Latin vs Spanish: The main differences between the two languages

Latin vs Spanish vocabulary

About 75% of Spanish vocabulary is derived from Latin. There are some interesting patterns in the spelling differences between these Spanish words and the original Latin spelling.

The letter ‘z’ typically does not appear in Latin words, but it is frequently used in the spelling of Spanish words. Interestingly, many Spanish words which are derived from Latin words ending in ‘x’ have changed the ending to the letter ‘z’

Spanish Latin English
luz lux light
feliz felix happy
voz vox voice
paz pax peace
audaz audax bold
capaz capax capable
eficaz efficax effective
cruz crux cross

In other cases the final ‘x’ in the original Latin word is changed to other letters in the derived Spanish word:

Spanish Latin English
ley lex law
rey rex king
noche nox night

Latin spelling differs from Spanish spelling though another pattern: it is frequent for nouns which end in ‘-tas’ in Latin to end in ‘-tad’ in Spanish. Here are some examples of this:

Spanish Latin English
tranquilidad tranquillitas tranquility
libertad libertas freedom
curiosidad curiositas curiosity
variedad varietas variety
sanidad sanitas health
humanidad humanitas humanity
sociedad societas society
dificultad difficultas difficulty
dignidad dignitas dignity
seguridad securitas security
unidad unitas unity

Spanish words which are derived from Latin words ending in ‘-tio’ have a slightly different spelling: the ‘-tio’ ending in Latin is generally replaced by ‘-ción’ in Spanish.

Spanish Latin English
comparación comparatio comparison
excepción exceptio exception
significación significatio significance
descripción descriptio description
admiración admiratio admiration
dirección directio direction
ecuación aequatio équation

Another spelling difference between Latin and Spanish concerns Latin words starting with the letter ‘s’ followed by a consonant. When these words are incorporated into Spanish, it is common for the letter ‘e’ to be added at the beginning.

Spanish Latin English
estrellas stellae stars
escuela schola school
esperar spes hope
espíritu spiritus spirit
escribe scribere write
estudiar studere study

Spanish words which are derived from Latin words ending in ‘-lis’ typically lose the final ‘-is’. Here are some examples:

Spanish Latin English
sol solis sun
fidel fidelis faithful
fácil facilis easy
débil debilis weak
útil utilis useful
piel pellis skin

A noticeable difference between Latin spelling and Spanish spelling concerns the frequent simplification of double consonants to single consonants.

Double consonants do exist in Spanish, for example:

As a general rule, these 4 consonants are the only consonants which can appear doubled in Spanish spelling. (There are a few exceptions such as in the loanwords “jazz” and “pizza”)

A way to remember these 4 consonants is that they are the consonants found in the name Caroline.

Latin-derived Spanish words have a different spelling from the Latin original term because of this frequent removal of the double consonants. Here are some examples of this:

Latin Spanish English
Words that are spelled with 'ff' in Latin vs. single 'f' in Spanish:
difficilis difícil difficult
offensio ofensa offense
differo diferente different
offero oferta offer
officialis oficial official
effectus efecto effect
Words that are spelled with 'pp' in Latin vs. single 'p' in Spanish:
opportunitas oportunidad opportunity
approbare aprobar approve
appropriare apropiado appropriate
Words that are spelled with 'mm' in Latin vs. single 'm' in Spanish
communis común common
accommodo acomodar accommodate
consummatio consumo consumption
Words that are spelled with 'cc' in Latin vs. single 'c' in Spanish
acceptus aceptable acceptable
accuso acusar accuse
occupo ocupar occupy
successio sucesión succession
peccatum pecado sin
Words that are spelled with 'ss' in Latin vs. single 's' in Spanish
possessio posesión possession
necessarius necesario necessary
dissimulo disimular disguise
excessum exceso excess

We have described a number of patterns which account for many of the differences in spelling between Latin and Spanish. Before moving on to Latin vs Spanish pronunciation, we end this section with a list of words which are similar in Latin and Spanish.

