Italian and Latin: Similarities and Differences

The Latin phrase “veritas numquam perit” (“truth never perishes”) is attributed to the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. By comparing this phrase to its Italian translation (“La verità non perisce mai”), we will showcase some differences and similarities between Italian and Latin.

Notice how “veritas” (the Latin word for “truth”) closely resembles “verità” (the Italian version). This is no coincidence: a majority of Italian vocabulary words come from Latin; and though their spelling has often changed a little, the connection remains easy to notice.

Also, the Italian version of the phrase contains more words than the Latin version. The word “la” is an Italian definite article. It corresponds to the English word “the”. In contrast, Latin is a language that does not use articles.

Similarities in vocabulary

Italian and Latin have many similar vocabulary words. Some examples are listed in the table below.

English Latin Italian
water aqua acqua
moon luna luna
sea mare mare
love amor amore
friend amicus amico
hair capillus capelli
river flumen fiume
truth veritas verità
hand manus mano
dog canis cane
sun solis sole
warm calidum caldo
father pater padre
brother frater fratello
old vetus vecchio
fish piscis pescare
rain pluvia pioggia
new novus nuovo
cold frigus freddo
guilt culpa colpa
praise laus lode
egg ovum uovo
dangerous periculosum pericoloso

Many Latin words end in “-us” or “-um”. This is noticeable in the Latin phrase “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”) which serves as the motto of the United States.

About 50% of the thousand most common Latin words end with a consonant.

Italian words, in contrast, rarely end with consonants. Only about 2% of the thousand most common Italian words end with a consonant. These include the definite article “il” and a few prepositions (“per” and “con”); most of the remaining cases are loanwords from English (“sport”, “stop”, “club”, etc.).

Grammatical similarities and differences

Leaving out subject pronouns

The Italian phrase “Ti amo” (“I love you”) and the Latin phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) showcase a feature that Italian and Latin have in common.

Neither of these sentences contains a subject pronoun. The English pronoun “I”, by the way, corresponds to the pronouns “io” (in Italian) and “ego” (in Latin).

Italian and Latin allow for leaving out the subject pronoun when that pronoun can be inferred from the context. Here the verb ending suffices to indicate which pronoun has been left out.

In Linguistics terminology, languages where subject pronouns can be left out are called null-subject languages.

Grammatical cases

Latin is generally considered to be more difficult to learn than Italian. One of the reasons for this is that Latin nouns are declined (their endings change) according to 6 different grammatical cases.

In this way, the ending of a Latin word indicates the grammatical function of that word (subject, object, etc.).

Below is the table of declensions for the Latin word “rēx” (which means “king”).

Case Singular Plural
Nominative rēx rēgēs
Accusative rēgem rēgēs
Genitive rēgis rēgum
Dative rēgī rēgibus
Ablative rēge rēgibus
Vocative rēx rēgēs

The Italian word for “king” is “re”. It comes from the Latin word “rēx” but it is invariable. It always keeps the same form.

Grammatical gender

In Italian, every noun has a grammatical gender. For instance, the word “uomo” (man) is masculine and the word “donna” (woman) is feminine.

Nouns that represent abstract concepts also have grammatical genders. These genders are more correlated with the word’s ending than its meaning.

For instance, it may seem counterintuitive that the Italian word “mascolinità” (which means “masculinity”) has the feminine grammatical gender; and that the word “femminismo” (“feminism”) has the masculine grammatical gender.

It makes more sense when one notices the pattern that Italian nouns ending in “-ismo” tend to have the masculine gender. This is the case of “femminismo” as well as of “umanesimo” (humanism), “ottimismo” (optimism), and “altruismo” (altruism).

Latin has an extra grammatical gender compared to Italian. In addition to masculine and feminine, Latin has a neuter grammatical gender as well.

Vowel length

Latin differentiates between short and long vowels; a distinction that can change the meaning of a word.

This feature is known as contrastive vowel length or phonemic vowel length in linguistic terms. To denote long vowels, Latin textbooks use horizontal bars or macrons above the vowel.

Pairs of Latin words that are distinguished by vowel length include:

According to linguists, vowel length is not contrastive in Italian, making it different from Latin [2].

Spelling similarities and differences

The letter ‘x’

In Italian spelling, ‘x’ appears only in loanwords such as ‘taxi’ or ‘relax’, but the letter appears in several Latin words. For example:

Latin Italian English
rex re king
vox voce voice
nix neve snow
lex legge law
pax pace peace
velox veloce quick

As shown above, Latin words containing the letter ‘x’ give rise to Italian words without that letter. The reason is that the Italian borrowings of these words come from the accusative form (which doesn’t contain an x).

rex regem re
vox vocem voce
nix nivem neve
lex legem legge
pax pacem pace
velox velocem veloce

The letter ‘z’

The letter ‘z’, commonly found in Italian vocabulary words, doesn’t typically appear in Latin.

Although a part of the early form of the Latin alphabet, this letter later disappeared due to changes in pronunciation. It was later reintroduced as a borrowing from the Greek alphabet.

Italian Latin English
Grazie gratiæ thanks
Pezzo pettia piece
Piazza platea square, plaza
Speranza spes hope

The letters ‘k’ and ‘w’

The letters ‘k’ and ‘w’ are not used in Italian or Latin and 'w' is not included in the classical Latin alphabet.

Likewise, in its standard form, the Italian alphabet does not include 'w', but it is found in some foreign words that have been incorporated as loanwords, such as ‘weekend’.

Although the letter ‘k’ is part of the classical Latin alphabet, it was seldom used. The reason is that in Latin, the letter ‘c’ is pronounced like ‘k’ (there is no soft ‘c’ in Latin), so ‘k’ was redundant.

Similarly, the letter ‘k’ is not used in Italian, except where it appears in a few loanwords.


Italian and Latin exhibit many linguistic similarities, especially in the vocabulary because a substantial portion of Italian vocabulary can be traced back to its Latin roots. When it comes to grammar, however, the differences are more apparent. Italian is somewhat easier to learn than Latin, particularly for English speakers.

To learn more about Latin and other ancient languages, see this article on the similarities between Sanskrit and Latin.

For comparisons of Latin to other modern languages, see the articles on Latin vs Spanish, and Latin vs French.

  1. [1] Source
  2. [2] Source