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Is English a Romance Language?

by Madeleine Lee

The most widely known language in the world, English is spoken by roughly 1.5 billion people. Those well-versed in English may know that the English we speak today is vastly different from the English that was spoken and written 700 years ago (take this excerpt from Canterbury Tales in Middle English for example). 

English has evolved considerably over the years, but through spoken language and historical texts, experts are able to trace it back to a single source. 

What does any of this have to do with categorizing English as a Romance language, you ask? 

Everything. By tracing the evolution and origins of English, we can determine where the language emerged—and which languages can be considered its closest relatives within a single language family, like that of the Romance languages. 

In this post, we’ll break down what a language family is, which languages are considered a Romance language, and why English is often confused for a Romance language. 

What is a language family? 

A language family is best defined as a group of languages that have descended from a single parent language, or protolanguage. Like nesting dolls, you’ll find smaller language families within larger umbrella language families. 

The Indo-European family, for example, includes more than 400 languages and descends from the protolanguage of Proto-Indo-European. But within that family, you’ll find parent languages that branch off into their own families: 

  • Balto-Slavic (e.g., Serbo-Croatian, Czech)
  • Germanic (e.g., Afrikaans, Dutch)
  • Indo-Iranian (e.g., Hindi, Urdu)
  • and Romance (e.g., French, Italian) 

Some language families include hundreds of languages, while others include only a handful. Experts are able to identify the ties between languages by studying grammar, phonology, and vocabulary. 

Which language family does English belong to? 

English is not a Romance language. Instead, it belongs to the Germanic language family, and includes the following languages: 

  • Afrikaans
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • German
  • Norwegian
  • Swedish
  • Yiddish

If you have a deep knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar, you may find these languages easier to learn due to their similarities. 

For example, some words—like Apfel/apple in German and English—are cognates, which means that they share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation. You’ll find a wealth of these in unexpected places, and across all of the languages listed above! 

What does English have in common with Romance languages? 

Although English is a Germanic language, it has a deep connection to Romance languages. The roots of this connection trace back to the Conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. The Normans spoke a dialect of Old French, and the comingling of Norman French and Old English resulted in Middle English, a language that reflects aspects of both Germanic and Romance languages and evolved into the English we speak today. 

Each of the Romance languages is derived from the spoken Latin of the Roman Empire. While these languages can’t quite call English a sibling, there are significant similarities in vocabulary between English and the Romance languages, largely traceable to Latin. 

The family of Romance languages includes: 

  • Spanish
  • French 
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian

Let’s use Spanish as an example. Here’s a list of English cognate words—or words that share similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation—that you’ll find in Spanish: 


Within each Romance language, you’ll find a large number of cognates, including both perfect cognates—like the ones above—and others that vary slightly in spelling or meaning. 

Plus, present-day English is heavily influenced by Romance languages, and speakers have adopted hundreds of words for everyday use. You might be surprised that the following words are actually derived from French: 

BureauBureau (meaning desk, office)
FauxFaux (meaning false)

How can you learn more about language families? 

No matter what language you’re learning, the similarities between your native language and your new language can help you grow your vocabulary quickly, deepen your reading comprehension, and make you look like one smart cookie. 

Here’s a list of posts you can read through to learn more about English and the languages in its orbit:

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