English Latin Spanish
moon luna luna
water aqua agua
sea mare mar
love amor amor
table mensa mesa
peace pax paz
tree arbor árbol
alone solus solo
book liber libro
hand manus mano
friend amicus amigo
sun solis sol
warm calidus cálido
truth veritas verdad
father pater padre
mother mater madre
easy facilis fácil
cold frigidus frío
green viridis verde
wise sapiens sabio
fish piscis pescado

Latin vs Spanish pronunciation

The letter 'v' is pronounced very differently in Spanish vs in Latin

A key difference between Latin and Spanish pronunciation is that the letter ‘v’ is often pronounced like a ‘b’ in Spanish - this is not the case in Latin.

In linguistics this phenomenon is called “betacism”.

There is a famous medieval Latin saying which is a pun on this:

“Beati hispani, quibus vivere bibere est” (the English translation is “Fortunate are the Spaniards, for whom living is drinking”)

Since the Spanish often pronounce the letter ‘v’ like a ‘b’, the result is that the words “vivere” ("to live") and “bibere” ("to drink") sound alike in Spanish.

Latin and Spanish are different with regards to vowel length

Latin distinguishes between short and long vowels, and changing the length of a vowel can lead to a different word. In Linguistics terminology this means that Latin has phonemic vowel length.

For example in Latin, “liber” when pronounced with a short ‘i’ means “book”; and when pronounced with a long ‘i’ it means “free”.

Some Latin textbooks, as a learning aid, will use a short horizontal bar above the letter to indicate a long vowel: “liber” (book) vs. “līber” (free).

Spanish differs from Latin with respect to vowel length. In Spanish there are typically only short vowels, and even when they are a bit lengthened in stressed syllables there is no risk of changing the meaning of the word - vowel length is not phonemic in Spanish.

Latin vs Spanish grammar

Grammatical cases are a key difference between Latin and Spanish

Latin nouns decline (their ending changes) depending on the grammatical case which they have in a sentence.

In the first example, the Latin noun “rex” is in the nominative case. In the second example, the Latin noun has changed to “regem” to indicate the accusative case (it is the direct object of the sentence).

Grammatical cases have to a large extent disappeared from the Spanish language. In the example above, the Spanish noun “rey” has the same form in both phrases.

Grammatical articles don’t exist in Latin - but they do exist in Spanish

Another difference between Latin and Spanish has to do with grammatical articles. These correspond to the words “the”, “a”, and “an” in English.

Latin is a language in which grammatical articles don’t exist. The English phrase “I read the book” translates to “Lego librum” in Latin. The first word, “lego” is the verb, the second word “librum” is the noun. The English article “the” has no equivalent in Latin.

The same phrase “I read the book” translates to “leí el libro” in Spanish. In this case, the English article “the” corresponds to the Spanish article “el”.

Latin and Spanish are both pro-drop languages

A pro-drop language is a language in which certain pronouns can be omitted when they can be inferred from the context (generally from the form of the conjugated verb).

Latin and Spanish are both pro-drop languages, so these languages can have grammatically correct sentences which do not have an explicit subject.

For example the English phrase “I read the book” translates to:

In English (in contrast to Latin and Spanish), leaving out the subject pronoun would generally produce a grammatically incorrect sentence.

English even uses what are called “dummy pronouns” which refer to nothing in particular so that sentences such as “It is raining” can have a subject.

Conclusion

This comparison of Latin vs Spanish shows that although there are many differences between Latin and Spanish, these two languages are closely related in terms of their vocabulary.

In terms of pronunciation - and particularly in terms of grammar - there are more significant differences between Latin and Spanish.

Despite these differences, Spanish is one of the closest languages to Latin. Italian is also very similar to Latin, but French is a bit less similar to Latin because of Gallic and Frankish influences.

This proximity to Latin is one of the factors which makes Spanish one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. There are many English words derived from Latin, and often these are similar to the corresponding Spanish words.