40+ Borrowed Words in English and How They Got Into It
You might not believe that, but borrowed words in English constitute almost 80% of a general language vocabulary. It means that the majority of common words you learn at school, hear in songs, or read in books, originally belong to different foreign languages. In this article, we will discuss the most popular English borrowed words, their history, and the ways they got into our daily conversations.
What are loanwords, and where did they come from?
Today, English is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Almost 1.5 billion people use it as their native or second language. But when it just appeared hundreds of years ago, it wasn’t so widespread. And, of course, it wasn’t that rich. Throughout history, English has been highly affected by various cultures, countries, and languages. And that is when the borrowed words came into view.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a loanword is a word taken from one language and used in another during particular circumstances. Most English words emerged under the impact of French and Latin speeches. You can also hear some terms and phrases that initially belonged to Italian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Greek, and even Russian languages. To understand how it happened, we need to dive into history.
Before becoming a major state, England was often subjected to conquests and attacks by other nations. And as we know, society has the most significant influence on vocabulary formation. Thus, Latin loanwords appeared as a consequence of the conquest of England by the Roman Empire and after the Christianization of Central Europe.
The Scandinavian words are connected with the year 870, when the Scandinavian conquerors overpowered England. French loan words in English appeared in the XI century in connection with the Norman Conquest. Now they make up almost 30% of the English vocabulary. Other countries also had their impact – for example, many German words appeared in English vocabulary during the World War.
How did borrowed English words come to be?
Now that you know a little about history, it is time to discuss some grammar details. You might not even realize that some words you’ve been using daily initially appeared in foreign languages. And to understand them better, let’s find out how exactly they’ve become common English words. There are three main ways of vocabulary transitions from one language to another.
- Transcription. It is the phonetic way of borrowing vocabulary units in which the original pronunciation of the word is preserved. Vivid examples of borrowed words created by transcription are the words “bouquet” and “ballet,” which come from French.
- Transliteration. This method means borrowing the word’s written form; English letters replace the original ones, and the word is pronounced according to the English rules. You can see examples of transliteration in “audience” (from the Latin word audio) and “democracy” (from the Greek word demos).
- Loan translation. This borrowing method involves copying foreign words, phrases, and expressions according to their literal meanings. For example, the term below one’s dignity came from the Latin phrase infra dignitatem. Another illustration of this borrowing method is the expression vicious circle – initially, it was the Latin term circulus vitiosus.
These are three main ways of borrowing English words from other languages. They are rare nowadays since most of the modern vocabulary was established hundreds of years ago. But now that you know their origins and ways of creating, it is time to learn the most common loanwords in English.
40+ English borrowed words examples
As we mentioned earlier, English was mostly impacted by French, Latin, and Scandinavian. Below, you will find the most common examples of borrowed words from these languages. So make yourself comfortable, and we are going to start.
French loanwords in English
Almost a thousand years ago, in 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England. Back then, Normans spoke Old French. Therefore, this language became a leading language in the conquered country. People spoke it for two reasons – first, it was necessary because some terms were unknown in Britain.
The second reason appeared later. Occasionally, speaking French became fancier than speaking English – people from high society considered English to be the language of peasants. Fortunately, those times are far behind us. But some expressions we use in our daily speech still remind us of them. Here are some examples of English words from another language.
- Pork, beef, mutton, veal.
It is hard to imagine that these tasty words we use nowadays were highly debated in ancient England. When French became trendy among aristocrats, the traditional word “swin” was replaced by its fancier version, “porc.” This way, “swin” was mainly used to describe what the peasants were breeding, while “porc” defined the food of the aristocrats. Later these two words borrowed from other languages transformed a little to suit English grammar rules – “swin” became “swine,” and “porc” became “pork.”
The same thing happened to other food. To separate themselves from the peasantry, aristocrats began to use different words for animals (cow, sheep, calf) and the meat they provided (beef, mutton, veal). And even though today we don’t have such division into social strata, we still use historical reminders of those times in our speech.
- Carpenter, execute, court, tailor, government.
These words might confuse you since they have very little in common. But in the times of the Norman Conquest, they were widespread among the elite (by the way, this is also a borrowed word.) Once again, people from high society used them to separate themselves from ordinary people, show respect to the new governors, and easily communicate with the conquerors.
Most words were connected to the royal court, shipbuilding, the army, etc. At the same time, the words duke and duchess, battle, cadet, captain, lieutenant, judge, attorney, and others came into use.
- Beautiful, visit, music, rewrite, explore, hour.
These words came into English from French a few centuries later and date back to the Renaissance. People started to travel the world, visit new places, and discover unknown art pieces. New things needed some names, and that is where the loan translation began. Most expressions that describe art come from French. For example, the word “beautiful” is a loan translation of the French word “beau,” and “music” came from “musique.”
- Leisure, gourmand, feudal, brother, garden.
When England again had a monarch in the Stuart era, many new words also came from France. Mostly, it was due to the social strata – the aristocrats learned many new words from the French nobility and used them in their language with minimal modifications.
Latin loan words list in English
Another significant influence English received from the Latin language. It all started in the times of the Roman Empire and continued during the Christianization. Even though Latin is considered a dead language now, we still use many words that came from it thousands of years ago. And believe us, some of them might really surprise you.
This Latin word literally means “to be somewhere else.” But when it became a legal term, its definition slightly changed. Now it means that a person couldn’t be charged for committing a crime since they have significant proof of being in another place.
Labor in Latin means hard work, while in English, we usually use it to refer to any kind of physical work. This word has become the producer of other common terms – laboratory, collaboration, and elaborate.
