The standard Latin alphabet consists of twenty-one letters, A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X, plus two imports from Greek, Y and Z. A, E, O, Y are vowels. I, V may be either vowels or consonants.
Early modern printers invented a distinction between vocalic i, u and consonantal j, v; many scholars, especially when writing for general readers, still retain it with u/v, distinguishing solvit with two syllables from coluit with three (also volvit ‘rolls/rolled’ from voluit ‘willed’), but others prefer to use V for the capital and u for the lower case irrespective of value. (However, the numeral must be v regardless of case.) By contrast, the use of j is virtually obsolete except in legal and other stock phrases used in an English context, such as de jure.
In classical Latin the ligatures œ, œ are found only as space-saving devices in inscriptions. They are found in post-classical manuscripts and in printed books down to the nineteenth century and occasionally beyond. They should not now be used unless a source containing them is to be reproduced exactly.
In modern usage Latin is normally written without accents. In classical Latin the apex, resembling an acute, was sometimes used on long vowels other than I, and until recently ë was used to show that ae and oe did not form a diphthong: aëris ‘of air’ (as opposed to aeris ‘of bronze/money’), poëta ‘poet’. Older practice used the circumflex on long vowels to resolve ambiguity: mensâ ablative of mensa ‘table’; one may also find the grave accent on the final syllables of adverbs. In grammars and dictionaries vowels may be marked with the macron or the breve: mēnsă nominative, mēnsā ablative.
Classical Latin made no distinction between capital and lower case. In modern usage proper names and their derivatives are capitalized (Roma ‘Rome’, Romanus, ‘Roman’, Graece ‘in Greek’) except in verbs (graecissare ‘speak Greek/live it up’); the first letter in a sentence may or may not be capitalized, that in a line of verse no longer so.
In titles of works, one may find (proper names apart) only the first word capitalized (De rerum natura, De imperio Cn. Pompei—Oxford’s preference), first and main words (De Rerum Natura, De Imperio Cn. Pompei), or main words only (de Rerum Natura, de Imperio Cn. Pompei), even proper nouns only (de rerum natura, de imperio Cn. Pompei). For the treatment of Latin titles within titles see
12.12.4 Word division
A vowel may be divided from another (be-atus) unless they form a diphthong, as do most instances of ae, oe, ei, au, and eu. When v is not used, the correct divisions with consonantal u are ama-uit, dele-uit. Likewise, a consonantal і is taken over (in-iustus).
Take over x between vowels (pro-ximus). Any doubled consonants may be divided; except in mn, the letters l, m, n, and r may be divided from a following consonant. Traditionally, any group capable of beginning a word in either Latin or Greek was not divided: for example bl, br, ch, cl, cr, ct, dl, dr, gn, gu, mn, ph, pl, pr, ps, pt, qu, th, tl, and tr (many of these are found in such English words as ctenoid, gnomon, mnemonic, pneumonia, psychology, and ptomaine).
However, as in Greek, these rules should be subject to the overriding precept that prefixes and suffixes are separated and compounds divided into their parts. This requires knowledge of the language, as some common prefixes may have different forms in different contexts.
Latin, of course, uses Roman numerals, which are described at
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