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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » Initial F to H »

Hijo – Filial, Affiliate

The Spanish for “son”, hijo, doesn’t sound like anything in English. But it is a close cousin of the English synonym for brotherliness: filial.

Both come from the Latin for “son,” filius. The transformation to Spanish came about through two interesting patterns: the initial f- in Latin usually turned into an h- in Spanish (such as, hacer and fact, or hablar and fable). The other pattern is less common: the -li- sound turned into a -j- sound – it’s just a less common sound! Thus the f-li maps to h-j almost exactly.

From the Latin filius, we get a few other English words, including: affiliate: an affiliate is, in a way, a child you rear!

From the same root we also get the English fetus, fecund and even feminine. These come, via the Latin filius, from the Proto-Indo-European root *dʰeh₁y-li-os, meaning, “sucker” — in the literal sense of, “one who sucks.” Children, indeed, are defined by their sucking their mothers; so your hijo is literally, “the one who sucks.” And, some might argue, even affiliates themselves usually do suck!

Hongo – Fungus

The Spanish hongo, for “mushroom,” doesn’t sound anything like its English counterpart “mushroom.” But it does come from the Latin fungus from which we get the English synonym for mushroom… fungus.

The relation between hongo and fungus is easy to remember if we remember that, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the initial f- (followed by a vowel) usually transformed into an h-. Thus, the f-n-g for fungus maps exactly to the h-n-g of hongo.

Hablar and Ineffable

The Spanish hablar (“to talk”) comes from the Latin fabulare, as we’ve previously discussed. The initial F- turned into an H-, as happens only in Spanish (think fig vs higo.)

From the same root, however, also comes the English ineffable, that SAT word meaning “unable to be described in words.” So, ineffable literally means “without” (in-) and “speaking” (fabulare).

We see the h-b-l of hablar map to the (in-)f-b-l of ineffable quite clearly!

Herir and Interfere

Herir (Spanish for, “to round”; most commonly heard in the form, “herido”, a wound) is a surprising cousin of… interfere. How so?

Interfere comes to us from the French entre– (“between”) and ferir (“to hit”). Interfering with something is really just hitting it right in the middle of it, breaking it up! Ferir comes from the Latin, for the same, Ferire.

Curiously, Ferire evolved into Spanish Herir — the Initial “F” turning into a “H”. It turns out, this is a common pattern as Latin evolved into Spanish — but in no other language! Just look at Filial and Hijo, or File and Hilo, or Fig and Higo.

Thus, the h-r of herir maps to the (int)-f-r of interfere.

Hambre – Famine

Famine hunger spanish english

The Spanish hambre, for “hunger”, makes sense if you know two different patterns.

Firstly, the initial f-to-h pattern: words that began with an f- then a vowel in Latin tended to have the f- turned into an h- when Spanish evolved into Latin. Huir and Fugitive is another example of that pattern.

Secondly, the mn-to-mbr pattern: when the letters in Latin “m” and “n” appear together, often separated by a vowel, they usually became “mbr” as a unit in Spanish.

Thus the f-m-n of famine maps directly to the h-m-b-r of hambre.


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