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German vs. Latin

Though it is technically a Germanic language, it is not hard to notice that English contains words from both German and Latin. However, these words do not necessarily exist in English as simple synonyms. If you look carefully at pairs of words that appear to mean the same thing, it turns out that they have slightly different meanings and connotations, often based on their language of origin.

In general, English words that come from German tend to be basic, everyday words that people say and hear very regularly. On the other hand, it tends to be the case that English words of Latin descent are perceived as more sophisticated, or having a more complex meaning. The following pairs of words have very similar meanings, but follow this pattern. As you can see, this distinction can apply to nouns, adjectives, and verbs alike in English.

German: hard
Latin: difficult

G: smart
L: intelligent

G: understand
L: comprehend

G: teenager
L: adolescent

G: cat
L: feline

G: ask
L: inquire

G: before
L: prior

G: begin
L: commence

G: belly
L: abdomen

G: tongue
L: language


Maya Barzilai
Maya is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy. She recently graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Linguistics and Arabic. She loves not only learning foreign languages, but also learning all about the different languages of the world and what they have in common. Maya is passionate about sharing her love for languages with others and watching as more and more people become empowered by the knowledge of another language.