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The Similarities and Differences and between Latin & Spanish

Spanish evolved from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. That’s why linguists classify Spanish in the family of Romance languages (the word “Romance” comes from a Latin term meaning “Roman”).

Around three-quarters (75%) of Spanish vocabulary words come from Latin, but many have slightly changed in spelling and pronunciation. For example, the Spanish word “amigo” (meaning “friend”) differs a bit from the original Latin term, “amicus”.

Alongside its Latin-derived vocabulary, Spanish has vocabulary terms from other languages as well, including Arabic and Basque (due to historical reasons that we will explain).

Latin grammar is considered more difficult than Spanish grammar because, in Latin, word endings change to reflect grammatical cases.

For example, the Latin word for king is “rex” when it’s the subject of the sentence, but it becomes “regem” when it’s the object (the recipient of the action). In Spanish, this word stays the same; in both cases, it’s spelled “rey”.

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Latin and Spanish vocabulary

Pre-Roman influences on the Spanish language

The Iberian Peninsula (the region that is now Spain and Portugal) had local languages before the Romans brought Latin.

Celtiberian was one of these local languages; as one can tell by its name, it was a Celtic language. Basque is another language from the region; it is a linguistic isolate, meaning that it is unrelated to any other known language.

Basque, Celtiberian, and the other local languages influenced the Latin that spread to the Iberian Peninsula. For instance, the Spanish word “camino” (which means “path”) has Celtic origins.

Here are some examples of Spanish vocabulary words that come from Basque:

Spanish Basque English
izquierda ezker left
mochila motxil backpack
chatarra txatarra scrap
cencerro zintzarri cowbell

Arabic Loanwords in Spanish

The Spanish language has been significantly influenced by Arabic; this is not the case for Classical Latin.

The Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Moors (who spoke Arabic) for many years starting from the 8th century. This led to the inclusion of Arabic words in the Spanish language.

Ancient Rome was in contact with North Africa, with Ancient Carthage in particular —the civilization against whom the Romans fought the Punic wars. Arabic had not yet spread to North Africa, and Ancient Carthage spoke Punic (a language related to Phoenician).

In the table below are some examples of Spanish vocabulary words that come from Arabic.

English Latin Spanish
oil oleum aceite
carrot carota zanahoria
blue caeruleus azul
rice oryza arroz
basil ocimum albahaca

Vocabulary similarities

There are many similar vocabulary words between Latin and Spanish.

English Latin Spanish
moon luna luna
water aqua agua
sea mare mar
love amor amor
table mensa mesa
peace pax paz
tree arbor árbol
alone solus solo
book liber libro
hand manus mano
friend amicus amigo
sun solis sol
warm calidus cálido
truth veritas verdad
father pater padre
mother mater madre
easy facilis fácil
cold frigidus frío
green viridis verde
wise sapiens sabio
fish piscis pescado

To discover additional vocabulary, consider referring to the following compilations of frequently used terms:

Pronunciation differences


A key difference between Latin and Spanish pronunciation is that the letter ‘v’ is often pronounced like a ‘b’ in Spanish - this is not the case in Latin.

In linguistics, this phenomenon is called “betacism”.

There is a famous medieval Latin saying which is a pun on this:

“Beati hispani, quibus vivere bibere est” (the English translation is “Fortunate are the Spaniards, for whom living is drinking”)

Since the Spanish often pronounce the letter ‘v’ like a ‘b’, the result is that the words “vivere” ("to live") and “bibere” ("to drink") sound alike in Spanish.

Vowel length

Latin distinguishes between short and long vowels, and changing the length of a vowel can lead to a different word. In linguistics terminology, this means that Latin has phonemic vowel length.

For example, in Latin, “liber” when pronounced with a short ‘i’ means “book”; and when pronounced with a long ‘i’ it means “free”.

Some Latin textbooks, as a learning aid, will use a short horizontal bar above the letter to indicate a long vowel: “liber” (book) vs. “līber” (free).

Spanish differs from Latin with respect to vowel length. In Spanish, there are typically only short vowels, and even when they are a bit lengthened in stressed syllables there is no risk of changing the meaning of the word - vowel length is not phonemic in Spanish.


Latin and its grammatical cases

The Latin proverb “lupus non mordet lupum” means “a wolf does not bite another wolf”.

In the Latin version, every single word of the sentence is spelled differently.

That’s because Latin nouns change their endings to indicate their grammatical function in a sentence. The Latin word for “wolf” is “lupus”; that’s its form as the subject of a sentence. But when it is the direct object, it takes the form “lupum”.

These grammatical cases in Latin make it a more difficult language to learn than Spanish.

Sentences tend to be shorter in Latin compared to Spanish

The Latin saying “Audentes fortuna iuvat” (“Fortune favors the bold”) becomes “La fortuna favorece a los audaces” in Spanish.

The Spanish version of this sentence contains twice as many words as the Latin version.

That’s mainly because Latin doesn’t use grammatical articles, whereas Spanish does. Grammatical articles, by the way, correspond to the words “the”, “a”, and “an” in English.

