I came along these in a Latin song our choir is singing. How to pronounce them? I guess I can absorb an international phonetic alphabet transcription.

Update after reading some answers: I should have stated that I know that there are different traditions in pronouncing Latin. I am interested in all possible pronunciations. Could e.g.'que' be pronounced as "ke" (or "kɛ", ...) i.e. without glide?


5 Answers 5


The first question is, what tradition are you following?

In the reconstructed Classical pronunciation, the way scholars think Romans spoke around the first century, they'd be pronounced [kʷɛ] and [ˈɑŋ.gɛ.liː]. In English, approximately "kweh" and "AHNG-geh-lee".

In the common Ecclesiastic pronunciation, the system the Vatican uses, they'd be pronounced [kʷe] [ˈɑn.d͡ʒɛ.li]. In English, approximately "kway" and "AHN-jeh-lee".

However, there have been a wide variety of Latin pronunciations used across the centuries. It's worth asking which your chorus is using: while most use Ecclesiastic pronunciation, for example, some choruses would use a German pronunciation for Bach, but an Italian pronunciation for Palestrina.

Some of these regional pronunciations used [k] instead of [kʷ] before [e], as you mention in the comments—based on how the Romance languages developed, I would expect this in France and Spain, but not in Portugal or Italy (or Germany or England for that matter). In Germany or Russia, on the other hand, you'd find something more like [kv].

However, these regional pronunciations aren't generally used nowadays, unless you're singing music by a specifically French or Spanish composer. You should talk to your director about that.

  • Thanks. I am interested in all possible pronunciations. Could 'que' be pronounced as "ke" or "kɛ"? (This is what I told my friends, but promised to check it:-)
    – wondering
    Feb 10, 2019 at 0:20
  • @wondering Added a note about that.
    – Draconis
    Feb 10, 2019 at 1:09
  • Why do you write the vowels of "que" and "angeli" differently in "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation? My understanding is that Ecclesiastical pronunciation has no standardized distinction between /e/ and /ɛ/, and both "-que" and "angeli" had short e in Latin anyway (except for when "-que" was positioned in the "arsis", apparently).
    – Asteroides
    Feb 10, 2019 at 7:09
  • @sumelic My understanding was that Ecclesiastical vowels tend to "weaken" (lower) a bit when adjacent to the stressed syllable.
    – Draconis
    Feb 10, 2019 at 17:01
  • 3
    Would't -que and the second syllable of angeli both be in the same context in terms of stress, though? I think both would be unstressed and directly after the stressed syllable of the word. Aside from that, it sounds a bit odd to me that "e" would lower in unstressed syllables in Ecclesiastical Latin, since the reverse happens in Italian: Italian has [ɛ] only in stressed syllables, and turns it into [e] when stress is shifted to another syllable.
    – Asteroides
    Feb 10, 2019 at 18:34

Note: This answer should be regarded as an adjunct to the answers already given by user22198 and Draconis.

Both correctly mention that there are different traditions in pronouncing Latin, including a reconstructed Classical pronunciation, and an "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation. There also have existed various national pronunciations, as Draconis mentions.

Your question about que being possibly pronounced as [kɛ] is most likely true for certain "national" pronunciations in the past (I'd guess e.g. probably French and Spanish), but is not followed by the pronunciations in common use to-day. In fact, the de facto pronunciation for Latin used in singing is nowadays the "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation (and therefore quite likely by your choir). (Although I have heard some Mediaeval music pronounced with a German, or at least non-Italianate, mediaeval pronunciation, as Draconis alludes to.)

You might be interested in this related post.


"All possible pronunciations" is a pretty tall order.


As far as I know, "que" in Latin does not exist as an independent word, only as the enclitic/suffix -que, which doesn't receive stress in prose (the existence of "stress" in Latin poetry is a disputed point). Latin -que is a conjunction that can be translated as "and".


The "Ecclesiastical" (Italian-based, although perhaps not exactly identical to Italian) pronunciation of -que would be something like [kwɛ]. There doesn't seem to be any clear rule about the use of [e] vs. [ɛ] in "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation, so [kwe] might also be possible. There is no contrast between [kw], [kʷ] and [ku̯] in this context, so you might see the onset transcribed as any of these.


The reconstructed Classical Latin pronunciation is approximately the same. The onset is the "qu" sound, and the nucleus is the "ĕ" ("short e") sound (with the exception that, according to Lewis and Short, the vowel may be lengthened in the "arsis" in poetry). The Classical Latin "qu" sound has been variously analyzed as either a single labiovelar phoneme /kʷ/ or as a sequence /kw/. We will never be able to be sure of the exact phonetic realization. Latin didn't have a contrast of velar vs. palatal plosives, or front rounded vs. back rounded glides; it has been suggested that in Classical Latin the glide of the "qu" sound was fronted before a front vowel. Wiktionary gives a reconstructed phonetic transcription "[kᶣɛ]", although I would expect the plosive part of the "qu" to also be fronted in a context like that, so maybe something like [cᶣɛ] would be possible. (In various modern Romance languages, such as French, the velar stop phonemes are supposed to have palatal stop allophones that are used before front vowels.)

There seems to be general agreement on the value of Classical Latin ĕ being [ɛ], although [e] may have existed as an allophone (e.g. it has been suggested that a realization like [e] could occur in words like meum).

