Latin vs Greek

Latin and Greek are the “classical languages” of western civilization. For centuries, scholars have studied these languages to gain access to ancient literature, poetry and historical writings.

Numerous vocabulary words borrowed from Latin and Greek have enriched the English language. Scholarly and technical vocabulary terms can often be traced back to Latin or Greek roots.

As the timeline below shows, many of the most famous ancient Greek literary works were written before the Latin ones.

In light of that, it is no surprise that Latin has borrowed a number of vocabulary words from Greek.

Timeline of major literary works in Latin and Greek

The Roman empire and Greeks fought many wars, and after the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC, most of Greece became part of the Roman empire. The linguistic implication is that Greek and Latin are languages which were in very close contact.

In the table below, we have selected some of the Greek vocabulary words which were borrowed by Latin.

Table: Greek words borrowed from Latin
English translation of Latin Latin word Original Greek word
lion leo λέων (leon)
elephant elephantus ἐλέφᾱς (elephas)
panther panthera πάνθηρ (panther)
galaxies galaxias γαλαξίας (galaxias)
sarcasm sarcasmus σαρκασμός (sarkasmos)
comedy comoedia κωμῳδία (komoidia)
drama drama δρᾶμα (drama)
politician politicus πολιτικός (politikos)
academia academia Ἀκαδημία (Akademia)
tyranny tyrannia τυραννία (turannia)
critical criticus κριτικός (kritikos)
poet poeta ποιητής (poietes)
stadium stadium στάδιον (stadion)
angel angelus ἄγγελος (angelos)
dynasty dynastia δυναστεία (dunasteia)
tragedy tragoedia τραγῳδία (tragoidia)
dogma dogma δόγμα (dogma)
problem problema πρόβλημα (problema)
symbol symbolus σύμβολον (sumbolon)
enthusiasm enthusiasmus ἐνθουσιασμός (enthousiasmos)
philosophy philosophia φιλοσοφία (philosophia)
mathematics mathematica μαθηματικός (mathematikos)
melody melodia μελῳδίᾱ (meloidia)
alphabet alphabetum ἀλφάβητος (alphabetos)
demon daemon δαίμων (daimon)
exotic exoticus ἐξωτικός (exotikos)
phenomenon phaenomenon φαινόμενον (phainomenon)
machine machina μᾱχᾰνᾱ́ (makhana)
history historia ἱστορίᾱ (historia)
mystic mysticus μυστικός (mustikos)
enigma aenigma αἴνιγμα (ainigma)
anonymous anonymus ᾰ̓νώνῠμος (anonumos)
dialects dialectos διάλεκτος (dialektos)
music musica μουσική (mousike)
triumph triumphus θρίαμβος (thriambos)
sympathy sympathia σῠμπᾰ́θειᾰ (sumpatheia)

Latin vs Greek alphabets

While the Greek and Latin alphabets can both be traced back to the Phoenician alphabet, there is an even closer connection between them.

In fact, the Greek alphabet is the ancestor of the Latin alphabet. This is because the Latin alphabet comes from the Etruscan alphabet, which itself descends from a variant of the Greek alphabet.

Going further back, the Greek alphabet descends from the Phonecian alphabet, but the difference between the two is significant because the latter only had symbols for consonants.

Interestingly, the Latin alphabet is not the only major alphabet which is derived from the Greek alphabet. The Cyrillic script which is used by a number of Slavic languages is also derived from the Greek alphabet.

The table below shows the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet:

Table: Letters in the Greek alphabet (lowercase and uppercase)
Αα(Alpha) Νν(Nu)
Ββ(Beta) Ξξ(Xi)
Γγ(Gamma) Οο(Omicron)
Δδ(Delta) Ππ(Pi)
Εε(Epsilon) Ρρ(Rho)
Ζζ(Zeta) Σσ(Sigma)
Ηη(Eta) Ττ(Tau)
Θθ(Theta) Υυ(Upsilon)
Ιι(Iota) Φφ(Phi)
Κκ(Kappa) Χχ(Chi)
Λλ(Lambda) Ψψ(Psi)
Μμ(Mu) Ωω(Omega)

Notice how the word “alphabet” is formed from the two first letters of the Greek alphabet: “alpha” and “beta”.

To English speakers, the Latin alphabet is more familiar than the Greek alphabet. The reason is that English is written with the Latin script which is based on the classical Latin alphabet which the Romans would use to write Latin.

Ancient Greek and Latin quotes

For this comparison of Greek and Latin, we have selected some phrases and famous quotes in both of these ancient languages.

Many of those who learn a language of the classics are interested in ancient wisdom, and in seeing how humains thought two thousand years ago.

Greek quotes
γνῶθι σεαυτόν
gnōthi seauton
“Know thyself”
μηδὲν ἄγαν
meden agan
“Nothing in excess”
πάθει μάθος
páthei máthos
“learning through suffering”
λάθε βιώσας
Láthe biṓsas
“Live hidden”
-Epicurus
Latin quotes
actiones secundum fidei
“Action follows belief”
amor vincit omnia
“Love conquers all”
- Virgil
audentes fortuna iuvat
“Fortune favors the bold”
si vis amari ama
“If you want to be loved, love”
- Seneca

Latin vs Greek grammar

Both Latin and Greek belong to the Indo-European family of languages, and as a consequence they share a certain number of common grammatical features such as having 3 grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter)

In addition, Latin and Greek both rely on inflections (changes in word endings) to indicate grammatical cases.

Besides these similarities there are a few interesting grammatical differences between Latin and Greek. For instance, Ancient Greek has a “dual” grammatical number (in addition to “singular” and “plural”), while Latin doesn’t.

The “dual” grammatical number existed in the Proto-Indo-European language (the reconstructed common ancestor to all Indo-European languages), it was preserved in Ancient Greek and Sanskrit, but disappeared from Latin.

Another difference between Latin and Ancient Greek concerns articles (in English, articles are the words “the”, “a”, and “an”). Latin simply doesn’t have articles, whereas Ancient Greek has definite articles but no indefinite articles.

Conclusion

Latin and Greek have in common their status as the “classical languages” of western civilization.

The influence which Greek has had on Latin can be seen in the Latin alphabet as well as in many loanwords which Latin has borrowed from Greek.

Learning some Latin and Greek vocabulary words is easy, because there are many English words which come from Latin and Greek. However, mastering these languages is more difficult because their grammar is fairly different from English grammar.

For more on ancient Languages, see this comparison of Latin vs Sanskrit. To see more examples of Latin vocabulary words, see this list of the 1000 most common Latin words.