Leaving out the subject pronoun

The Latin sentence “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) and the Spanish sentence “Te amo” (“I love you”) seem to have nothing in common. The first is a statement by 17th-century philosopher René Descartes; the second is a declaration of love in Spanish.

These sentences do, however, have something in common: neither of them contains a subject pronoun.

In Spanish and Latin, leaving out the subject pronoun can be grammatically correct because the context (the verb endings, in particular) makes the missing pronoun easy to figure out.

In Linguistics, Spanish and Latin are called null-subject languages —languages where subject pronouns can be left out. English, in contrast, is not one of these: we even use “dummy pronouns,” which refer to nothing in particular, so that sentences like “It is raining” can have a subject.

Spelling differences

It is estimated that approximately 75% of the Spanish language's vocabulary has its origins in Latin. However, despite this strong connection to Latin, there are noticeable differences in the spelling of some words between the two languages.

For instance, while the letter 'z' is rare in Latin vocabulary, it is often used in Spanish spelling. Additionally, it is intriguing to note that many Spanish words, which derive from Latin words ending in 'x', have undergone a transformation by replacing the 'x' with 'z'.

Table: examples of Spanish words which are derived from Latin words ending in 'x'
Spanish Latin English
luz lux light
feliz felix happy
voz vox voice
paz pax peace
audaz audax bold
capaz capax capable
eficaz efficax effective
cruz crux cross

In other cases, the final ‘x’ in the original Latin word is changed to other letters in the derived Spanish word:

Spanish Latin English
ley lex law
rey rex king
noche nox night

Latin spelling differs from Spanish spelling through another pattern: it is frequent for nouns that end in ‘-tas’ in Latin to end in ‘-tad’ in Spanish. Here are some examples of this:

Spanish Latin English
tranquilidad tranquillitas tranquility
libertad libertas freedom
curiosidad curiositas curiosity
variedad varietas variety
sanidad sanitas health
humanidad humanitas humanity
sociedad societas society
dificultad difficultas difficulty
dignidad dignitas dignity
seguridad securitas security
unidad unitas unity

Spanish words derived from Latin terms ending in ‘-tio’ have a slightly different spelling: the ‘-tio’ ending in Latin is generally replaced by ‘-ción’ in Spanish.

Spanish Latin English
comparación comparatio comparison
excepción exceptio exception
significación significatio significance
descripción descriptio description
admiración admiratio admiration
dirección directio direction
ecuación aequatio équation

Another spelling difference between Latin and Spanish concerns Latin words starting with the letter ‘s’ followed by a consonant. When these words are incorporated into Spanish, it is common for the letter ‘e’ to be added at the beginning.

Spanish Latin English
estrellas stellae stars
escuela schola school
esperar spes hope
espíritu spiritus spirit
escribe scribere write
estudiar studere study

Spanish words which are derived from Latin words ending in ‘-lis’ typically lose the final ‘-is’. Here are some examples:

Spanish Latin English
sol solis sun
fidel fidelis faithful
fácil facilis easy
débil debilis weak
útil utilis useful
piel pellis skin

A noticeable difference between Latin spelling and Spanish spelling concerns the frequent simplification of double consonants to single consonants.

Double consonants do exist in Spanish, for example:

As a general rule, these four consonants are the only consonants that can appear doubled in Spanish spelling. (There are a few exceptions, such as in the loanwords “jazz” and “pizza”)

A way to remember these four consonants is that they are the consonants found in the name Caroline.

Latin-derived Spanish words have a different spelling from the original Latin term because of this frequent removal of the double consonants. Here are some examples of this:

Latin Spanish English
Words that are spelled with 'ff' in Latin vs. single 'f' in Spanish:
difficilis difícil difficult
offensio ofensa offense
differo diferente different
offero oferta offer
officialis oficial official
effectus efecto effect
Words that are spelled with 'pp' in Latin vs. single 'p' in Spanish:
opportunitas oportunidad opportunity
approbare aprobar approve
appropriare apropiado appropriate
Words that are spelled with 'mm' in Latin vs. single 'm' in Spanish
communis común common
accommodo acomodar accommodate
consummatio consumo consumption
Words that are spelled with 'cc' in Latin vs. single 'c' in Spanish
acceptus aceptable acceptable
accuso acusar accuse
occupo ocupar occupy
successio sucesión succession
peccatum pecado sin
Words that are spelled with 'ss' in Latin vs. single 's' in Spanish
possessio posesión possession
necessarius necesario necessary
dissimulo disimular disguise
excessum exceso excess

This comparison of Latin and Spanish shows that although there are many spelling and grammatical differences between Latin and Spanish, these two languages are closely related in terms of their vocabulary.

In terms of pronunciation - and particularly in terms of grammar - there are more significant differences between Latin and Spanish.

Despite these differences, Spanish is one of the closest languages to Latin. Italian is also very similar to Latin, but French is a bit less similar to Latin because of Gallic and Frankish influences.

This proximity to Latin is one of the factors that makes Spanish one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. There are many English words derived from Latin, and often these are similar to the corresponding Spanish words.

If you want to learn Spanish, check out this Spanish course.