A loanword (or a borrowing) is a word taken in by one language from another. The word loanword itself is a calque of the German Lehnwort. A calque or loan translation is a related process whereby it is the meaning or idiom that is borrowed rather the lexical item itself.

Although loanwords are typically far less numerous than the "native" words of most languages (creoles being an obvious exception), they are often widely known and used, since their borrowing served a certain purpose.


Loanwords in English

English has many loanwords, due to England coming in contacts with numerous invaders in the Middle Ages, and English becoming a trade language in the 18th century. The table below lists languages (with examples) from which English borrowed more than 1000 words:

Germanic loanwords

The Norse loanwords amount to about 2% of all significant vocabulary. However, the Norse words are used more often than the rest of the loanwords put together. Some Norse words form, with English ones, vocabulary couplets. In each case below, the Norse word is first. Often, if the Norse word starts with an /sk/ sound, the English one will start with /S/.

  • egg (on) - edge
  • scatter - shatter
  • skirt - shirt
  • dike - ditch
  • skull - shell

In addition, some words like think are of shared English-Norse origin. The modern word descends from one, or more likely, both forms.

The Norse loanwords are actually part of the grammatical skeleton of English. It is possible to spend a whole day without using a Latin, French, or Greek borrowing, but the only way to never use a Norse borrowing (or an Old English descendant) is not to speak. The classicist C.W.E. Peckett recommended (in "How to write good English") using Anglo-Saxon words whereever possible if the purpose is direct and simple communication.

Romance loanwords

The Latin and French words together make up about 40% of English vocabulary. Norman is also common. Greek is almost exclusively found in scientific terms and is the source of about 50% of these words.

A significant part of the technical vocabulary used by musicians and artists comes from Italian: chiaroscuro, soprano, crescendo, gesso, tondo, cameo, stanza.

Other languages

Less commonly cited source languages include Algonquian, Arabic, Persian, Quechua, and Russian. Many words for foods, animals, and plants not found in Britain are borrowed from other languages.


Many Hebrew loanwords have been incorporated into English, including:

('ah' is used everywhere to emphasize the sound of 'a' like in the word 'father')


Persian has contributed words such as:


Affixes and idiomatic expressions can also be borrowed. Often, a loanword is used as a euphemism for a less polite term in the original language.

Latin set phrases are called Latinisms:

Et cetera (etc.), exempli gratia (e.g.), id est (i.e.), vide licet (viz)

French set phrases are called Gallicisms:

Goes without saying, in lieu of


Here are some common borrowed affixes:

  • -s (verb suffix) from Norse. Contrary to popular belief, the English plural ending is not from French.
  • -in Latin
  • -able Latin
  • -ity Latin/Greek
  • -tion Latin


Direct loans, expressions translated word-by-word, or even grammatical constructions and orthographical conventions from English are called anglicisms. Similarly, loans from Swedish are called sveticisms or svecisms.

In French, the result of perceived over-use of English loanwords and expressions is called franglais.

For the English influence in German, see Germish.

See also

de:Lehnwort fa:وامواژه fr:Emprunt lexical id:Kata pungut nl:Leenwoord ja:外来語 pl:Zapożyczenia językowe fi:Lainasana sv:Lnord zh-cn:外来语 zh-tw:外來詞


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