Romance languages

Notes on the grammar and evolution of Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The Romance languages evolved from Vulgar Latin (vulgus = common people), the common spoken language of the Roman empire. After the end of the empire, the local Latin dialects differentiated into separate languages. ‘Loqui romanice’ meant to speak in in the local dialect evolved from Latin. The modern sense of ‘romance’ in English comes from the same source – the love stories/popular tales of the day weren’t written in classical Latin but the local vernacular, Romanic/Romance.

Some Latin words that survive in all Romance languages:

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
year annus an año ano anno
water aqua eau agua água acqua
son filius fils hijo filho figlio
hand manus main mano mão mano
night nox nuit noche noite notte
wind ventus vent viento vento vento
good bonus bon bueno bom buono
well bene bien bien bem bene
yesterday heri hier ayer (hiere) ieri
to drink bibere boire beber beber bere
to believe credere croire creer crer credere
to be born nasci naître nacer nascer nascere
to laugh ridere rire reir rir ridere
to come venire venir venir vir venire
to see videre voir ver ver vedere



Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
to ad à a a a(d)
around/about circa cerca cerca
against contra contre contra contra contro
with cum \to cu(n) avec
con com con
of de de de de di
outside foras/foris fors/hors fuera fora fuori
in in en en em in
for pro pour por por
through, with, by,
by means of
per par per
per ad para para
after, behind post \to
puis pués pois poi
after, following, next to,
according to
secundum suivant según segundo secondo
without sine sans sin sem senza
over supre/supra sur sobre sobre su
across trans tres tras trás tra


Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
and et et y e e
but/however per oc pero però
but mais mais mas mas ma
if si si si se se
or aut ou o ou o


The conjugation classes

Conjugation Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
I -are -er -ar -ar -are
II -ere -oir -er -er -ere
III -ĕre -re -ĕre
IV -ire -ir -ir -ir -ire

ES and PT merged the awkward conjugation III into IV or II, depending on the verb and the language: vincĕre (to win) becomes vencer (II) and vencer (II), but dicĕre (to say) turns into decir (III)and dizer (II).

Endings of 1st conjugation verbs in the Present Indicative:

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
I -o -e -o -o -o
you -as -es -as -as -i
he/she/it -at -e -a -a -a
we -amus -ons -amos -amos -iamo
you (plu.) -atis -ez -áis -ais -ate
they -ant -ent -an -am -ano

Conjugation of verbs from facere – to make/to do

LA fácere, past participle factus, perfect participle factum, gerund faciéndum

French Spanish Portug. Italian
infinitive  faire hacer fazer fare
je fais (yo) hago (eu) faço (io) faccio
  tu fais (tú) haces (tu) fazes (tu) fai
  il/ella fait (él/ella/usted) hace (ele/ela) faz (lui, lei, Lei) fa
   nous faisons (nosotros) hacemos (nós) fazemos (noi) facciamo
  vous faites (vosotros) hacéis (vós) fazeis (voi) fate
  ils/elles font (ellas/ellos/ustedes)
(eles/elas) fazem (loro, Loro) fanno
past infinitive avoir fait aver fatto
gerund (present) haciendo fazendo facendo
gerund (past) avendo fatto
present participle faisant faciente facente
past participle fait/ayant fait hecho feito fatto

PT also has a personal infinitive that inflects according to its subject.
je fais = hago = faccio = I make/do / I’m making/doing.
● Talking about weather: Il fait froihace frio – It’s cold (literally, ‘it makes cold’)

First person singular forms:

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
prs.ind. facio fais hago faccio
prs.sbjv. faciam fasse haga faccia
ipf.ind. faciebam faisais hacía facevo
pfv.ind feci fis hice feci
plpf.ind feceram hiciera (fecera)
plpf.sbjv fecissem fisse hiciese facessi

Past participles

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
infinitive past participle
to write scrībere scriptus écrit escrito escrito scritto
to break rumpere ruptus roto roto rotto
to say dicere dictus dit dicho dito detto
to see videre visus visto visto visto


Subject pronouns

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
I égo\toeo je yo eu io
you tu tu tú/vos tu tu
you (polite) vous usted você Lei
you (polite plural) ustedes Loro
he ille il él ele lui
she illa elle ella ela lei
it illud il ello, lo o
we nos nous nosotros nós noi
you (plural) vos vous vosotros vós voi
they illos ils ellos eles loro
they (fem.) illas elles ellas eles loro

● Subject pronouns are optional in most Romance languages, except FR, where they are always included.
FR uses second-person plural forms (vous etc) to address a single person politely, while ES, PT and IT use third-person verb forms i.e. tu haces but usted hace .
PT also has the very formal second person o senhor (to a male), a senhora (to a female), os senhores (to men), as senhoras (to women).

