Latin influence on the English language

I found this article on this topic and I share it here.


Latin has influenced the English language tremendously.  Most of the influence, however, has been indirect.  The indirect effect of Latin on English came mainly after the Normans invaded England in 1066.  Their language, not suprisingly, influenced English.  Since their language (French) was a Romance language descended from Latin, this gave Latin an indirect influence on English.

Latin also influenced Old English directly because of the Roman Conquest of England.  But this influence was not as great or as lasting as the indirect influence.

In between the end of Roman occupation and the Norman invasion, Latin also influenced English because Latin was the language of the Catholic Church (which was then the only Christian church).

About 70% of our english words come from Latin. This alone make Latin the most important language to influence English. For example, the word, promise, comes from “pro-mitto,” meaning to send before. Here are some more examples: word = verbum; canine = canis; college =collegium. I think you get the picture. Also Latin has influenced our grammar. For example, the distinction between “I” and “me” is based on cases.  I equals nominative case in Latin and me equals dative, ablative and accusative cases. Even little things like the improper use of split infinitives come from Latin, since in Latin infinitives cannot be split. For example, to love is amare (one word) in Latin. So, in short, Latin continues to play a huge role.

Among the three great influences, –Latin, French, Scandinavian, -Latin is the oldest. There three influences have changed the content and characteristic of the Keltic language, the original language of English. Before 499, -the period of the settlement of the Anglo-Saxon, in ‘Briton’, -the present England had Roman occupation. It was a pre-historical period. Since then, Latin element began to enter into the then language of England. Again, in the remote past, Greek-language was the highest cultural language. Some of the Greek-words, after being converted into Latin found inception into the English language. So, by the classical linguistic influence is meant, the simultaneous influence of the two classical languages, – Greek and Latin Word coinage from Latin is a prolonged continuation. It had started from the pre-historical period ,and had been continuing in greater and less extent till the renaissance, and it is still continuing. To have a comprehensive resultant of the influence , the philologists and the scholars have marked the span of the influence into three distinguished and decisive phases .

These three stages are, -(a) pre-Christian-period (b) the period of conversion of the English people Christianity(597A.D.) (c) the period covering the Renaissance and the post Renaissance ,-in the 16th century.

As subrataray says, the Latin influence on English vocabulary has been 3-fold. Moreover, the Latin words were mixed up with the Greek in most cases, and hence it should be called the Latin and Greek influence.

The 1st phase of importing Latin words into English began long before the Angles and Jutes came to England, and the Germanic forefarthers of the English were still living in the Continent. The words that were imported during this phase were mainly related to plants, fruits, food; eg. wine, pea, plum, cheese, mint, street, cook, kitchen, milk. These did not necessarily exist in these forms, and the original words have undergone many changes.

The 2nd phase of Latin loan words came to England with the Christian Missionaries in the late 6th and 7th centuries A.D. They brought in with them ideas related to religion, the Church and monastic living. Eg:minster(L. monesterium), monk(L. monachus), bishop(L. episcopus), priest(L. presbyter), church(L.cyriacum). Most of these words were Greek, which entered English via Latin. During this phase the following words came from Latin to English :- apostle, disciple, Pope, archbishop, provost, abbot; shrine, cowl, pall, rule, mass, offer, altar, anthem, martyr, incarnate, pulpit, rosary, scripture.

With Christianity, clasical & scientific learning, concepts of law were also introduced. Eg: legal, prosecute, custody, zenith, index, mechanical, allegory, ornate, scripture.

The 3rd phase came with the great revival of classical scholarship in England in the 16th century. The words came over through the medium of writing, and were first absorbed and used by the learned, before filtering to the other classes.

1. Some words which had come from French were latinized:

verdit – verdict, perfet – perfect,  doute – doubt, dette – debt, langage – language, avis – advice, aventure – adventure, al-amir(Arabic) – amiral(Fr & Mid E) – admiral, avril – april.

2. Many new words were invented on classical analogies.

a. native words + L. suffix : starvation, heathenism, talkative,etc

b. Gk word + L. suffix : climactic

c. L. prefix + native word : ex-king, interchange, preview, rebirth.

d. Eng proper names with latinized adjectives : Oxford – Oxonian, Shakespeare – Shakespearean.

3. Many Latin words and English synonyms which exist side by side

a. with same meaning : fire – conflagaration, ask – interrogate, truth – veracity.

b. have acquired slightly different connotations and are used in different contexts : same – identical, youthful – juvenile, readable – legible, manly – masculine, greatness – magnitude.

4. Some native nouns have English and/or Latin adjectives : father – fatherly, paternal; king – kingly, royal, regal; mouth – oral, nose -nasal, heaven – heavenly, celestial; water – watery, acquatic; mind – mental; moon – lunar; sun – solar; son/daughter – filial, eye – ocular; home – domestic.

All you need is your ears to see how Latin has influenced the English language. Affidavit, Alma Mater, Alter Ego, Carpe Diem, In Memoriam, Per Capita, Vice Versa, Et Cetera…. Are just SOME of the everyday phrases you will hear that have been influenced by the Latin language.  Lots more listed below:


Further reading here.

More on History of English:


This post is about the same topic.


English is full of words of Latin origin that came into the language by way of the French-speaking Norman invaders of 1066. But we also use many phrases that came into English later, typically in the 17th and 18th centuries, and remain in their original Latin form.




About Adriana Butnariu
This entry was posted in discovering English culture and language and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s