Latin alphabets, fonts, punctuation, pronunciation etc


Staff member
I thought that it might be useful to have a sticky collating questions regarding alphabets, punctuation & pronunciation and the like. I have put it in the English to Latin translation forum to start with, as these questions are often asked here, but we can move it if it is more appropriate elsewhere.
Please feel free to contribute your expertise to this thread.


Staff member
Letters used in Latin

The Romans originally used 22 letters. Y and z did not form part of the native Latin alphabet, and were only added towards the end of the Classical period.

The letter 'i' was used for both the vowel 'i' sound, and also for a 'y' sound we sometimes write as 'j'. In mediaeval documents j is sometimes used as the last letter when an i is repeated, eg in the Roman numerals iiij for 4, or consilij for consilii.

U was used both as a vowel and to represent 'v', which the Romans pronounced as a 'w'. In inscriptions you will see 'V' used instead of a 'U'. For a fuller discussion of U & V, see below.

Some modern dictionaries or textbooks may distinguish 'i' and 'j', and 'u' and 'v', depending on whether they are vowels or consonants. 'j' is rarely used now. You may see jam in a textbook printed between about 1700 and 2000, but you are more likely to see iam in an older document (or more modern textbook).

This thread discusses the pronunciation of the letters themselves.
Vox Latina by W. Sidney Allen covers the names of the letters used in the Latin alphabet.


Staff member
Pronunciation of Latin

The two common ways used now to pronounce Latin are Classical and Ecclesiastical. Classical is how we believed that the Romans themselves pronounced the words. Ecclesiastical is how the modern church pronounces them. You should remember that the pronunciation and spelling changed during the Classical period itself.

During the middle ages, the pronunciation of Latin was probably influenced by the origin of the speaker. There is in fact an old joke, "Beati Hispani quibus bibere vivere est", which makes reference to this. (Blessed are the Spaniards, for whom to drink is to live) This refers to the Spaniards at the time pronouncing 'b' as 'v'.

There is a good article here, and also a wikipedia article on Latin pronunciation. Here is a site where the sounds are available as audio files.

Vox Latina by W. Sidney Allen discusses Classical Latin pronunciation in detail.


Vemortuicida strenuus
As mentioned before by Bitmap, the wikipedia article is also interesting, mentioning the various changes Latin underwent in the medieval centuries, eventually evolving into the Romance languages.


Staff member
Fonts / Scripts used in Latin

There is no right script in which to write Latin. Different hands were used for writing on wax tablets, informal documents, formal documents, and for inscriptions.
Roman inscriptions were written in letters similar to modern capitals. Often there was a point placed between the words.
You can see examples of Roman Cursive hands. here and here.
In the first few centuries AD a cursive hand called Roman Rustic was used.

During the middle ages miniscule scripts (small letters) were developed. One example of a miniscule script is Carolingian Miniscule.

Initially documents were written either in a miniscule or a majuscule (Capital Letter) script, rather than a mixture of both. Later on, initial capital letters were used for important words like Lord, and God, and larger capitals were used to mark the beginnings of new sections. Our current sentence capitalisation was developed in the high middle ages.

All Caps style was used with some hands for inscriptions, and to mark the beginning of sections in documents. I have never seen 'Gothic' capitals used in this fashion.

A large variety of hands were used in the middle ages. Some examples can be seen here.
You can find links to some historical hands below and here.


Staff member
Latin Punctuation

The Romans did not use modern punctuation. If you look at the examples below you can see that until the 6th century AD all of the words were ran together with no spacing at all. You may sometimes see a medial dot (like a full-stop or period placed at mid height) placed between words, however in general, this went out of usage by about the 2nd century BC.

Punctuation was used in the middle ages, but had different functions to our current punctuation. Our current system of punctuation was standardised after the advent of printing.

You can find an article on the history of punctuation here.

There is a discussion of the use of punctuation in Roman letters here.


Sciura Tigrina Croatica
Staff member
Very informative thread, thanks for posting!

As far Vulgar Latin is concerned, I find fascinating its change to protoromance language(s), as can be seen in the reconstructed Oaths of Strasbourg, one of the first recorded (and preserved) writings in what is to become French.


Staff member
Correct usage of u & v

Initially U & V were different ways of writing the same letter. The brief and unscientific survey I have appended below seems to indicate that they were not distinguished as separate letters until the 17th century. Currently there seems to be no general consensus as to whether to exclusively use u, or distinguish between u and v.

