Deep Dive into the difference between Catalan vs Spanish Languages

Tori Torn8 min
Creado: Feb 19, 2024Última actualización: Apr 11, 2024
Catalan vs Spanish Languages

Spain is a beautiful country known for the coexistence of multiple languages within its borders. The Catalan vs Spanish case is probably one of the most prominent examples of the country’s multilingual approach. Both tongues have much in common, from years of shared history to similar linguistic nuances like grammar and pronunciation. Today, we’ll explore these remarkable languages to find out whether they are as identical as they look at first glance.

Spanish vs Catalan: History and Origins

Catalan is one of the five main languages spoken in Spain. Although Spanish is the only one with official status in the country, the other four – Catalan (also called Valencian), Galician, Basque, and Aranese – have co-official status in specific territories. Such distinction occurred due to various historical events, which we’ll discuss below.

Brief History of Catalan

The Catalan language emerged from Vulgar Latin, the spoken form of Latin used by common people during the Roman Empire. It developed alongside other Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, and Italian, each with some similarities and many unique and distinctive features. The earliest written records of Catalan date back to the 12th century. 

During the Middle Ages, the language, together with Latin, Occitan, and Sardinian, became the official tongue of literature, culture, and administration in some territories under the Crown of Aragon, including Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. However, the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella I in 1469 led to the union of the Crowns of Aragon and Castile, forming the basis of modern Spain. This union gradually marginalized and limited Catalan as Castilian Spanish became the dominant language of administration and culture.

With the centralization of power in Madrid, Castilian became the dominant language of the Spanish Empire. Catalan faced multiple restrictions during the reign of the Spanish Habsburgs and later the Bourbons. The Nueva Planta decrees in the early 18th century abolished the Catalan institutions and imposed Castilian Spanish as the sole official language. Yet, even during this period, Catalan remained the primary language of daily life and cultural expression for millions.

The 20th century was marked by political turmoil and repression. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the subsequent Francoist dictatorship (1939-1975) imposed some severe restrictions, including the ones on Catalan language and culture, aiming to assimilate Catalonia into a unified Spanish state. Using the tongue in public institutions, education, and media was banned, and speakers faced persecution. Yet again, many people still use this language daily, despite possible consequences.

With the transition to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia regained its autonomy within Spain. The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (1979) recognized Catalan as a co-official language alongside Spanish and promoted its use in education, administration, and media. The revival of Catalan culture and language gained momentum, leading to a renaissance in literature, cinema, and music.

Today, Catalan is spoken by millions of people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and parts of southern France. It has official status in Catalonia, where it is used in education, administration, and media. However, the influence of Spanish remains significant, especially in urban areas and among younger generations who are increasingly bilingual in Catalan and Spanish.

What is Catalan Spanish: Discovering the Similarities

Shared history is not the only thing Catalan and Spanish have in common. There are many other resemblances between these tongues, from grammar structure to pronunciation nuances. Let’s see in more detail the similarities in these Catalan vs Spanish examples.

  • Similar alphabets. Both languages use a modified version of the Latin alphabet, making them look almost the exact same. The differences are the extra letter ñ in Spanish, equivalent to the Catalan letters ny, and the letter ç in Catalan, which doesn’t have an equivalent in Spanish.
  • Verb modes. Catalan and Spanish have four of them – indicative, subjunctive, conditional, and imperative.
  • Silent H and strong R sounds. Although the pronunciation of both languages is quite similar in general, one of the most prominent resemblances is the silent H sound, used in both Catalan and Spanish, and a strong rolling R sound.
  • Conjugation rules. Both tongues share similar verb conjugation patterns. However, some specific endings and tenses still might differ.
  • Sentence order. It is the same in both languages. Catalan and Spanish follow the subject-verb-object structure.
  • Grammatical gender. There are only two noun genders (feminine and masculine) in both Spanish and Catalan. 

As you can see, there are quite a lot of similarities the tongues share. Native speakers easily understand each other, even when using different languages during the conversation. However, there are still some distinctive features.


How Different is Catalan from Spanish: Common Distinctions

Despite similarities in grammar, vocabulary, and phonology, Catalan and Spanish are separate languages, meaning that each one has its unique features. Knowing them is vital for general comprehension; it will help you easily determine which language is used. So, what is the key difference between Spanish and Catalan?

  • The Simple Past tense.

In Spanish, the simple past tense is used to express completed actions or events that occurred at a specific point in the past. It is often used for actions that happen once or a specific number of times and have a clear beginning and end. The formation of the simple past tense involves conjugating regular verbs according to their infinitive endings (-ar, -er, -ir) and applying specific irregular verb conjugations for irregular verbs. For example:

Ayer cociné un pastel de manzana y moras. (Yesterday, I made a cake with apples and blackberries.)

However, in Catalan, the periphrastic past tense is formed using an auxiliary word. Usually, it is the verb anar (to go), but there can be different options. Here’s how the same sentence sounds in Catalan:

Ahir vaig cuinar un pastís de pomes i mores(Yesterday, I made a cake with apples and blackberries.)

  • Weak pronouns.

