French closer to Spanish or Italian?

Dan   Monday, April 25, 2005, 06:30 GMT
Is French closer to Spanish or Italian?
Somebuddy   Monday, April 25, 2005, 06:32 GMT
I think Spanish and Italian are closer to each other than French.
Tiffany   Monday, April 25, 2005, 06:33 GMT
Italian, in my opinion. I have heard the vocabularies of the two lamguages are 89% similar. Can someone corroborate this? Spanish has Iberian influences that French doesn't share.
Tiffany   Monday, April 25, 2005, 06:36 GMT
I disagree that Spanish and Italian are closer to each other than French. Though accents in Spanish and Italian may be similar, they don't even share a border. And, as stated above, Spanish has Iberian influences - neither Italian or French do.
Brennus   Monday, April 25, 2005, 06:52 GMT
One authority I read on the history of the French language (I don't have his name) claims that French evolved from two types of Latin: a Spanish / Portuguese variety coming up from the Mediterranean and a North Italian variety coming up the Rhone River, If this is true, French would be nearly equidistant between Italian and Spanish. Nevertheless, French certainly shares more Late Latin words in common with Italian than Spanish does as in fromage / fromaggio "cheese" from late Latin *formaticus but Spanish still has queso from the older *caseus. Compare also French Bon Jour and Italian Buon Giorno "Hello / Good day!" from Late Latin *Bonus Diurnus but Spanish Buenos Dias and Romanian Buna Ziua from older Latin *Bonus Dies.
Easterner   Monday, April 25, 2005, 07:42 GMT
On the whole, I think French (meaning Modern Standard French) is definitely closer to Italian than it is to Spanish. Many dialects in Northern Italy actually sound more like dialects of French than of Italian (with regard to Standard Italian, at least). And for me, French vocabulary has been rather useful in learning Italian, not quite so with Spanish.

On the other hand, French does share some grammatical features with Spanish as well. One of them is the gender system. While in Italian, the gender of most words can be predicted by looking at the ending (with just a handful of exceptions), in both Spanish and French, the gender of words follows a different pattern, especially with words that had a neuter gender in Latin (looking at the ending, one would expect them to be feminine, but they are actually masculine, like "el idioma").
Kirk   Monday, April 25, 2005, 07:48 GMT
Having studied both Spanish and French, when I've looked at Italian grammars and or regular texts I'm frequently reminded of both languages. Italian and Spanish both preserve separate verb endings according to number, while French requires pronouns before verbs since many forms are the same (of course I'm talking about the spoken language). However, French and Italian share a distinction between "be" and "have" verbs in using forming auxiliary tenses , whereas Spanish only uses "have" (French "je suis venu" Italian "sono venuto" compared to Spanish "he venido").

In terms of vocabulary, it's true French and Italian seem to share more vocabulary to the exclusion of Spanish, but in reading Italian I've also come across words that Spanish and Italian share to the exclusion of French. This is also not to mention the fact that phonologically Spanish and Italian are closer, a major characteristic being the preservation of many CVCV forms where French has CVC (compare French "passe" [pas] to Spanish "pasa" and Italian "passa"). Sometimes French words that are CV are even comparable to Spanish/Italian words that are CVCV (French "loup" [lu], Spanish "lobo" Italian "lupo" or French "main" [mE~], Spanish and Italian "mano").

I would believe a comprehensive review that stated French was closer overall to Italian, considering vocabulary and some grammatical similarities that Spanish doesn't share with the other two. However, the fact that French and Italian may share more cognates is somewhat ignoring the fact that the fewer cognates between Spanish and Italian (of which there are still many) are at times much more readily mutually intelligible. A good example of this may be found when all three of the languages share a cognate for a certain word, such as Spanish "camino" Italian "cammino" and French "chemin" [S@mE~]. It's obviously the Spanish and Italian words that are more similar phonologically.
Easterner   Monday, April 25, 2005, 16:51 GMT

Your post has reminded me that French is more similar to Spanish than to Italian with regard the formation of plurals. Obviously, French and Spanish share the "-s" ending which Italian doesn't. This is a characteristic of all Romance languages west of Italy: French, Occitan, Catalan, Castilian Spanish and Portuguese. Obviously Italian has developed plural forms based on the first (feminine) and second (masculine/neuter) declension of Latin, whereas the languiages mentioned above have formed plurals on the basis of the third declension. Italian has also preserved more of the root modifications characteristic to the third declension, but with different plural endings. A case in point is "homo", its plurals being: Lat. homines, Fr. hommes, Sp. hombres, It. uomini (!). Romanian is also similar to Italian in this respect: om -> oamini.
Travis   Monday, April 25, 2005, 17:14 GMT
One must remember that French is not nearly as close to Italian proper as it is to the Gallo-Italian languages in the north of Italy, which are significantly closer to French (and are probably as far from it as, say, Occitan and Catalan). Italian proper has features in common with the other non-Gallo-Italian Italian languages, Dalmatian, the Romanian languages, the Sardinian languages, and Corsican that it does not share with the Gallo-Italian languages and the rest of the "western"/"northern" Romance languages.
Adam   Monday, April 25, 2005, 17:22 GMT
According to thid website, BBC Language, the most closely related languages to French are Occitan, Francoprovençal and Gascon -

French, Français

French hangs on the Gallo-Romance branch of the Indo-European family tree, and is most closely related to Occitan, Francoprovençal and Gascon.

