French vs Catalan: The Main Differences And Similarities

  • Adrien Renault
    Written byAdrien Renault
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French vs Catalan: The Main Differences And Similarities

Since the Catalonia region is very close to France, it might not surprise you that similarities and differences exist between the languages spoken in these regions.

There are so many similarities between Catalan and French, spoken in Catalonia and France, Canada, and some African countries respectively.

However, there are also differences to watch out for.

In this guide, I’ll go over some of the most important similarities and differences between the two languages.

Catalan and French: Two similar Romance languages with different histories

Catalan

Before we get into the article, let’s start by looking at the roots of Catalan and French.

The first thing to mention about these languages is that they are both Romance languages. What this means in terms of their similarities and differences is that the origins of these languages are the same: they come from Latin.

Catalan has its origins in Vulgar Latin.

It developed and evolved through the Middle Ages period and spread south into Spain as the Catalans ventured into the territory of the Muslims that were settled in Catalonia over time.

One other notable thing about Catalan is that it was spoken widely in the Mediterranean and even in Sicily, but only up until around the 1400s. What happened during the latter period of the 1400s is that Spanish began to be spoken more widely, and Catalan began to decline.

And one of additional similarities between Catalan and French is that French also has its origins in the Vulgar Latin language.

It developed from the Gallo-Romance language branch, which can be described as a Latin language that the Gauls spoke in the north of the Gaul location.

French is spoken in France, Canada, Switzerland (in the western location of Switzerland) and some African countries such as the Ivory Coast and Senegal.

How many Catalan speakers are there compared with the French language?

When compared with the 275 million French speakers that you’ll find across the globe, there are approximately 9 million global Catalan speakers, 4 million of these Catalan speakers are native speakers.

Of the 275 million native French speakers on the planet, 76 million are native speakers.

As mentioned, the French language is spoken in different geographical regions, so take a look at this article on the countries in which French is an official language to find out where it’s spoken!

Are the Catalan and French languages mutually intelligible?

The short answer is no, French and Catalan are not 100% mutually intelligible.

It’s estimated that up to 80% of the Catalan lexicon is shared with the French language.

They have several words that are incredibly similar, such as mercès and merci, tot bé and tout bien, meaning “thank you” and “all good” respectively.

Although these words might be mutually recognised by native speakers, and some native French speakers might understand a few Catalan words (and the same might be true of Catalan speakers with the French language) if you are French, you’d have to study Catalan to understand it fully, and vice-versa.

How are Catalan and French pronouns similar and how are they different?

One other similarity between Catalan and French are the pronouns, which makes learning these languages easier.

So, if you’re living in the south of France or on the border between France and Catalonia and need to learn one of these languages, remember that the pronouns are similar.

Here’s a quick comparison between the subject pronouns:

Catalan Subject Pronouns French Subject Pronouns
Jo Je/J’
Tu Tu
El/Ella Il/Elle
Nosaltres Nous
Vosaltres Vous
Ells/ellas Ils/Elles

The only two significantly different subject pronouns here are the first-person plural pronoun nosaltres/nous and the second person plural pronoun vosaltres/vous.

The other three pronouns that are used to conjugate verbs are incredibly similar, right?

The only thing to remember is that when speaking or writing in Catalan, you don’t need to use the pronoun in verb conjugations, but in French, you do!

You’ll notice that the Catalan subject pronouns are also incredibly similar to Spanish, and if you want to learn about the similarities and differences between Catalan and Spanish, check out the linked article.

How are Catalan and French verbs similar?

There are also sentences and verbs that are similarly constructed and conjugated in Catalan and French.

Take the sentence “do you speak French?”. In French, in an informal context, this sentence would become:

Parles-tu français?

In Catalan, the above sentence would become:

Parles francès?

Now, as you can see, the verb parles in its second person present tense conjugation form is identical in both languages.

French retains the pronoun when the verb is conjugated, which is a notable difference between these two sentences.

