine how the heavy-to-light closed syllable conversion would be realized phonetically.
    – Asteroides
    Apr 15, 2017 at 2:28
  • Relevant Google Books passage I found: books.google.com/…
    – Asteroides
    Apr 15, 2017 at 2:28
  • 4
    There is a new article called on Wikipedia which should answer a lot of these questions: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brevis_brevians Aug 17, 2022 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


For reference:

iambus: light + heavy
pyrrhicus: light + light
creticus: heavy + light + heavy
dactylus: heavy + light + light

Brevis Brevians is a tendency in early Latin, first attested in early metric poetry, to reduce the length of the second syllable of iambic words, resulting in a pyrrhic word. The same principle applies if the word is a cretic, which then mutates to a dactylus. It is also possible for it to occur on the second syllable of four-syllable words, but this is rare.

I don't have any examples in verses, because Plautine meter gives me chills, but I do have a number of single-word examples written down: ho̯mo̯, ma̯le̯, gu̯be̯rnabunt, ... The application of Brevis Brevians is, in Plautus, not necessarily limited within one word. There are instances like e̯t i̯llorum and even, with elision, a̯ge a̯bdūce.

Brevis Brevians is quite common in Plautine drama, and most probably originates in an actual linguistic tendency. It is retained in the classical language in common words which kept their pyrrhic form, like mălĕ and bĕnĕ, where the adverbial -e is expected to be long, and in ĕgŏ (compare: ἐγω). Others, like homo, reverted back to a long final vowel even in other preclassical poets:

Samnis, | spurcu̯s ho|mō, vi|ta illa | dignu̯s lo|coque (Lucilius 150 Marx)

The pattern is, as one might intuitively expect, less common in declined nominal and verbal forms, because of the strong paradigmatic analogy with non-iambic and non-cretic forms that retain the final heavy syllable.

Sources: Nougaret 1956, Sturtevant 1940, Mester 1994, Marotta 2000, Hayes 1989

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