Catalan is known for using atonic or weak pronouns that don’t have a Spanish equivalent. The most common examples are “hi” and “en” pronouns. They are typically placed before or after the verb. Hi denotes direction and en – origin. For example:

Catalan: Tenim cinc tomàquets. En menjaré dos. (We have five tomatoes. I’ll eat two of them.)

Spanish: Tenemos cinco tomates. Me comeré dos de ellos.

  • Articles before names and possessive nouns.

Possessive nouns in Spanish, like in English, are typically not accompanied by any article. For example:

Mi casa. (My house.)

Mi carra. (My car.)

In Catalan, however, there is usually an article used in such cases. For example:

La meva casa. (My house.)

El meu coche. (My car.)

Catalan to Spanish: Comparing Vocabulary

Another thing similar and different between Spanish and Catalan at the same time is the vocabulary. Many words have almost identical pronunciation and meaning. Check some examples in the table below.

WeekSemana – [seˈmana]Setmana – [setˈmana]
BananaPlátano – [ˈplatano]Plátan – [ˈpltan]
FreshFresco – [ˈfɾesko]Fresc – [ˈfɾesk]
PaperPapel – [paˈpel]Paper – [paˈpeɾ]
BrushPincel – [pinˈθel]Pinzell – [pinˈθeʎ]
WatchReloj – [reˈlox]Rellotge – [reˈʎotxe]
KnowSaber - [saˈβeɾ]Saber - [saˈβɛɾ]

However, in some cases, words with the same meaning sound entirely different in Catalan and Spanish. Let’s explore some examples.

AppleManzana – [manˈθana]Poma – [ˈpoma]
CheeseQueso – [ˈkeso]Formatge – [foɾˈmatxe]
SmallPequeño – [peˈkeɲo]Petit – [peˈtit]
RedRojo – [ˈroxo]Vermell – [beɾˈmeʎ]
UncleTío – [ˈtio]Oncle – [ˈonkle]
YellowAmarillo – [amaˈɾiʎo]Groc – [ˈɡɾok]

In addition to this difference between Catalan and Spanish, there is another one – false cognates. Both languages contain many words that sound identical but have completely different meanings. We’ve covered some examples in the table below.

Boleto – [boˈleto]TicketBolet – [boˈlet]Mushroom
Cocina – [koˈθina]KitchenCosina – [koˈsina]Cousin
Mora – [ˈmoɾa]BerryMora – [ˈmoɾa]Delay
Por – [poɾ]ForPor – [poɾ]Fear
Nombre – [ˈnombɾe]NameNombre – [ˈnombɾe]Number
Pastel – [pasˈtel]CakePastell – [pasˈteʎ]A mess-up

As you can see, there are many similarities and differences in vocabulary at the same time. It is another proof that, despite the number of resemblances, Catalan and Spanish are two different languages, with unique and specific features.

Learn Spanish and More with Promova

Mastering a new language always requires some patience and effort. However, when you have access to proper resources, you can significantly simplify the studying process. Today, we want to tell you about the Promova application – your one-stop solution for fluency. This app can easily become your go-to tool for mastering Spanish and other languages. After installing it, you can access:

  • interactive lessons created by certified tutors;
  • tons of useful materials;
  • the ability to study on the go;
  • bite-sized learning to avoid tons of overwhelming information.

With the Promova app, you can learn Spanish and many other languages. Moreover, you can access guided courses for all tongues on the website as well, making it easier to access Promova using various devices. So what are you waiting for? Get the application or sign up for a guided course and start your path to fluency!


Summing up, we can say that both Catalan and Spanish are beautiful languages definitely worthy of your attention. Whether you’re planning to visit Madrid or Barcelona, or are just interested in mastering a new tongue, these two options can be a good idea to start with. We hope that today’s article will help you comprehend all the similarities and differences between these two languages. And, of course, we will see you in the next one!


Which language is harder to learn, Catalan or Spanish?

It depends on various factors, including your native language, your familiarity with Romance tongues, your learning style, etc. However, both Catalan and Spanish are considered to be relatively accessible for learners, especially for those who already speak another language within the Romance family, like English, French, Italian, or Portuguese.

Should I learn Spanish or Catalan?

Only you are the one to decide! Before selecting, consider your personal interests, goals, and motivations. Think about your reasons for learning the language, your connection to the culture or region where the language is spoken, and your long-term plans.

How many people speak the Catalan language?

Nowadays, over 9 million people in the world speak Catalan. It has the official status in Andorra. Also, it is a co-official tongue of three Spanish autonomous communities – Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands.

Can I say that Catalan is a Spanish dialect?

No, describing Catalan as the Spanish dialect is incorrect and might even be considered inappropriate. It is a distinct language that has its own unique history, grammar, vocabulary, and cultural identity. While Catalan and Spanish share some similarities due to their common Romance language roots, they are separate tongues with their own linguistic characteristics and variations.


JohnMar 11th, 2024
PromovaMar 7th, 2024
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages globally and has official status in numerous countries. Catalan, while an official language in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, has a more limited geographical presence and fewer speakers overall.
Jasmine ( Bali )Mar 7th, 2024
how does the status of Catalan compare to Spanish? (I hope I asked the question correctly)
YuriiFeb 28th, 2024