Sources of pronouns etc

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
me me/mihi me, moi me, (a) mí (a) mim mi
you (obj) tibi te, toi te, (a) tí (a) ti ti
with me mecum conmigo comigo meco
with you tecum contigo contigo teco
with him/her secum consigo consigo seco
my meum mon, ma, mien, -nne mío, -a, mi meu, minha mio, -a
your tuum ton, ta, tien, -nne tu, tuyo, -a teu, tua tuo, -a
his/hers/its suus, sua son, sa, sien, -nne su, suyo, -a seu, suya suo, -a
our nostrum notre, nôtre nuestro, -a nosso, -a nostro, -a
their vestrum/vostrum votre, vôtre vuestro, -a vosso, -a vostro, -a
VL vostra
vossa mercê
this iste, -a este, -a
istud\toisto esto isto
illi\toillei lei
illi\toillui lui le lhe lui
illum, illam le, la lo, le, la lo, la
illorum leur, -s
illis eux les lhes
illos ils, eux ellos, los os, los
illas elles ellas, las as, las
VL ecce-illui celui
(far away)
VL ecce-illa celle aquella aquela
VL ecce-ille aquel aquele
VL ecce-illa celle
that ipse, -a\toisse, -a ese, -a
ipsum\toisso eso isso
egomet ipse
mismo mesmo medessimo
quis, qui qui
that, who?
quid, quod,
\toquoi, que
¿qué? que
que, quem
some aliquis unus
alguno algum alcuno
something aliquod algo algo
someone aliquem alguien alguém
quisque unus
other alter, -a, -um altre\toautre otro, -a outro, -a
only, lone solus, -a, -um seul, seule solo, -a
all totus, -a, -um tout, toute todo, -a todo, -a, tudo tutto, -a
one unus, -a, -um un, une uno, -a um, uma
which qualis quel, quelle cual ¿cuál? qual
how much quantus quant ¿cuánto? cuanto quanto
when quando quand ¿cuándo? cuando quando
such talis tel, telle tal tal
so tantus tant tan, tanto tão, tanto
every VL cata unum cada cada catuno
certanus certan\to
certain, -e
cierto certo
nothing VL non res nata
(no thing born)
nada nada
nobody VL non homines
nati (no people
born) \tonati
none VL nec unu ninguno nenhum

Evolution of Latin into Romance languages

Consonant changes

Latin..became: French Spanish Portug. Italian
++cl- fl- pl- = ll- ch-
(sh sound)
chi- (k sound)
fi- pi-
flammam flamme llama chama fiamma flame
pluviam pluie lluvia chuva pioggia rain
(to shout)
(to cry out)
llamar chamar chiamare to call
++-ct- it ch it tt
nocte nuit noche noite notte night
++-li- j lh gli
filius/filia fils/fille hijo/hija filho/filha figlio/figlia son/daughter
consilium conseil consejo conselho consiglio advice (counsel)
++-p- v b b =
leporum lièvre liebre lebre lepre hare
ripam rive riba ripa bank, shore
sapere savoir saber saber sapere to have a (certain)
taste, to be intelligent

● more consonant changes in IT: florem \to fiore flower, ecclesiam \to clesiam \to chesia church, planum \to piano, plateam (street) \to place plaza praça piazza (open square in a city)

Vowel changes

Latin..became: French Spanish Portug. Italian
au o/au o o
(cause, case)
chose cosa coisa cosa thing
pauper pauvre pobre pobre povero poor
aurum or oro oro gold
e (accented)\toie
pédem pied pie piede foot
pétram pierre piedra pietra rock
mél miel miel miele honey
ténet tient tiene tiene he/she holds
décem dieis\todix diez dieci ten
célum ciel cielo cielo sky
o (accented) eu/oeu ue uo
nóvam nuef\toneuf nuevo nuovo new
VL mórit meurt muere muore he/she dies
bóvem boeuf buey bue ox
óvum oeuf huevo uovo egg

