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French and Spanish: Language Similarities and Differences

French and Spanish are both Romance languages — a term derived from the Latin word “rōmānicus” which means “Roman”. These languages evolved from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire covered the entire contour of the Mediterranean region, including the regions that later became France and Spain.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Latin gradually evolved into different dialects across the former empire. These dialects eventually gave rise to the modern-day Romance languages including French and Spanish.

French and Spanish words used in English

English speakers are already familiar with some French and Spanish vocabulary words because some of these have entered the English language.

For example, here are some French words which are used in English:

Word Meaning
Cliché A phrase or idea that has been overused and lacks originality.
Souvenir An object that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
Cuisine A style of cooking.
Avant-garde A style that is experimental, innovative, and often pushes the boundaries of traditional forms.
Cul-de-sac A dead-end street.
Touché An expression used to acknowledge a clever or effective response made by someone, often used in a friendly or competitive context.
Déjà vu A feeling of having already experienced the present situation.
Chic A fashionable and sophisticated style.

And here are some Spanish words that are used in English. Some of these are related to architecture, as Spanish architecture is common in several parts of the U.S.

Word Meaning
Plaza A public square or marketplace.
Patio An outdoor space in a building or house.
Adobe A building material made of sun-dried bricks.
Siesta A midday nap.
Armada A fleet of warships.
Fiesta A celebration or festival.
Nada Nothing.
Desperado A reckless or bold outlaw.
Piñata A colorful container (filled with candy and toys) that is broken open during a celebration or party.

By the way, if you wish to learn French or Spanish, we recommend that you check out this French course or this Spanish course.

Similar Vocabulary words

French and Spanish have an abundance of similar vocabulary words. Many of these word pairs are cognates, meaning that they share a common etymological origin, typically a Latin term.

French Spanish Latin English
ami amigo amicus friend
amour amor amor love
vert verde viridis green
arbre árbol arbor tree
livre libro liber book
main mano manus hand
mer mar mare sea
vérité verdad veritas truth
monde mundo mundus world
pain pan panis bread
lune luna luna moon

For more similar vocabulary terms, take a look at the lists of the 1000 most commonly-used words in French and Spanish.

The influence of Arabic on the Spanish language

You might notice that sometimes a Spanish word looks nothing like its French version. In certain cases, the Spanish word has Arabic origins.

There is a historical reason which explains the presence of quite a few words derived from Arabic in the Spanish language.

During the period of Moorish rule in Spain from the 8th to the 15th centuries, the Spanish language was heavily influenced by Arabic. Researchers have estimated that around 8% of the words in a Spanish dictionary can be traced back to Arabic.

English French Spanish
carrot carotte zanahoria
blue bleu azul
oil huile aceite
rice riz arroz
basil basilic albahaca

The subject pronoun can be left out in Spanish, but not in French

Spanish is a pro-drop language, which means that subject pronouns are frequently omitted because the subject can generally be inferred from the verb ending.

For example, the Spanish phrases “Te amo” and “Yo te amo” both translate to “I love you”. In the first case, the subject pronoun is omitted.

Unlike Spanish, French is not a pro-drop language because leaving out the subject pronoun would generally lead to a grammatically incorrect sentence.

French and Spanish both have subject-verb agreement, but in French, some verb forms are pronounced the same despite different spellings, which is why pronouns cannot be omitted like in Spanish.

Spanish Conjugation French Conjugation
Yo amo J'aime
Tú amas Tu aimes
Él/Ella ama Il/elle aime
Nosotros(as) amamos Nous aimons
Vosotros(as) amáis Vous aimez
Ellos/Ellas aman Ils/elles aiment

The conjugation of the Spanish verb “amar” and the French verb “aimer” (which both mean “to love”) are shown in the table above. In Spanish the pronunciation differs significantly between the different forms of this verb, but in French, the first three forms are pronounced the same.

Betacism

In Spanish, the letters 'b' and 'v' are pronounced the same, which can sometimes be confusing for those who are learning the language.

Linguists have named this phenomenon “betacism” in reference to the Greek letter “beta,” which sounds like “v” in modern Greek but used to be pronounced as “b” in ancient Greek.

In contrast, French has separate sounds for both the letters 'b' and 'v.'

High Lexical similarity between French and Spanish

Lexical similarity is a measure used by linguists to determine how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary.

For Spanish and French, the lexical similarity between the two languages is around 0.75, which is relatively high compared to other language pairs.

This high similarity can be attributed to the fact that both Spanish and French are Romance languages and share a common Latin root.

Vocabulary false friends

Not every pair of similar-looking words have the same meaning. Some are “false friends”, a language learning term that refers to a pair of words from different languages which look alike but have different meanings. Below is a table with some French-Spanish false friends.

Spanish French
nombre (name) nombre (number)
salir (to leave) salir (to dirty)
débil (weak) débile (dumb)
atender (to attend) attendre (to wait)
dos (two) dos (back)
sol (sun) sol (the ground)
mancha (stain) manche (sleeve)
remedo (imitation) remède (remedy)
entender (to understand) entendre (to hear)
jubilación (retirement) jubilation (a strong rejoicing)

Formal and informal pronouns

French and Spanish differ from English in that they use distinct pronouns for formal and informal situations.

In French, the informal pronoun “tu” is used when addressing a person casually, while the formal pronoun “vous” is used in more formal situations.

Similarly, in Spanish, the informal pronoun “tú” is used in casual settings, while the formal pronoun “usted” is used in more formal settings.

Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are common in Romance languages, and French and Spanish are no exception. These verbs describe an action that a subject does to themselves.

In both Spanish and French, the word “se” is the third-person reflexive pronoun. However, in Spanish, it is attached to the end of the infinitive form of the reflexive verb, whereas in French, it is placed in front.

English French Spanish
to wake up se réveiller despertarse
to get up se lever levantarse
to go to bed se coucher acostarse
to wonder se demander preguntarse
to get angry se fâcher enfadarse
to be quiet se taire callarse
to be wrong se tromper equivocarse
to be located se trouver encontrarse

Silent letters

Spanish is a more phonetic language than French, which means that Spanish words tend to be pronounced the way they are spelled, whereas this is less the case for French.

In particular, many French vocabulary words have silent letters which are not pronounced.

French English
blanc white
chant song
loup wolf
grand big
riz rice
temps time
froid cold

If you wish to learn French or Italian, check out this French course or this Spanish course.

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