Loanwords: How English Borrow Words with Examples

English includes thousands of words from hundreds of different languages.

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Some estimates say 80% of English words are originally from other languages. These words are such a part of English words that most people have no idea where they come from. In this article, you’ll learn all about loanwords in English with a loanwords list of 60 examples that are originally from other languages.

What is a loanword?

A loanword is a word taken from one language and then integrated into another. Usually, there’s no translation, the word means and looks the same, but in a different language. During the integration process, the pronunciation and grammar might change to fit the new language though. All languages do this. For example, there are thousands of loanwords in English.

Loanwords in English

Loanwords often fill gaps in English vocabulary. Gaps that mean there isn’t (or wasn’t) a way to express something in English — the words not existing at all. But by filling these gaps, loanwords have enriched English. They’ve made it more diverse and expressive. They've given English speakers ways to talk about concepts they didn’t have before.

For example, the word “robot” comes from Czech. Until this word entered English, there was no way to describe machines that can help with tasks.

Borrowed words in English history

Let’s look at the history of English and loanwords from Old English to Middle English and Modern English.

Between the 8th and 11th centuries, Vikings traveled to the British Isles to raid, conquer, live, and trade. When this happened they — of course — brought their language (Old Norse) with them. Old Norse words then started to mix with Old English (many of the English words we use today come from Old English).

Many of these loanwords from Old Norse are still around today. Words like “anger,” “club,” and “law.”

Then in 1066, the Norman Conquest brought with it a large number of French words, which had a huge influence on English. For centuries people in the British Isles used both English and French. As Norman and British people mixed, so did the languages — leading to Middle English. Despite French being the official language, English speakers were in the majority. Because of this English didn’t die — it survived and integrated an estimated almost 10,000 new words from French.

During the Renaissance (the 15th and 16th centuries) Latin and Greek loanwords started to integrate into English too. This is the beginning of Modern English. The Industrial Revolution and British colonization in the 17th and 18th centuries added even more loanwords to English from all over the world to create the English we know now.

How loanwords become a part of English

Words becoming loanwords (and not just words that people borrow sometimes) doesn’t happen overnight — it can take years.

Here’s the process of other-language words becoming a part of English.

  1. Interaction and communication. When cultures speaking different languages mix, they borrow each other’s words. This is the starting point of the loanword process. Historical events that involve multiple countries or cultures are a huge source of loanwords (as mentioned above). That’s because mixed nationality, culture, or race families and relationships form. People borrow words from the other languages they come into contact with.

  2. Adaptation and modification. For a word from another language to integrate into English, it needs to fit English’s pronunciation and structural features. So, over time its pronunciation and grammar change. For example, the pronunciation of many French loanwords has changed to be easier for English speakers to say.

  3. Adoption and integration. People start to use the borrowed word in different ways and contexts. Over years of use, these words become so integrated that English speakers often have no idea they come from a different language.

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Loanwords list of 60 examples used in English

English borrowed words from hundreds of languages so we can’t go through them all in this article. Let’s look at some loanwords that English speakers use all the time in daily communication.

English words borrowed from Arabic

  1. Alcohol - an ingredient found in wine, beer, and liquor that makes people drunk.
  2. Algebra - mathematics that uses letters (x, y, z) to represent numbers and formulas.
  3. Coffee - a drink from coffee beans.
  4. Cotton - a fabric made from cotton plants.
  5. Zero - the number 0.

English words borrowed from French

  1. Ballet - a kind of dance.
  2. Bouquet - a bunch of flowers.
  3. Café - a coffee shop.
  4. Cuisine - a style (like a country or culture) of cooking.
  5. Rendezvous - a meeting at an agreed time and place.

German loanwords in English

  1. Doppelgänger - a person who looks exactly the same as another person (but not twins).
  2. Kindergarten - a preschool full of singing, games, drawings, playing, etc.
  3. Poltergeist - a ghost that makes loud noises or throws objects.
  4. Rucksack - a backpack.
  5. Wanderlust - a strong desire to travel.