Examples of correct usage using uvidus:
u for all minuscule u & v. uuidus
V for all majuscule U & V VVIDVS

u for all minuscule u & v. uuidus
v for initial u & v, u in the middle of a word vuidus
U or V for all majuscule VVIDVS or UUIDUS

Early Modern & Modern
u for all minuscule u & v, U or V for majuscules uuidus and UUIDUS or VVIDVS
distinguishing u & v in minuscules & majuscules uvidus and UVIDUS

Examples of incorrect usage:
v for minuscule u. vvidvs
U for majuscule V and V for majuscule U VUIDVS

U&V in various historical texts throughout the ages
1st & 2nd Century
Roman cursive u for u & v. V in capitals.
Various Roman Inscriptions V for U & V

4th & 5th Century
Roman Square Capitals V for U & V
Roman Rustic V for U & V
Roman Rustic U for U & V

6th Century
Uncial u for u & v. Rustic capitals. V for U.

7th Century
Uncial u for u & v

8th Century
Insular minuscule. U for V. u for u & v
french minuscule u for u & v
Merovingian uncial u for u & v
Luxeuil minuscule. U. u for u & v

9th Century
Insular majuscule. V. u for u & v
Insular hybrid majuscule. U. u for u & v
Carolingian minuscule. U for U & V. u for u & v

10th Century
Carolingian minuscule & Rustic Capitals. V for U. u for u & v
Carolingian minuscule & Rustic Capitals. U for U & V. u for u & v

11th Century
Lombardic Captials and Carolingian minuscule. U used for both U & V. u for u & v

12th Century
Protogothic. U & V both used for the same sound. u used for u & v.
The Winchester Bible uses V for capitals and u for minuscule letters, however it has U for illuminated capitals.

13th Century
Gothic u for u & v
Gothic V. u for u & v.

14th Century
Gothic V used for U. u used for u & v. Note both v & j being used in numerals eg vij
Gothic v at beginnings of words, u in the middle.
Gothic Textura Quadrata U for V. u for u & v.
Gothic Textura Sine Pedibus u for u & v.

15th Century
Rotunda Note U in the initial of Virgam. u used for u & v in text.
Renaissance Capitals and Humanist Minuscule. V used for U & V. u used for u & v
Batarde U for U & V. v and u used as initial letters, u in body of words.

The lack of distinction between u & v was not confined to Latin
Gothic cursive (with anglicana letter forms) in English.
Another gothic hand in English using v for initials and u in the middle of the words.
Batarde in French using v for initials and u in the middle of the words.
14th C German U used for illuminated capital V, V for U & V, v for u & v in initial position, u & v distinguished by sound in middle of words.

16th Century
Humanist Minuscule v at beginning of words. u for u & v in middle of words.
Gothic cursive u for u & v
Gothic cursive V for U. v at beginning of words. u for u & v in middle of words.
Batarde v at beginning of words. u for u & v in middle of words.
Printed Book. V for U & V. u for u & v.

17th Century
Humanist cursive Distinguishes between u & v by sound.
Manuscript v at beginning of words. u & v in middle of words.
Printed book. V for U & V. u for u & v.
Late 17thC Dictionary. Distinguishes between the U & V sounds both in capitals and minuscule letters.

18th Century
Printed book. Distinguishes between the U & V sounds both in capitals and minuscule letters.
Printed book V for U & V. v for initial letter and u in middle of words.

19th Century
Printed book. Distinguishes between the U & V sounds both in capitals and minuscule letters.

20th Century
Book u & v distinguished by sound
Oxford Latin Dictionary u used for u & v
Sallust in Oxford Classical Texts u used for u & v

21th Century
Vergil u & v distinguished by sound
Sallust from American Philological Association u and v distinguished by sound
Ars Amatoria Cambridge Classical Texts V for U & V. u for u & v.


Civis Illustris
Some sources, like the Latin library, also have the habit of using v instead of u in quotations, e.g.

Ov. Fasti III dixit:
arserat Aeneae Dido miserabilis igne,
  • arserat exstructis in sua fata rogis,
compositusque cinis, tumulique in marmore carmen
  • hoc breve, quod moriens ipsa reliquit, erat:
praebvit Aeneas et cavsam mortis et ensem:
  • ipsa sva Dido concidit vsa manv.

very loosely translated:
Dido loved Aeneas. Then she died. The epigram on her grave were her dying words:
"Aeneas provided the reason and the sword for (her/my) death:
Dido died by laying hands on herself"


Staff member
With theLatinLibrary, I think that it just depends what source it was copied from.
For example Aeneid IV

haec precor, hanc uocem extremam cum sanguine fundo.
tum uos, o Tyrii, stirpem et genus omne futurum
exercete odiis, cinerique haec mittite nostro

With the modern literature I only really looked through the English language sources. Does anyone have information about other languages?