But let’s explore a different verb and see the similarities between Catalan and French.

We’ll use the verb “to eat”, which is manger in the French infinitive and menjar in the Catalan infinitive:

English Catalan French
I eat Jo menjo Je mange
You eat Tu menges Tu manges
He/She/It eats Ell/Ella menja Il/Elle mange
We eat Nosaltres mengem Nous mangeons
You all eat Vosaltres mengeu Vous mangez
They eat Ells/Ellas mengen Ils/Elles mangent

Again, the pronouns that we’ve described in the previous section are used when conjugating verbs in French, but one important difference that we’ve mentioned above between Catalan and French is that in Catalan, the subject pronoun is not obligatory when speaking and using verbs.

As mentioned, in French, the subject pronoun must be used - it’s compulsory.

Here’s an example of this rule in action.

If you wanted to say “I ate an apple” in Catalan, you wouldn’t need to use the subject pronoun jo because it’s incorporated into the suffix of the verb menjo, and the same applies to all of its verb forms. You would say:

Listen to audio

Menjo una poma cada cap de setmana.

I eat an apple every weekend.

If you need to say the same sentence in French, you would need to use the subject pronoun je as it’s a critical part of the French syntax.

It’s just a rule you need to get used to. You would say:

Listen to audio

Je mange une pomme tous les week-ends.

I eat an apple every weekend.

Are the article and adjective agreement rules similar between Catalan and French?

A rule that you’ll also need to get used to in French is that all nouns have a masculine or feminine gender.

All nouns are either le or la or, to put it another way, they feature a masculine or feminine article le or la.

This is similar to the Spanish rule, where all nouns are either el or la.

Is this similar in the Catalan language?

Well, the way to identify whether a noun in Catalan is masculine or feminine is by looking at whether the final vowel is stressed or unstressed.

Now, you’ll notice that feminine nouns end in unstressed vowels, while masculine nouns end in stressed ones.

And although the way to notice the gender of nouns is different to the French language, Catalan nouns are still either masculine or feminine.

This means…

…Yes, this concept is incredibly similar to the French language.

But there’s more to this.

French nouns must be accompanied by an adjective that matches the gender of the noun. If you wanted to say “the old car”, you should first recognise that “the car” in French is feminine.

The feminine noun in French for “the car” is la voiture, which must be accompanied by the feminine adjective vieille.

So, we’d end up with the sentence:

Listen to audio

La vieille voiture.

The old car.

This rule is also a part of the Catalan language.

If you have a noun in Catalan, and you want to describe it using an adjective, you must recognise the gender of the noun and match the adjective to its gender.

What’s more, in Catalan, since the noun might be either singular or plural, the adjective must also match the number i.e., if you have a singular, masculine noun, the adjective you use should be singular and masculine.

If you have a plural feminine noun, the adjective must be plural and feminine.

Therefore, in Catalan, adjectives can have four different forms, which are:

  • Masculine singular
  • Masculine plural
  • Feminine singular
  • Feminine plural

If you wanted to describe a table as “modern” in Catalan, remember that “the table” is a feminine noun, giving us:

Listen to audio

La taula moderna

The modern table

While we’re on this subject, French adjectives also can take four forms, which are:

  • Masculine
  • Feminine
  • Singular
  • Plural

In this sense, that’s another similarity between Catalan and French.

Contractions and elisions in phrases: One crucial similarity between Catalan and French

Contraction of words is common in both Catalan and French - another similarity between these two languages that’s quite important.

In Catalan, there are contractions when plural articles and singular articles of the masculine version follow a few main prepositions: per, de and a.

The main contractions to watch out for in the Catalan language are:

  • Al
  • Del
  • Pel

There are also elisions to be aware of in the Catalan language.

If the masculine singular el comes before a vowel or the letter h, it must undergo elision. But for some prepositions in phrases that feature words beginning with a vowel, the article el doesn’t contract.

