German and Latin: are they similar languages?

German is not a Latin language - it is a Germanic language. This means that unlike the Romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, ..), German is not a language which originates from Latin.

Although German is not a language which is derived from Latin, German vocabulary still contains a number of Latin-derived words. Many of these words are loanwords from French, while others are directly borrowed from Latin.

German vocabulary which is based on Latin

In this section we will see many Latin-based German vocabulary words, however it is important to note that the majority of German vocabulary words are of Germanic origin. Such words tend to be closer to English (which is another Germanic language) than to Latin.

The majority of German vocabulary words are not Latin-based

Below are some examples of such German words which are very different from Latin (note that in German, all nouns are capitalized).

English German Latin French
love Liebe amor amour
friend Freund amicus ami
book Buch liber livre
moon Mond luna lune
green grün viridis vert
freedom Freiheit libertas liberté
cold kalt frigus froid
snow Schnee nix neige

Some examples of German vocabulary words which are Latin-based

Here are some examples of German words which are derived from Latin. In some cases the German word has a slightly different meaning compared to the Latin word on which it is based:

Many German nouns which end in “-tät” are based on Latin nouns ending in “-tās”

Some of these are loanwords from French. For example the German word “Priorität” (priority) is borrowed from the French word “priorité” which comes from the Latin word “prioritās”.

Here are more examples of German nouns ending “-tät” and the Latin words from which they are derived:

German Latin English
Qualität quālitās quality
Priorität prioritās priority
Diversität dīversitās diversity
Absurdität absurditās absurdity
Subtilität subtīlitās subtlety
Dualität duālitās duality
Spiritualität spīrituālitās spirituality

German nouns which end in “-tät” generally have the feminine grammatical gender, and the same is true for the Latin nouns ending in “-tās” on which they are based.

German nouns which end in “-tur” are often based on Latin nouns ending in “-tūra”.

For example, the German word “Kultur” (culture) is derived from the Latin word “cultūra” which means “cultivation”. Here are some more examples:

German Latin English
Natur nātūra nature
Agrikultur agricultūra agriculture
Literatur litterātūra literature
Architektur architectūra architecture
Skulptur sculptūra sculpture
Diktatur dictātūra dictatorship

Both German nouns ending in “-tur” and Latin nouns ending in “-tūra” generally have the feminine grammatical gender.

There are many German nouns ending in “-ik” which are based on Latin words.

German versus the Romance languages

The Romance languages are those which are derived from the language of the Romans - in other words, those languages which are derived from Latin.

Etymology: the term “Romance” comes from the Latin term “rōmānicus”, itself composed of “rōmānus” (meaning “roman”) plus the suffix “-icus” meaning “belonging to” or “derived from”.

German is not a Romance language, simply because German is not a language which is derived from Latin. The main Romance languages are Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan.

There is a historical explanation for why German is not a Romance language: Many of areas which are now part of Germany were not part of the Roman empire. The Romans did occupy some parts, but enough in surface and duration for the Latin language to take hold there.

The lexical similarity between Latin and German (compared to the Romance languages)

In linguistics, lexical similarity is used to compare two languages in terms of their vocabulary. It only measures how similar the vocabulary is, without taking into account other linguistic factors such as grammar.

Lexical similarities relative to Latin for German and other languages

Unsurprisingly, the Romance languages have more Latin-based vocabulary than German does. Spanish vocabulary is very similar to Latin, and the same is true for Italian vocabulary.

English has a (slightly) higher level of lexical similarity to Latin, than German does. In fact, English has many Latin-derived vocabulary words. There is a historical explanation: the invasion of England in the 11th century by the French-speaking Normans brought many Latin-based French words into the English language.

German and Latin share a common ancestor language

Although German is not based on Latin, both these languages belong to the Indo-European family of Languages (and so does English). This means that German and Latin share a common ancestor language.

The common ancestor language to German and Latin is an extinct language which linguists have reconstructed. They have named it the Proto-Indo-European language, or PIE for short.

Linguistically, the relationship between Latin and German could be compared to that of cousins, because neither of these languages is a direct descendant of the other - and yet they have a common ancestry.

Some of the similarities between German and Latin are linguistic patterns which both German and Latin inherited from PIE. For instance, PIE has 3 grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and so does German and Latin.

The PIE language uses declensions (changes in word endings) to indicate grammatical cases. This linguistic feature is also present in Latin and in German.

German has four grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive) which are also found in Latin. In addition to these four, Latin also has the vocative and the ablative cases, which are not found in German.