Romanian and Italian: are they similar or very different languages?
It is widely known that Italian originates from Latin, which makes it a Romance language.
What is less widely known is that Romanian also originates from Latin. This is why Romanian is sometimes referred to as the “forgotten” Romance language.
It may seem surprising that Romanian is a Romance language, given that Slavic languages are spoken in many of the countries around Romania.
In fact, the Romanian language has been influenced by Slavic languages to some extent. This raises the question: To what extent are Romanian and Italian similar, and in what ways are they different?
Similar vocabulary words between Romanian and Italian
To compare how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary, linguists use the concept of lexical similarity. It provides a numerical value which indicates to what extent the vocabularies of the two languages are alike.
The lexical similarity coefficient between Romanian and Italian is 0.77
(Lexical similarity coefficients range from zero to one. A lexical similarity of zero means that the two languages have no overlap in vocabulary. Whereas a score of one means that the two languages have total similarity in terms of vocabulary)
To put this Romanian/Italian lexical similarity score in perspective, compare it with the lexical similarity:
- between English and German: 0.60
- between English and French: 0.27
Here is a list of vocabulary words that are similar in Romanian and Italian (and quite different from their English equivalents):
- “eyes” is «ochi» in Romanian and «occhi» in Italian. Both come from the Latin word «oculos»
- “spring” (the season) is «primăvară» in Romanian and «primavera» in Italian
- “week” is «săptămână» in Romanian and «settimana» in Italian (these words both come from «septimana», the Latin word for "week")
- “to sing” is «cânta» in Romanian and «cantare» in Italian (these words are both derived from the Latin word «canto» which means "to sing")
- “dog” is «câine» in Romanian and «cane» in Italian (these words are both derived from the Latin word «canis» which means "dog")
- “guilt” is «culpă» in Romanian and «colpa» in Italian (both come from the Latin word for guilt: «culpa»)
- “bread” is «pâine» in Romanian and «pane» in Italian (both come from the Latin word for bread: «panis»)
- “meat” is «carne» in both Romanian and Italian (these words are both derived from the Latin word «carnem» which is the accusative singular form of the Latin word «carō» which means "meat")
- “fish” is «pește» in Romanian and «pesce» in Italian (both come from the Latin word for fish: «piscis»)
- “sad” is «trist» in Romanian and «triste» in Italian (both come from the Latin word for sad: «tristis»)
- “hand” is «mână» in Romanian and «mano» in Italian (these words are both derived from the Latin word «manus» which means "hand")
- “harmful” is «nociv» in Romanian and «nocivo» in Italian (both come from the Latin adjective «nocīvus» which means: hurtful, injurious)
- “shortage/scarcity” is «penurie» in Romanian and «penuria» in Italian (these words are both derived from the Latin word «pēnūria» which means "need" or "scarcity")
- “egg” is «ovo» in both Romanian and Italian (both come from the Latin word for egg: «ovum»)
For more Italian and Romanian vocabulary words, see the following vocabulary lists:
What are the main differences between Romanian and Italian?
Lexicon / vocabulary
Even though lexicon was one of the highlights in the similarities section, there are still some words that are nothing alike between Romanian and Italian which may cause confusion.
A few examples of words that are significantly different are:
Romanian (unlike Italian) has many words of Slavic origin:
- « Isprăvi » (to complete, to finish, to end ): This Romanian word is similar to the Russian word « исправить » (ispravitʹ). Its Slavic origin explains why it is so different from its Italian translation which is « completare »
- « războinic » (warrior, fighter). This Romanian word orgininates from the common Slavic term « orzbojьnikъ ». Again very different sounding from its Italian counterpart which is « guerriero »
- « a păzi » (to guard, to watch over). This Romanian vocabulary word comes from the common Slavic term « paziti »
- « milă (mercy, compassion): This Romanian word is of Slavic origin. Its Italian counterpart is « misericordia » which comes from Latin.
- « strădanie » (effort, pains, endeavor). This Romanian word comes from the Slavic term « stradanьje ». It is also similar to the Russian word « страдание » (stradaniye) which means suffering
- « izgoni » (to chase away, to expel, to banish) This Romanian word originates from the common Slavic term « jьzgoniti ». This Slavic origin is why it is so unlike its Italian translation: « scacciato »
- « Slavă » (glory): This Romanian word is of Slavic origin, which is why it is quite different from its Italian counterpart « gloria » which comes from Latin.
- « Șobolan » (rat). This Romanian word comes from the Slavic term « sobolъ »
- « a râvni » (to covet): From the Slavic term « rьvьnovati »
- « trândav » (idle, lazy): this Romanian is also of Slavic origin
- « zăpadă » (snow): This Romanian word originates from the Slavic term « zapadati » which means "to fall". It is very different from the Italian word for "snow" which is « neve » and which comes from the Latin « nix »
- « vrajă »: means magic spell, this Romanian word comes from the Slavic term « voržь »
Similarities and differences between the Romanian and Italian alphabets
As English speakers, we are familiar with the English alphabet and its 26 letters (a-z). Interestingly, although English is a Germanic language and not a Latin language, it still uses the Latin alphabet.
The English language (and other Germanic languages) adopted the Latin alphabet in the early middle ages when Christianity spread to the north of Europe.
Romanian and Italian having both evolved from Latin, unsurprisingly use the Latin alphabet as well.
Italian uses a variant of the Latin alphabet with only 21 letters
the 5 letters (j, k, w, x, and y) are not part of the proper Italian alphabet but do appear in foreign words that Italian has incorporated (such as jeans, taxi, .. )
The Romanian alphabet is also based on the Latin alphabet but it has 5 extra letters (ă, â, î, ș and ț). According to linguists, these are really 5 extra letters and not letters with accents.
These additional letters make it easy to distinguish a text written in Romanian from a text written in Italian, even if one knows neither of the two languages.
Similarities and differences between Romanian and Italian grammar
Just like Latin, Romanian has 3 grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), in contrast, Italian has only 2 (masculine and feminine).
Romanian has preserved certain features of Latin grammar, which have disappeared from Italian.
Declension of nouns in Romanian: In Romanian, in certain cases, nouns are inflected to indicate grammatical case. More precisely, in certain cases, the ending of nouns is modified to indicate the grammatical case
In contrast to Romanian, nouns in Italian do not inflect for grammatical cases (ref)
Is Romanian or Italian easier to learn?
According to the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI), both Romanian and Italian are category I languages. This means that both are among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.
Languages in this category take about 600-750 class hours before becoming comfortable with the language.
For comparison: German is classified as a category II language (900 class hours). Russian is classified as a category III language (1100 class hours)
This means that Romanian and Italian both take about the same amount of time to learn.
-  Lexical similarity coefficients
PS: you can use our free web app, VocabChat to record your own vocabulary and phrase lists.