Consider the difference between the elided words “the tree” (l’arbre) and the non-contracted phrase “from the tree” (de l’arbre). In the first example, the noun begins with the vowel a, meaning that the article must be elided with the noun, giving us l’arbre.

In the second example, the preposition de should not be contracted and the preposition remains separate.

Here’s another example of elision. For the noun “the computer”, in Catalan we would get rid of the e in the article el because the word ordinador (Catalan for ‘computer’) begins with a vowel.

To say this in Catalan, we would say:

Listen to audio

L’ordinador

The computer

The French language has a few grammatical rules that are similar to these elision and contraction rules of the Catalan language.

It’s another of the similarities between Catalan and French.

In French, we call the blending of two words and the dropping of a letter elision as well.

Just like in Catalan, the elision of words that begin with a vowel is a similar rule. For example, with the noun animal, if you wanted to use the article le before the noun, you must elide it.

In other words, it’s not le animal, it’s l’animal.

The same goes for words that begin with a h muet. So, instead of le hiver, you must say l’hiver.

Pronunciation: How is Catalan similar to French in terms of pronunciation?

One of the key similarities between Catalan and French is the way that these languages are pronounced.

Though you might expect the pronunciation of Catalan to be entirely similar to Castellano, there are some exceptions.

For example, the letter j in Catalan is pronounced similarly to the letter j in French.

In other words, it sounds like the English letter z in both of these languages.

An interesting difference between the Catalan language and the French language is the r sound.

What you’ll notice is that in certain regions of Catalonia, an alveolar trill is used when pronouncing the letter r, also referred to as the “rolled” or “Spanish” r.

In other regions of Catalunya (particularly the north), the “guttural” r is used. You might recognise this as the “French” r.

This means that certain regions of Catalonia have a similar pronunciation to the French accent, but that other regions are more similar to the Spanish accent.

What are the non-phonetic similarities between Catalan and French?

Both Catalan and French are not regarded as 100% phonetic languages, and there are many things that make both Catalan and French non-phonetic languages.

For instance, with French there are plenty of letters that are classed as silent letters.

To get to grips with pronouncing French words, you need to focus on nasal sounds, semi-vowels and pure vowels, learn which letters are silent, such as the h that comes at the beginning of homme, and get to grips with consonants that are not pronounced at the end of words.

In a similar sense, Catalan has its own phonetic niggles that make it a challenge to pronounce words in this language.

It’s not classed as a phonetic language, and some letters can be pronounced in two different ways.

Take the letter g in Catalan.

It can sound similar to the ch combination, meaning that the verb vaig sounds different to how you might think it’s pronounced. We pronounce vaig like this: “bach”.

The accent marks: How are accent marks similar between Catalan and French

Now, when looking at the similarities and differences between Catalan and French one similarity you might notice is the cedilla.

It’s the little line that extends from the letter c in the word Français.

This cedilla is used in both Catalan and French, so take note that it’s something to look out for if you’re studying both languages.

The cedilla is used to transform a hard c consonant sound into a soft c sound. In words where the cedilla features, you’ll pronounce that c like the s in “silver”.

Some of the other accent marks that you’ll notice in both Catalan and French are:

  • The acute accent - i.e., the accent above this é
  • The grave accent - i.e., the accent above this è
  • The diaeresis i.e., the accent above this ö

See this guide to French accent marks.

Ordinal numbers and cardinal numbers: What are the similarities between Catalan and French?

In our article on Spanish vs Catalan, we mentioned that there are some striking similarities between the cardinal numbers of the Catalan and French languages.

The table below compares the numbers of both of these languages, and features the English translation, so take a look and make your own conclusion.

Cardinal numbers in Catalan compared with cardinal numbers in French

Here are the cardinal numbers in Catalan compared with the French cardinal numbers.