English words borrowed from Greek

  1. Democracy - a government system by the people of the country.
  2. Hyperbole - exaggerated statements made for effect (a figure of speech).
  3. Metamorphosis - changing into something completely different.
  4. Philosophy - the study of basic ideas about knowledge, life, reality, religion, truth, nature, etc.
  5. Symphony - a piece of music for a full orchestra.

English words borrowed from Hindi

  1. Bungalow - A one-floor house.
  2. Guru - An influential teacher or expert.
  3. Jungle - A tropical area with forest and lots of plants.
  4. Pundit - An expert in a particular subject or field.
  5. Shampoo - A liquid for clearing hair.

English words borrowed from Italian

  1. Balcony - a platform on the outside of a building.
  2. Graffiti - writings or drawings on a public surface like a wall (often done with spray paint).
  3. Opera - a drama with music, singing, and an orchestra.
  4. Piano - a large keyboard musical instrument.
  5. Stiletto - a high, thin, heel on a woman's shoe.

Japanese loanwords

  1. Anime - a style of animation.
  2. Emoji - a little picture used in digital communication.
  3. Karaoke - singing along with recorded music for fun.
  4. Sushi - a Japanese dish with raw fish and rice.
  5. Tsunami - a long, high wave caused by an earthquake.

English words borrowed from Latin

  1. Agenda - a list of items to be discussed at a meeting.
  2. Alibi - evidence that shows someone didn’t do a crime because they were somewhere else.
  3. Bonus - extra (and sometimes unexpected) money or goods.
  4. Data - facts, numbers, and statistics used for analysis.
  5. Veto - a no vote (or the power to say no) that stops an action.

English words borrowed from Russian

  1. Balaclava - like a hat but covering the whole head and neck except for parts of the face.
  2. Czar (Tsar) - someone who has power or authority (an emperor, a ruler, or a high-level official in the UK or US government).
  3. Disinformation - false information deliberately spread to deceive people.
  4. Mammoth - a large, extinct, and hairy elephant with long, curved tusks.
  5. Tundra - a flat, cold area with no trees in the Arctic.

English words borrowed from Spanish

  1. Armada - a fleet of warships.
  2. Canyon - a deep gorge with a river flowing through it.
  3. Guerrilla - a soldier or fighter who isn’t part of a government's army.
  4. Patio - an outdoor space for dining or relaxing.
  5. Plaza - a public square or marketplace.

Other English words borrowed from other languages

  1. Boondocks (from Tagalog) - a remote rural area
  2. Chocolate (from Nahuatl) - a brown, sweet food made from cocoa.
  3. Curry (from Tamil) - an Indian-style dish of meat, vegetables, and spices.
  4. Fjord (from Norwegian) - a long, narrow sea inlet with steep cliffs or sides (like in Norway and New Zealand).
  5. Flamingo (from Portuguese) - a tall, pink, or red bird with long legs and neck.
  6. Kayak (from Inuktitut) - a canoe.
  7. Kangaroo (from Aboriginal Australian) - an animal found in Australia that jumps around on its strong legs.
  8. Landscape (from Dutch) - what you see (including features like hills, rivers, trees, etc) when you look at an area of land.
  9. Safari (from Swahili) - a journey in Africa to look at wild animals.
  10. Yurt (from Mongolian) - a circular tent-like house that is easy to move around.

Loanwords are vital for English

There are thousands of loanwords from hundreds of languages in English. Without these loanwords, English wouldn’t be the language it is today. Loanwords have introduced new concepts. They’ve filled the gaps in English vocabulary. And they’ve helped people communicate more effectively. They’ve made English the expressive language it is today.

These words have integrated into English so well that native speakers might not be aware that the words they use every day originally come from another language. But when you learn English, you actually learn a language that has had centuries of influence from other languages.

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