The distinct phoneme ē ("long e") is reconstructed as being [eː] for at least some of the Classical Latin time period; from what I've read, ē is often thought to have been [ɛː] at some earlier stage.


As mentioned, other traditions have further variations in pronunciation. "Qu" is traditionally /kv/ (phonetically, devoicing of the /v/ may occur in contexts like this in many languages, so possibly [kf]) in German pronunciation, and I think in the pronunciation of some other regions. "Qu" in traditional French pronunciation is often pronounced as French /k/, which as mentioned above is supposed to have [c] as an allophone.

From what I remember, in German pronunciation vowel "length" and "quality" is traditionally determined mostly from context (such as syllable structure), so the traditional German pronunciation of "-que" would I think be /kveː/, not /kvɛ/.

I don't know how French traditional pronunciation treated the vowel "e" in contexts like this, but I doubt that /ɛ/ would be used.

In "traditional English pronunciation" of Latin, "-que" would be something like /kwi/ (since it is unstressed, I think the vowel would be /i/ and not /iː/, although I'm not entirely sure).



The "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation would be something like [ˈand͡ʒɛli].

In a "reference" Italian accent, a coda nasal assimilates in place to a following plosive; I don't know enough to give a detailed description of the quality of "[n]" in this context, but Wikipedia suggests it would be something like [n̠ʲ].

The "a" vowel of Italian and Ecclesiastical Latin is typically described as being phonetically central [a], not back [ɑ], although the difference is not contrastive.

In actual Italian, the distinction between /e/ and /ɛ/ is neutralized in unstressed syllables, and the merged realization is typically transcribed as [e]. But as I mentioned earlier, there doesn't seem to be a clear rule about when [e] vs. [ɛ] should be used in an "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation of Latin.


The reconstructed Classical Latin pronunciation is something like [ˈaŋgɛliː]. The final vowel is long. As mentioned earlier, there was no phonemic contrast between velar and palatal stops in Classical Latin, so we don't know whether coarticulation with/assimilation to the following front vowel might have caused the "ng" to be pronounced as something like [ɲɟ] in this context.

As far as I know, there is little evidence that would provide grounds for reconstructing the specific quality of the Classical Latin "a" sound. It is agreed that it was an open/low vowel, but that would be compatible with anything in the range of [a], [ɑ] or [ɐ].


In "traditional English pronunciation", angeli would be ˈændʒəlaɪ (or possibly /ˈændʒɪlaɪ/? I'm not sure whether /ɪ/ would be possible in an accent without the "weak vowel merger").

In traditional German pronunciation, I believe it would be [ˈaŋgeli].

  • Unlike other answers, you don't mention [kɛ] as a possible pronunciation for 'que'. Does it mean that you don't think it can be pronounced that way?
    – wondering
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:12
  • @wondering: I can't think of any particular tradition where -que would be pronounced as [kɛ] as opposed to [ke]. In many languages, such as Spanish, there is no phonemic distinction between [e] and [ɛ], and the neutralized sound is typically transcribed /e/, but may have a range that overlaps with both "[e]" and "[ɛ]" sounds of other languages.
    – Asteroides
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:16
  • I am sorry for not writing my comment fully, I was actually interested of both [kɛ] and [ke] as possible pronunciations (or, for that matter, any pronunciation which would take [k] before [e], instead of [kʷ]). Nevertheless, you don't mention neither [kɛ] nor [ke]. But this is what one would expect in Italy and Spain, right?
    – wondering
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:27
  • @wondering: In standard Italian, "qu" retains the glide, so [ke] would not be expected. (There are many regional varieties of Italian, and I don't know about the treatment of "qu" in them.) Spain I think would have /ke/ as a possible realization, but I would have to check to make sure.
    – Asteroides
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:29
  • @wondering: If you can somehow get your hands on Harold Copeman's Singing in Latin: Or Pronunciation Explor'd, it covers many of these kinds of details. I read it a while ago, but not front-to-cover, and I don't remember all of the parts that I did read. It seems to be expensive, but you might be able to get access to it through a library near you--that's what I did.
    – Asteroides
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:35

It depends on the pronunciation you are using.
If you want classical reconstructed pronunciation, the one Romans used, you say something like [kwe] and [ˈaŋ.ɡɛ.li].
If you want ecclesiastical pronunciation, which is used by the Catholic Church, you say some thing like [kwe] and [ˈan.d͡ʒe.li]
I hope it helped.

  • Thanks. I am interested in all possible pronunciations. Could 'que' be pronounced as "ke" or "kɛ"? (This is what I told my friends, but promised to check it:-)
    – wondering
    Feb 10, 2019 at 0:22

None of the "standard" contemporary pronunciations of Latin pronounce /kwe/ as /ke/. Maybe it was pronounced that way in Late Latin or in some medieval regional pronunciation, I can't say for sure, there was a lot of variety until the 19th century or so, but the fact is that both the classical pronunciation (used by ancient Romans and by modern academicists) and the ecclesiastical pronunciation (used by choirs and churches) pronounce it as /kwe/ (further details like a low mid × high mid realization of "e" are debatable), and these two are basically the pronunciation schemes you are going to hear nowadays.

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