“How did this curious change, called “spontaneous diphthongization,” come about? The accented vowel, because it was accented, was lengthened first: pédem (foot) /pe-de/ came to be pronounced /pe-e-de/. Then, by dissimilation, the first of the two sounds changed, resulting in /piede/. By a parallel process, accented o /o/ came to be pronounced /o-o/ and then /uo/.
+++Upon still closer study, a further refinement appears, a distinction between Spanish, on the one hand, and both French and Italian, on the other. The latter languages do not diphthongize accented e or o if the vowel is followed by a consonant within the same syllable (such a vowel is called “checked”; the opposite is a “free” vowel).” [S211]

Latin..became: French Spanish Portug. Italian
e (checked) ie
térram terre tierra terra earth
mérdam merde mierda merda shit
céntum cent ciento cento hundred
o (checked) ue
córpus corps cuerpo corpo body
mórdit mord muerde morde he/she bites
pórtum port puerto porto harbour


+++++Latin has bequeathed to its Romance offspring two separate word stocks, which might be termed “popular” and “learned.” One consists of the words inherited directly from Latin, continuously present in the language, passed on without interruption from one generation of speakers to the next; the other, of words introduced at some later time and adopted from written Latin (and Greek).

Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian meaning
causam 1. chose cosa cosa thing
2. cause causa causa cause
(to set in place)
1. coucher to lay down
2. colloquer to set in place
(broad, flat piece)
1. épaule
2. spatule espátula espátula spatola spatula
(to blaspheme)
1. blâmer lastimar
(to injure)
biasimare to blame
2. blasphémer blasfemar blasfemar bestemmiare to blaspheme
1. parole palabra palavra parola word
2. parabole parábola parábola parabola parable
(to sail)
1. nager to swim
2. naviguer navegar navegar navigare to sail, navigate
1. papier papel papel paper
2. papyrus papiro papiro papiro papyrus
bestia 1. bicha bug, small animal
2. bestia beast
capitalis 1. caudal wealth, fortune, prosperity
2. capital capital
fabricare 1. fraguar to forge, make
2. fabricar to manufacture
articulus 1. artejo joint
2. artículo article
rapidus 1. raudo swift, fast-flowing
2. rápido swift(ly), quick(ly)

Spanish-Portuguese correspondences

PT lacks the h sound of ES, written j as in José; instead the h sound changes to a sh, zh or ly (written lh) sound.

Portuguese sound Spanish Portug.
sh jefe (heh-fe) chefe (sheh-fee)
bajo (bah-ho) baixo (buy-shoe)
zh junio (hoon-yo) junho (zhoon-yo)
lh mujer (moo-hair) mulher (mool-yeah)
Spanish .. becomes in Portug. e.g. e.g.
ll l/ch/lh llorar chorar (shoh-rah)
n nh dinero dinheiro vino vinho
ñ n año ano pequeño pequeno
h f hacer fazer hijo filho
ch t luchar lutar mucho muito
ct t doctor doutor acto ato
ks sound s sound acción açao accidente acidente
mn n alumno aluno columna coluna
pl pr placer prazer plaza praça
bl br blanco branco obligar obrigar
-ano -ão mano mão verano verão
-ana manzana maçã hermana irmã
-ble -vel horrible horrivel posible possivel
-ito/ita -inho/inha casita casinha
-cito/cita -zinho/zinha cafecito cafezinho
-ero -eiro
-ción -ção
-aje -agem


FR : add s. ES : add s or es.

it :++++ singular plural e.g.
masculine -o -i libro \Rightarrowlibri
feminine -a -e penna \Rightarrowpenne

● In ES and IT, most masculine nouns end in -o, most feminine nouns end in -a. It’s not easy to tell gender in FR.

(some) Grammatical tenses

English Latin French Spanish Portug. Italian
present present
(simple) past
passé simple
passé composé
(compound past)
present perfect
pretérito perfeito
pretérito imperfeito
passato remoto
passato prossimo
future perfect


of it/that/them/etc ne ne
there y ci
there is il y a y ha\tohay c’è/vi è
there are ci sono/vi sono
très muy muito molto

Interesting facts..
● ‘werden’ (to become) is the 3rd most common verb in German. (It’s not easy [for gringos] to say ‘become’ in ES!)

The Cambridge History of the Romance Languages, Vol 1 Structures (2011)
Heatwole – A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian (1949)
[S] Joseph B. Solodow – Latin Alive : The Survival of Latin in English and Romance Languages (2010)

Source of quotes