English Cardinal Numbers Catalan Cardinal Numbers French Cardinal Numbers
One Un Un
Two Dos Deux
Three Tres Trois
Four Quatre Quatre
Five Cinc Cinq
Six Sis Six
Seven Set  Sept
Eight Vuit Huit
Nine Nou Neuf
Ten Deu Dix
Eleven Once Onze
Twelve Dotze Douze
Thirteen Tretze Treize
Fourteen Catorze Quatorze
Fifteen Quinze Quinze
Sixteen Setze Seize
Seventeen Disset Dix-sept
Eighteen Divuit Dix-huit
Nineteen Dinou Dix-neuf
Twenty Vint Vingt

As you might notice, the late teen numbers use the prefix di in Catalan and dix in French, which sort of means “ten and [cardinal number]” to construct the teen number in the table.

To emphasise this a little more, the Catalan teen number for “nineteen” is constructed with the two separate numbers di and nou (“ten” and “nine”), which is similar in the French version (made up of dix and neuf).

The early teens numbers are incredibly similar, aren’t they? Even the number “fifteen” or quinze is identical in both languages, while catorze (“fourteen”) only changes ever so slightly!

When we look at the units, the number “four” or quatre is exactly the same in French and Catalan, as is the number “one”, or un!

Ordinal numbers in Catalan compared with ordinal numbers in French

Let’s have a brief look, now, at the ordinal numbers in Catalan and French and make a comparison between them.

What do you think: are they similar or different?

English Ordinal Numbers Catalan Ordinal Numbers French Ordinal Numbers
First Primer Premiere/première
Second Segon Deuxième
Third Tercer Troisième
Fourth Quat Quatrième
Fifth Cinquè Cinquième
Sixth Sisè Sixième
Seventh Setè Septième
Eighth Vuitè Huitième
Ninth Novè Neuvième
Tenth Desè Dixième
Eleventh Onzè Onzième
Twelfth Dotzè Douzième
Thirteenth Tretzè Treizième
Fourteenth Catorzè Quatorzième
Fifteenth Quinzè Quinzième
Sixteenth Setzè Seizième
Seventeenth Dissetè Dix-septième
Eighteenth Divuitè Dix-huitième
Nineteenth Dinovè Dix-neuvième
Twentieth Vintè Vingtième

One thing that might be similar is that they do follow a pattern.

The Catalan ordinal numbers feature a grave accent mark on the final è once you reach “fifteenth”, so it’s not so hard to remember these ones.

The French ordinal numbers also follow a particular pattern.

All you need to do when trying to remember them is to add the suffix ième to the cardinal numbers and take note of irregulars like dix-neuvième.

Since they follow a pattern, which makes them easier to learn, this is one similarity between them.

But you might say, hey, they’re quite different in terms of structure and pronunciation, and you’d sort of be correct.

Get to grips with French and Catalan without difficulties: Eight tips

If you’re committed enough, you’ll have no problems learning either French or Catalan, or both languages at the same time.

Frequent practice is required, and knowing the similarities between Catalan and French will really help you.

The eight pieces of advice you should follow when learning Catalan or French, or both, are these:

  1. Create a plan for yourself when approaching your language learning goals. Decide how much you’d like to learn over x weeks or x months and plan your approach to learning.
  2. Sign up to a course — either a French course or a Catalan course will help you learn the language and teach you the core elements of the language.
  3. Go on an immersion trip to France, Canada, Catalonia or Andorra. This will give you the real-life experiences required to listen and speak the language with native speakers when you’ve covered the basics of the language and want to test yourself.
  4. Read and study up on the history and cultural elements of the French language or the Catalan language. For example, Canadian French is different to the French spoken in France. Find out why and learn these differences to advance in your studies.
  5. Build your vocabulary using flashcards, lists or articles.
  6. Take note of rules such as elision and contraction and use them to your advantage when studying French or Catalan.
  7. Practice your listening skills by setting aside time to listen to recordings and podcasts.
  8. Get your hands on Catalan and French resources such as YouTube channels to build up your language learning materials.

What are some other similarities or differences between Catalan and French that we’ve forgotten to add?

Let us know by writing your comment in the section below.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
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