For example:

Styracaceae, Suidae, Sulidae, Sylviidae, Symplocaceae, etc.

I don’t know how to pronounce them correctly.

  • 2
    I'm very tempted to post the pronunciations in Latin, but I think it differs quite a little from the English pronunciation of those words.
    – Alenanno
    Sep 5, 2011 at 9:02
  • I've heard very few native English speakers pronounce Latin the way it's supposed to be pronounced, namly close to today's Italian. Instead they apply the phonetic rules of their own Language - which is influenced by Latin, but also carries influences of French for instance.
    – Raku
    Sep 5, 2011 at 11:10
  • @Alenanno An approximation of the Latin is acceptable as there is no standard Anglicisation. I've heard many different versions of veni vidi vici and vice versa and so on.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Sep 5, 2011 at 11:20
  • 4
    Wasn't there a certain date when the pronunciation of Latin taught in English public schools was switched? In one of those old movies (maybe "The Browning Verison" or "Goodbye Mr Chipps"??) the old curmudgeon complains: "Why should I teach them to say Kikero, when for the rest of their lives they will be saying Sissero?"
    – GEdgar
    Sep 5, 2011 at 12:41
  • 1
    Maybe you should specify which dialectal variation you intend to represent correct pronunciation.
    – user12549
    Sep 6, 2011 at 1:31

4 Answers 4


I'm listing the English words ending with -ae and formed as the plural of a word in -a of Latin origin. I found in the New Oxford American Dictionary (by alphabetical order):

word          American English        British English
algae         -dʒi or -gaɪ            -dʒiː or -giː
alumnae       -mnaɪ or -mni           -niː   
amoebae       -bi                     -biː    
antennae      -ni or -naɪ             -niː 
axillae       -li or -laɪ             -liː 
ballistae     -sti or -staɪ           -stiː   
branchiae     -kii or -kaɪ            -kiiː                  
bursae        -si or -saɪ             -siː              
catenae       -ni or -naɪ             -niː               
drachmae      -mi or -maɪ             -miː                
exuviae       -vii or -viaɪ           -viiː                 

I stopped there, but it appears clear that:

  1. There is a rather general rule, i.e. most of them are pronounced either -i (rhymes with tea) or -aɪ (rhymes with cry).
  2. There is a US/UK difference, with British English favouring the -i form, ending in long i (same as tea, again).
  3. You can do no wrong if you go with the ending —i (short for US English, long for British English)
  • What do you mean there is no general rule? The general rule is either /aɪ/ or /i/. I would say both are acceptable for all these words, with the more commonly used ones tending to be pronounced /i/ more often. Sep 5, 2011 at 12:14
  • @Peter: for “amoebae”, /aɪ/ apparently isn't observed (according to NOAD, at least)… But, I went over more words, and don't find any more exception, so I agree that there apparently is a consistent rule :)
    – F'x
    Sep 5, 2011 at 12:22
  • 7
    "Sundae" is, of course, an exception. Sep 5, 2011 at 12:27
  • 3
    Don't worry about short and long -i's in American English. It is only in British English that the length actually makes any phonemic difference (so in British English, there is apparently a difference in the vowels ending happy and algae). In American English, the length change, if there is one in your dialect, follows automatically from the position in the word and the stress on the syllable. Sep 5, 2011 at 12:27
  • @Peter Taylor - ...which is why most of us lazy Americans write "Sunday" instead.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 8, 2011 at 17:48

I'm going to post the pronunciation of the diphthong ae in Latin. It might differ from the actual pronunciation that is being adopted nowadays; this because it's inevitable that the mother tongue language influences the pronunciation of words coming from other languages (being recent or not).

There were different phases for the Latin language, although the ones that we are interested in are these ones. The expression names might be different, considering I translated them from the italian ones:

  1. Classic pronunciation: Using this expression, we refer to the Latin pronunciation adopted by the upper class in the Ist century B.C.; the one of Cicero and Horatio. This pronunciation is based on the principle that assigns to each grapheme a single phoneme. In brief, for a single letter there is a single sound.
    So, to make an example related to your question, the word Caesar is read ['kaesar].
  2. Scholastic or Ecclesiastical pronunciation: After the year 1000, the first universities were born, and the lectures were done in Latin. This Latin differed a lot from the Latin of Horatio and Cicero. The scholars elaborated a new Latin, called Scholastic, that could express the abstract concepts full of undertones of the philosophy of that time, a philosophy that was called, precisely, Scholasticism.
    This pronunciation is more difficult than the other and one of its features is the different pronunciation of the diphthong ae: Caesar would be ['tʃesar].
  • Forvo confirms the classic pronunciation: forvo.com/word/gaius_julius_caesar/#la Sep 7, 2011 at 23:55
  • on second thought, ae in that forvo link sounds more like aj, and this is confirmed by Wikipedia Sep 8, 2011 at 7:22
  • Yes, but on Forvo, there is also the second pronunciation under the classic one. :)
    – Alenanno
    Sep 8, 2011 at 9:18
  • which one? It might be better to write "So, to make an example related to your question, the word Caesar is read ['kajsar]." Sep 8, 2011 at 9:43
  • 1
    Here :)
    – Alenanno
    Sep 8, 2011 at 9:45

This gent seems to have what I'd consider a clear, definitive answer on the matter. Even if it's largely anecdotal it seems well supported. I was unable to come to any conclusions based on the above, hence:


So to the poster (if s/he's still unclear) and anyone else searching I would err on the side of the blog writer.

  • 4
    Welcome to EL&U. Could you provide a short summary of what the link has to say? Link-only answers are frowned upon as URLs are unstable over time, and future visitors will not be able to benefit if this link goes bad.
    – choster
    Feb 9, 2015 at 13:51

Considering their origin is Latin, the "ae" should be pronounced the 'a' in "master", American English.

Usually words ending in -ae are the plural form form of a word ending in -a, e.g.

puella - girl 
puellae - girls

Italian, the modern day successor or Latin is using -a and -e for female singular and plural:

ragazza - girl
ragazze - girls

But you can clearly see that the pronunciation -e is closer to -ae than -ay.

  • 1
    +1 for the probably original pronunciation (although “man” is probably a better example since its British pronunciation also works) but you won’t hear this very often in English. Sep 5, 2011 at 14:05
  • Yup, "man" is definitely better. Thanks Konrad :-)
    – Raku
    Sep 5, 2011 at 15:38
  • 1
    Also, according to Wikipedia ae sounded like ay ! Sep 8, 2011 at 7:08
  • 1
    Theta30, Alenanno gave a good explanation of how the pronunciation has changed over time. Whether you anglicise the pronunciation of a Latin word or not is up to you. But considering, for example, how cruel French sounds if you pronounce it the English way, and how cruel English sounds if you pronounce it the French way, you should probably use the native pronunciation instead. But that's just my private opinion.
    – Raku
    Sep 8, 2011 at 8:40
  • 4
    Italian is only "the modern day successor to Latin" in a geographic sense. French and Spanish are just as much successors to Latin in a linguistic sense. That doesn't make this a bad example, just that you shouldn't imply that Itialian is any more authoratative in matters relating to Latin than any other Romance language.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 8, 2011 at 17:52

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