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 many vocabulary words from 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.
|English translation of Latin||Latin word||Original Greek word|
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 Phoenician 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 that is derived from the Greek alphabet. The Cyrillic script which is used by several Slavic languages is also derived from the Greek alphabet.
The table below shows the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet:
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.
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 humans thought two thousand years ago.
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.