Some pronounce the trailing "i" in Latin-derived words (e.g., "Gemini") as a long "e" and others pronounce it as a long "i." I was taught the long "e," but is this mere preference or is there a firm basis for one or the other?


4 Answers 4


The trailing i on most masculine nominative plurals in Latin is usually a “long e” /iː/, as has already been stated, like ee in levee or tree. Latin pueri (the boys) would be /pu.eri/ poo-air-ee.

A trailing ae like that found on most feminine nominative plurals is a diphthong which sounds a lot like a “long i” (/aɪ/, [äɪ̯]), but, as it is a diphthong, is more of a switch in sound starting with a “short a” /ɑ/ and ending with a “long e” /iː/, similar to the pronunciation of aye or eye /aɪ/. Thus, Latin puellae (the girls) would be poo-ell-aye /puɛlːaɪ/.

I’s at the beginning of words are pronounced like the y /j/ in yet /jɛt/ or yellow /ˈjɛloʊ/, and C’s were usually hard /k/. So, Julius Caesar (which would have been written ‹Iulius Caesar›, as they didn’t have J’s), would have been pronounced something like Yul-ee-us Kai-sar /ˈjuː.li.ʊs ˈkae̯.sar/, the pronunciation of which is where Germans get the word Kaiser, Russians get Czar, and Arabs get Qaysar, amongst a dozen other languages that have words rooted in the word Caesar.

  • Note that u was pronounced oo. Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 22:14
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    In this answer, you describe the "Reformed pronunciation" that would be used by English speakers in a Latin class, and that is meant to approximate classical pronunciation. However, this pronunciation is not used for all Latin-derived words in English. I have never heard anyone say "ahl-guy" for "algae."
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 17:54

Up until the sixteenth century, English scholars pronounced their Latin '-i' the same way as everybody else did, viz /i:/ ('-ee', if you will).

But when the English long vowels made their great trek around the mouth over the next two centuries, they took the Latin vowels with them on the trip.

So between then and the early 20th Century, in most contexts English scholars (and lawyers) pronounced Latin words more or less as if they were English, hence bizarreries like "Decree nisi" (/naɪsaɪ/).

Some time in the 20th century, classicists realised what had happened, and endeavoured to return Latin (and Greek) scholarship to something very much closer to how the classical languages had actually been pronounced. This didn't have much effect Latin words that had entered English - except when it did.

The consequence is that there is confusion between /i:/ and /aɪ/ for '-i', and between /aɪ/ and /i:/ for '-ae'. Go figure.


Traditionally, when learning Latin, one is taught to pronounce a trailing 'i' such as that in Gemini as "ee." So if you want to hew closer to the classical pronunciation of such words, such as the Oracle of Delphi, go with the "ee." (Warning: In US English, this will generally sound astoundingly pedantic and pompous.)


If you're familiar with the wide variety of pronunciations of English words, it probably won't surprise you to know that Latin — which has arguably been spoken for longer and in more countries — should also suffer the same fate.

Nobody knows how Latin was originally spoken.

There is no firm basis, therefore, for any particular way of speaking. Latin has been kept alive more by the Church (in her many denominations) than any other body, in which an end of i is pronounced with the long e, possibly best known from Enigma's "Sadeness":

In nomine Christi, Amen.

Long e works better when sung (a long i having more than one part to it, sounding more like aahyee when sung slowly*).

However, I blame just one thing in particular for spreading the i sound, and it's this:

Q: What do you call a mushroom who buys all the drinks?
A: A fungi [fun guy] to be with.

We all get to learn this joke at six years old in our Christmas crackers. Any other pronunciation is therefore doomed, or at least turned into an exotic curiosity, in our childhood.

*Please feel free to introduce me to the art of phonetics. I'm curious.

  • 1
    *This may help: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:IPA_for_Latin
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:28
  • I think I need to ask a question about which of those three alphabets to use...
    – Lunivore
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:33
  • Ah, I got it. Thank you! That explains a lot. Now at least I can decipher some of the strange code on this site, as well as sing the score to Pygmalion.
    – Lunivore
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:49
  • 1
    * [aɪ] is (as you might guess from the IPA) a diphthong. In English we are supposed to sing them by holding the [a] for most of the note, only slipping to the [ɪ] at the last moment. This isn't necessarily true in other languages; I have a vague recollection that in Italian, you hold the last vowel sound of a cluster rather than the first.
    – user1579
    Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 1:46
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    We know quite a lot about how Latin was pronounced; it is just that Latin pronunciation is only one of our many considerations when determining how we want to pronounce or actually pronounce modern English. Latin i was pronounced like ee, ae like eye, a like ah, and u like oo. Commented Apr 21, 2011 at 22:17

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