origins of English words

English is a Germanic language, but for historical reasons its modern vocabulary (though largely not the most common, everyday words) comes largely from the Romance languages. One of these historical reasons is the Norman Conquest of 1066, which resulted in over three centuries of domination by various langues d’oïl (the most-known, of course, being French). Another is that during the Renaissance, a huge number of words were borrowed into English directly from Latin.

A 1973 study quantified the origins of English vocabulary as the following:

  • French: 28%
  • Latin: 28%
  • Germanic: 25%
    • largely inherited from Old English, but there are at least “a few hundred” borrowed from Old Norse, including some ultra-common words
  • Greek: 5% (largely via Latin)
  • Unknown: 4%
  • Derived from proper nouns: 3%
  • All other languages: 1%