English synonyms with different roots (Germanic and Romance)

Earlier today, I got into a discussion about the evolution of the English language. As many of you guys probably know, English is a Germanic language with a lot of words that have Latin roots, thanks to the Norman invasion of England way back when.

We started thinking of words with Anglo-Saxon (or other Germanic language) roots that have synonyms with Latin roots. Here are the ones we’ve thought of so far:

Heavenly and celestial
Blue and azure
Green and verdant
Kin and family
Understand and comprehend
Godly and divine (That one’s kind of stretching it, but I think it’s close enough.)

Can you guys think of more?

Mods–I wasn’t sure whether to put this thread in IMHO or The Game Room. Feel free to move it, if you’d like.

beautiful and pulchritudinous

Chicken and Poultry

Pig and Pork

Cow and Beef.

Something about meat, where the food is Latin but the animal is not!

“Beautiful” has a Latin root, though.

There’s a near endless supply of these. For every Germanic/Old English word you can think of, you’re almost sure to find a Latinate cognate.

Anyhow, a small list here.

And there’s more. For example, I don’t see speed and celerity there. Or angry and irate. Or lucky and fortunate. Or pretty and attractive. Etc.

Generally, the word with the Germanic root is perceived as being less formal in diction than the Latinate synonym.

Oh, uh…yeah. I didn’t even think of checking Wikipedia. Duh.


As noted, it’s hardly a complete list. I’d just try to find a list of Old English/Germanic origin words and work from there finding Latinate synonyms. You will probably find at least one for almost all nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

eheu I should have known

And the reason for this is the aristocracy with Normandic roots spoke French and the peasants English.

I haven’t looked at the list, but I am going to try a few anyway.
light, lamp
bright, intelligent
sight, vision
height, stature
fight, battle
bight, bay
swine, pork (“pig” is ooo, not clearly Germanic)
green, verdant
breakable, fragile
hard, difficult
seat, chair
fiddle, violin
drink, beverage
shit, defecate
fuck, fornicate
dig, excavate
halt, stop (surprise!)

I could probably go on all day, but I’ll stop here.

and you can also sometimes find triplets: a word with an OE root, a synonym with a Norman French root, and a synonym with a Latin root.

For instance: kingly / royal / regal.

movie / film

Cease and desist
Law and order
Aid and abet
Spouse and wife/husband


See my Staff Report: Why do we eat beef and pork rather than cow and pig?



Sheep/mutton follow the same pattern in that sheep is Germanic while mutton is from Old French; however in this case mutton is of Celtic origin rather than Latin.

I would’ve guessed the reason for the perception (in contemporary English) is more that the Germanic words are usually the short ones, and the Latinate words are the multisyllabic ones in most cases.

“What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.” (Macbeth, 2:2)

Well, on a much simpler level it’s just that the most commonly used words for ordinary existence (man, hand, go, speak, etc.)–the words used most frequently–obviously have been around from the very start of the language as its basic lexicon. The people who later brought in things like Christianity of course are going to assign their words to things associated with church activities, religion, etc. Same thing with new types of governance, social organization, etc.

In addition to the animal/food division seen above, there also seems to be a noun/adjective thing going on here too, where the noun is Germanic but the associated adjective is Romance.



Moon/Lunar (or, Selene from Greek)
Earth/Terrestrial or Terran
Heaven/Celestial (though we also can say Heavenly, we don’t commonly use Celeste or anything etymologically related as a noun, like you would see in a Romance language)
Iron/Ferrous or Ferric
Lead/Plumb (“He’s plumb crazy!”) (“Hand me that plumb bob, plz kthx awsum”)
“Hey Joe, the iron content of these rocks is very high, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, they’re the most ferrous rocks commonly found on the coast according to Cecil’s Guide to the Outdoors”

Doesn’t Japanese do something similar where the noun is native Japanese (at least in pronunciation) while the adjective is from Chinese?

Not “obviously”, but “often” or “typically”. For example, there’s sky, and even they and take, none of which are of English origin. And then there’s the mysterious dog

Cat doesn’t really belong here, as it’s ultimately of Latin origin.

The word “age” is of French origin.