In Latin there is only one type of R and as far as I know the combination RH does not appear in native Latin words. The corresponding Greek letter rho can have two kinds of breathing (rough ῥ, smooth ῤ). When a word (incl. name) is transliterated from Latin to Greek, which rho is used? Is it always smooth? I assume smooth is closer to the pronunciation in Latin.

1 Answer 1


First, a pretty banal orthographic point. In Greek, only initial rho has a breathing mark, and there are only two recorded words (ῤάρος and its diminutive ῤάριον) that use a smooth breathing. Though it's not entirely clear why these words have a smooth breathing, they are obviously anomalies.

The above strongly suggests that smooth rho wouldn't have been used to transcribe Latin words beginning with "r." It becomes even more convincing if we introduce the most basic of counterexamples: "Roma": Ῥώμη (= Rhōmē).

  • Funny that ῤάρος looks a lot like rare or even more like the Spanish calque, as in vocablos raros (rare/uncommon terms.)
    – Rafael
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 18:20
  • I seem to faintly recall seeing breathing marks on a rho inside a word, but it might be just my memory failing. If that doesn't happen (or is rare) and initial rhos have essentially always rough breathing, that settles the issue completely.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 20:15
  • @Hugh I think it was indeed with a double rho. I somehow imagined that breathing was marked for other internal rhos, too. (Shows how well I know Greek!) Now it all makes sense, thanks!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 23:36
  • On second thoughts I think I must have that wrong; that would mean that in the imperfect or aorist a verb such a rrheo (flow) would have three consecutive breathings. I think that in some fonts the initial rrh- was marked with two breathings. So, if you like, the second rho is an internal rho with a rough breathing.
    – Hugh
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 0:05
  • 1
    @Hugh Hmm... Maybe it would be best to ask a separate question about breathing on double rhos instead of discussing it here in comments. I don't think we have anything on the topic yet. I'm not sure I want to post it myself, but I'll be happy to see it.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 9:08

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