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.
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:
|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.
|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.|
|Desperado||A reckless or bold outlaw.|
|Piñata||A colorful container (filled with candy and toys) that is broken open during a celebration or party.|
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.
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.
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|
|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.
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.'
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.
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.
|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)|
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 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.
|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|
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.