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Latin Pronunciation: -GU-

by Dick
(Orinda, California)

Dear Latin Teacher,

When does the combination -gu- + vowel count as one syllable and when does it count as two? I cannot figure out the stress accent on certain words because I do not know the answer.

For example, is it sánguine or sangúine? Is it ambíguus or ámbiguus? Is it ánguipes or angúipes? How can this be predicted?

And how do we explain the word ambiguitas, in which the stress would seem to fall on the letter u.

I hope you can help me with this problem. I appreciate your time.

Dear Dick,

Great question. Instead of Ask a Latin Teacher, I might have to call this blog Stump a Latin Teacher.

The pronunciation of -gu- depends on how those two letters arrived side-by-side in any given word.

If they belong together as part of the stem of a word, then they are pronounced as a single consonant. This also happens with the combination -qu- and -cu-. For example: sanguis (blood), anguis (snake), or anguipes (snake-footed)

But, there are words in which the -g- is part of the stem and the -u- is part of the suffix -uus, which is used to turn verbs or nouns into adjectives. For example, caeduus from caedere and patruus from pater.

For these words, the two letters do not join together as one consonant. They remain separate, each with its own sound.

Ambiguus comes from the verb ambigere, meaning to go around or to wander, and the adjectival suffix -uus, -a, -um. So the -g- and the -u- are two different sounds.

In ambiguitas (5 syllables), the suffix -itas has been added to the stem of the adjective ambigu-, creating an abstract noun. Again, the -g- and -u- are separate because the -g- belongs to ambigere, while the -u- belongs to -uus.

Hope this helps, and thanks for asking a Latin teacher.



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Latin Pronunciation: -GU-

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Response to my Question about -gu-
by: Dick

Thank you very much for your very clear and informative answer to my question about the letters -gu- as they appear in the middle of Latin words. I feel I now have a much clearer handle on how to interpret situations involving -gu- and -cu- in the future.

This is a great website and a super help for people learning Latin. Thanks again!!


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