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French and German language comparison

French and German are two of the most widely spoken languages in Europe and they belong to different language families.

French is a Romance language that originates from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. Other Romance languages include Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian.

German, on the other hand, is a Germanic language. It shares its linguistic heritage with other Germanic languages like English, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages.

Vocabulary

Most of the basic French vocabulary words come from Latin. In contrast, most of the basic German words are of Germanic origin. These Germanic roots are also evident in English, which is also a Germanic language.

English German French Latin
love Liebe amour amor
life Leben vie vita
book Buch livre liber
friend Freund ami amicus
son Sohn fils filius
father Vater père pater
brother Bruder frère frater
water Wasser eau aqua
school Schule école schola
bread Brot pain panis
moon Mond lune luna

To learn French or German online, check out this French course or this German course.

For more vocabulary words, see these lists of the 1000 most common words in French and in German.

German and French have different rules for capitalizing words. In German, all nouns are capitalized, regardless of their position in a sentence. This means that not only proper nouns, such as names of people and places, are capitalized, but also common nouns like “book” or “friend.” In contrast, French only capitalizes proper nouns and the first word of a sentence.

Lexical similarity

Lexical similarity is a measure of the overlap between the vocabularies of two different languages. It indicates the degree of similarity between two languages in terms of their vocabulary.

The lexical similarity between French and German is only 29%, which is relatively low compared to the 60% similarity between English and German, and the 89% similarity between French and Italian.

Literature & culture

French and German both have strong literary traditions, and one of the benefits of learning these languages is being able to read those novels in the original text.

Below are some renowned works of French literature:

And here is a list of some famous German novels:

French and German authors have made significant contributions not only to literature but also to the field of philosophy. René Descartes and Jean-Paul Sartre are notable French philosophers, while Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche are famous German philosophers.

Those interested in psychology might be inclined to learn German rather than French because several renowned psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung wrote in German. Although these works have been translated into English, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to read the original texts.

For those who love opera, learning either French or German can be a good choice, as these are among the most frequently used languages in opera, alongside Italian. In fact, some of the most popular operas of all time are in these languages, such as Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde” and Bizet's “Carmen.”

Grammar comparison

Grammatical gender

In French, every noun has a grammatical gender, either masculine or feminine. For example “la lune” (the moon) is feminine whereas “le soleil” (the sun) is masculine. Even nouns that represent abstract concepts have grammatical genders, for example “la liberté” (freedom) is feminine while “le bonheur” (happiness) is masculine.

In contrast, German has a more complex system of grammatical genders with three different categories: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The gender of a German noun does not always correspond to the gender of the corresponding French word. For instance, “der Mond” (the moon) is masculine, and “die Sonne” (the sun) is feminine.

In both French and German, the gender of a noun can oftentimes be predicted by patterns in the ending of the word. See these articles:

Grammatical cases

German is often considered a more difficult language to learn than French. According to the Foreign Service Institute, which evaluates the difficulty of learning different languages for English speakers, German is classified as a Category II language, meaning it requires more time and effort to learn than Category I languages like French.

This can seem surprising because German is actually in the same language family as English, both being Germanic languages, while French is a Romance language.

One of the main challenges in learning German is dealing with grammatical cases, which are a system used in some languages to indicate the function of a word in a sentence. In French and in English, these cases mainly only affect pronouns. In English, we have three cases for pronouns, for example: he, his, and him.

In German, there are four cases - nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive - that affect not only pronouns but also articles and adjectives.

The German declensions for the definite article:
Case Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem den
Genitive des der des der