Monday, February 27, 2012

Latin Lesson IV: Ave Maria

Now that you have the basics of Church Latin, we will try some simple prayers. They will be marked phonetically, so it will be easy to practice correct pronunciation.

Following the prayers is a review some rules from the first few lessons. If you need a refresher, you can do the review first, and then come back to the prayers.

Here is the Hail Mary in Latin, with phonetics following each line:

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.   
AH-vay  Mah-REE-AH, GRAHT-see-ah PLAY-nah, DOH-mee-noos TAY-koom.

Blessed are thou among women,
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
bay-nay-DEEK-tah TOO een  moo-lee-AY- ree- boos

And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.  
Ayt  bay-nay-DEEK-toos  FROOK-toos  VAYN-trees TOO-ee YAY-soos

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,  
SAHNK –tah Mah-REE-ah, MAH-tayr DAY-ee,

pray for us, sinners,
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus  
OH-rah proh NOH-bees payk-ah-TOH-ree-boos,

now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen. 
noonk ay teen HOH-rah MOHR-tee NOHS-tray. AH mayn.

A final note: In the phonetic version of the book I borrowed from, the long character of each vowel is stressed. But in practice in some words the vowels would be shortened more. For example, in the Latin word, “in,” the “I” takes on more the sound of a short “I” in English than of the phonetic “ee.” In “Amen,” the pronunciation would be more like “AH-men,” than the author’s “AH-mayn.”

Next: The Pater Noster (Our Father) and the Gloria of the Mass.


Although vowels have long and short pronunciations, much of the time, particularly when Latin is sung, the long pronunciation is used.  So think of the “a” in Latin as “ah;” “e” as “ay;” “I” as “ee, “u” as “oo,” and “o” as “oh.”  We have seen that “y” used as a vowel is treated like a long “i.”

The consonants that differ from English are:

 “c” –before i or e, sounds like “ch,” before other vowels like  “k.” “Ch” in Latin is always pronounced like a “k” in English.

“g” – before I or e, sounds like soft “g” or “j”; before other letters it is hard, like the “g” in “go.

“gn” - in any Latin word sounds like “ny” as in “canyon.”

“h” – contrary to most Latin grammars, this letter in Italianate Latin is always silent.

“I”  - (sometimes written as “j”) when used as a consonant sounds like the English “y.”

“s”   - like the “s” in “sing,” never like the “s” in “raise.”

“sc” – before a, o, u or a consonant, sounds like “sk.” Used before I or e, it sounds like “sh.”

“th” – always like a hard “t,” as in “ten.”

“ti” – when followed by a vowel or preceded by any other letter, except s, t or x, sounds like “tsee.”

“x” – in words beginning with “ex” that are followed by a vowel,or the consonants “h” or “s,” like “gs.”

“x” – in all other cases, like “ks.”

“z” – this letter was not mentioned previously and is rare in Latin, but does occur. It is pronounced as if it were written “dz” as in the word “obryzum.” (OH-BREEDZ-OOM.”)


  1. There is no soft g in Latin. I don't know why the Catholic church makes this mistake. A quick google search will let you know this.

    1. Liturgical pronunciation of Latin is different from classical pronunciation. You are quite right about the pronunciation of "g" insofar as Classical Latin in concerned, but, like other languages, the pronunciation of Latin has evolved. It is not a "mistake" that the Catholic Church uses a soft "g" sound before I and E, it is a legitimate modern difference.
      In the Greek Orthodox Church, liturgical Greek is similarly pronounced like modern Greek, quite different from Classical Greek. Similarly, in the Slavic Orthodox churches, Church Slavonic is pronounced according to the pronunciation of the modern Slavic language of the country. Again, this is not an *error,* it is a natural evolution of pronunciation.
      Our contemporary English, whether in Britain or in the United States (or other countries) is pronounced significantly differently from even Early Modern English, aka Elizabethan or Shakespearean English. We do not, for example, pronounce the final "e" in words like "have." In German that "e" is still pronounced ("habe"). It was still pronounced, at least in some cases (I'm not sure exactly when the final "e" went silent) in the colonial era in America. Are we *mispronouncing" words that end in "e" because we aren't pronouncing that "e"? No, our pronunciation has naturally evolved. We can see similar things happening today where British and/or Canadian and American pronunciations of words like "educate" differ. Similarly, is "process" properly pronounced "prAH-sess" or "prOH-sess"? It depends on where you grow up.