62,000,000 speakers

In Europe, French is the official language in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland. Home speakers can be found in Italy. It is one of the official languages of the European Union.

As a direct descendent of Latin, French unsurprisingly uses the Latin alphabet, and also uses the following accented vowels: é, è, à, â, ê, î, ô, û, ë. There is also ç and ï.

A poem recounting the martyrdom of St Eulalia is the earliest French text in existence, and it dates from the 9th century AD.

The reason why French today is still sometimes called the 'langue d'oïl' stems from Roman times. In the old Roman province of Gaul, 'oc 'and 'oïl' were the 2 different ways of saying 'yes'. So the Gauls were divided into those in the north who spoke the 'langue d'oïl', and those in the south who spoke the 'langue d'oc'. The northern Gaul's way of speaking spread, although you can still hear modern Occitan in southern France.

Would you like to find out more? Then have a look at our French language resources!

Key Phrases




Pleased to meet you.


Au revoir.

Thank you.

Je m'appelle ...
My name is ...

Parlez-vous anglais?
Do you speak English?

Je suis desolé(e), je ne parle pas français.
I'm sorry, I don't speak French.

J'ai besoin d'aide.
I need help.

Où sont les toilettes, s'il vous plaît?
Where is the toilet, please?
JB   Monday, April 25, 2005, 19:16 GMT
It's arguable either way.
greg   Monday, April 25, 2005, 19:32 GMT

You mentioned "62,000,000 speakers". I suppose you refered to 62 millions in France as France's pop is 62 (remember ?).

"French hangs on the Gallo-Romance branch of the Indo-European family tree, and is most closely related to Occitan, Francoprovençal and Gascon".

I agree. Except some think Gallo-Romance should be split into Northern (Oïl essentially) and Southern (Oc and Catalan). What shall we do with Francoprovençal ?
nico   Monday, April 25, 2005, 19:34 GMT
As french who studied spanish and italian, i had manu more difficulties to learn spanish and did not have so many in italian.
Jordi   Monday, April 25, 2005, 19:51 GMT
Dear Nico:
Having heard as a child the Mentonasque dialect of Occitan (provençal heavily influenced by Ligurian Italian dialects for historical reasons you must certainly know) it's hardly a wonder it would be closer for you and that your "passive" knowledge or your parents and grand parents dialect made Italian "more familiar." It would all be in the subconscious. Please correct me if you don't agree. Just how many trips did you do to Italy as a child and just how much real Italian where you exposed to compared to Spanish? It all counts and Italian is more popular (as a foreign language) in south-eastern France whilst Castilian Spanish is more popular in the south-west (even Catalan, which is actually spoken in the Pyrennées Orientales.)

For people on the Lengadoc and Gascony, with a strong Iberian influence, any of the Iberian languages would be easier to learn than Italian.

The great difference in intonation (and even accent where "r" are traditionally heavily rolled in the south-west whilst Provençal has a uvular "r") make Spanish easier for the people in the south-west and more difficult for people in the south-east. I would say the border line would be somewhere around Nîmes and the Rhône.

It is true, though, that due to continuum we might find more similarities between Standard French and Standard Italian. On the other hand, I would agree with Brenus that not only Northern France but also the inland Iberian peninsula was less heavily romanised, not meaning it didn't have a Roman structure but that it received "less settlers" throughout time.

This would account for some archaisms or Classical Latin since Latin spoken in those more remote areas whilst the Mediterranean coast areas from Rome, though Provintia (Provence), Narbonensis and the Catalan Tarraconensis in the Iberian peninsula, where the heavy Roman settlements really took place until a much later date and till the end of the empire.
Maria   Monday, April 25, 2005, 19:53 GMT
I'm a native Spanish speaker and I've studied French and Italian. For me, Italian is a lot closer to Spanish, I understand most of it when I hear it. Here in Mexico, after a 3 month course a native Spanish speaker comes out speaking very good Italian. It takes 6 - 12 months for the same fluency in French. This is still remarkable, since it takes a person native in Spanish a lot longer to learn any non-Romance language.