The word agenda came from the Latin verb agere, which meant performing any action. Today we use this term to describe the list of problems we will discuss at the meeting or the goals we are going to reach. Another way of using this word is to define one’s unclear, hidden motives.
Today we can’t imagine traveling to a foreign country without this document or permission for its absence. In Ancient Rome, this word was also used to define a document – the one that had been checked (charta visa – the document that had been seen).
We all know the modern definition of this term. It is one of the best examples of words borrowed from other languages because we use it quite often in our daily lives. The original term is Latin, meaning “I see.”
You regularly see this abbreviation in the Promova blog articles. But have you ever wondered what it means? This shortcut came from the Latin word et cetera, which had the same meaning – and so on.
- AM & PM.
We can see these abbreviations every time we look at the watch or a phone screen to check the time. And we bet you’ve never known that they also came from Latin – ante meridiem and post meridiem, meaning before and after midday.
English words from other languages
You already know that Latin and French had the most significant impact on English vocabulary. But these are not the only languages that affect our daily speeches. Below, you will find the most common terms that came into English from foreign countries. And some of them can be really unexpected.
Yes, you’ve read it right. Initially, this word appeared in the Czech Republic (Bohemia) in the XVI century. This was due to the fact that the country started to mint its own silver coins. It came to the USA almost three hundred years later, at the end of the XVIII century.
Now we use this word to define someone who doesn’t show their identity. In Ancient Greece, where the world was originally used, it had a similar meaning – someone who doesn’t have a name.
In modern English, this word has two meanings – the famous James Cameron movie we all adore or the profile picture on social media. But initially, it is a Hindi word that means the incarnation of God in the human form.
This sweet word is definitely borrowed, but there are still some debates about its origin. It might be the loan translation of the French word (sucre candi – sugar candy), the Persian word qand (sugar), or the Sanskrit word khanda (sugar).
This fashion word came to English from the Russian language. Originally, it meant a grandmother. But the modern definition describes a scarf tied on the head with a knot under the chin.
Another common word you didn’t expect to be borrowed. But it is – for the first time, this word appeared in the book R. U. R. written by Czech writer Karel Capek. It was a novel about artificial people called guess what? Robots. The best part about this story is that the book was published in 1921 – long before we started to really make robots.
One more tasty borrowed word in our list. It came from an Aztec language that is now considered dead. In the original, it was called xocolatl. You can still hear this word in some central regions of Mexico.
We all use this term when talking about the place where kids go before school. Initially, it is a German word. Its literal translation is the children's garden. You can hear this word not only in English but also in many other languages.
In English, this expression describes a popular musical instrument. The word came from the Italian term piano-forte. In the original language, it means “softly-loudly.” Also, this musical term means that you need to play a certain fragment of the composition softly.
How to learn English words borrowed from other languages with the Promova app?
Learning English borrowed words might be beneficial for language practice. It can help you understand the origin of some terms, find proper pronunciation, and better interpret the definition of some expressions. But this process might be tricky for those who are just starting their English-learning journey. Luckily, we have a solution.
Promova is a modern online language-learning platform that offers many studying options for students worldwide. You can choose from several opportunities according to your proficiency level, studying preferences, etc. For example, if your goal is to practice speaking, you can join our free Conversational club to discuss various topics with students from different countries.
If you prefer personal lessons, say no more! You can seek help from our team of professional tutors, who will be happy to provide you with all the information you need based on your language level. For those who like company instead, we offer group lessons, where you can make your studying process fun, meet new people, and make friends from all over the world.
Lastly, to those of you who like to study alone, Promova offers a convenient state-of-the-art application available for different devices. Here you can find everything you need to practice English alone, including various topics, interesting lessons, speaking and vocabulary practices (where you can find a complete English loan words list), and much more.
Therefore, don’t waste any more time and visit the Promova website right away to see what it has to offer, whether you are an experienced language speaker or just a beginner, prefer to study alone or in a group.
All in all, what was a loanword a hundred years ago, is now just a regular part of our speeches. Today borrowed words have become an integral part of the English language – we eat chocolate, walk our children to the kindergarten, discuss the agenda at work, and go to bed before 12 PM. But it is important to know the origins; we hope this article will help you with that. Please share your favorite borrowed words in the comments – we will be happy to learn something new!
What are borrowed words?
According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a borrowed word or loanword is a word from a foreign language used in its initial form. Nowadays, almost 80% of all English vocabulary consists of borrowed words. Most of these terms came from French, Latin, German, Scandinavian, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, and Russian languages.
Why are there so many loanwords in English?
Most borrowed words appeared in English during particular historical events. For example, Latin words are connected to the Christianization of England and the times of the Roman Empire. French words came with the Norman Conquest, and German – came with the First and Second World Wars. Some words appeared like loan translations because English vocabulary didn’t have the proper definition (like the Australian word kangaroo – British people never saw this animal, so they called it as the Australian people did).
What are the most common English words borrowed from French?
During different historical periods, English vocabulary was replenished with various words. For example, the times of William the Conqueror brought the words battle, army, soldier, lieutenant, captain, cadet, duke, and duchess. The Renaissance came with the words beautiful, art, and music, and in times of the Stuart Era, the words leisure, gourmand, and garden appeared.
What are the most common English words borrowed from Latin?
The most common English words borrowed from the Latin language are agenda (from the verb agere), alibi (from the Latin alibi – to be somewhere else), labor (Latin – hard work), and visa (charta visa – a document that had been seen). Some of the most popular borrowed Latin terms are vicious circle (circulus vitiosus) and Carpe Diem (seize the moment).