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

Horno — Furnace

The Spanish horno, for “oven,” sounds unrelated to any English counterpart.

But it is in fact a close cousin of furnace. Both come from the Latin formus, meaning “warn”.

How did such dissimilar words end up such close cousins?

Because most Latin words that began with an f- followed by a vowel ended up evolving in Spanish (alone among the romantic languages) into an h-. Thus the h‑r-n of horno maps almost exactly to the f‑r-n of furnace. In both cases, the original ‑m- evolved into an ‑n- in the root. But that is a very common transition too, with both sounds being so similar.

Fondo, Hondo and Profound

From the Latin fundus (“bottom”), we get the Spanish fondo (“background”) and hondo (“deep”) — as well as the English profound. After all, when someone says something profound, well, that’s deep.

The mapping of the Spanish f‑n-d (or h‑n-d) to the English (pro)-f-n‑d is straightforward. However, it’s curious that, in hondo, the initial F transformed from Latin into Spanish to an initial H. This is a common pattern, unique to Spanish, that we see in many Latin words as they transformed into Spanish, such as hijo and filial, refuse and rehusar, and higado and fig.

Hervir and Fervor

Fervor is really just an intense passion heating up. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that it comes from the Latin root fervere (“to boil”), from which we get the Spanish for the same (“to boil”), hervir.

The seemingly unrelated words are connected through the common transformation of Latin words beginning with an f- into an h- in Spanish, such as fig and higo, and fable and hablar.

Thus, the f‑r-v of fervor maps to the h‑r-v of hervir.

Rehusar — Refuse

The Spanish rehusar — literally, “refuse” — sounds odd to English ears: it’s the same word, but the ‑f- became an ‑h-. Huh?

This is explained via the pattern of Latin words that began with an f- tended to turn into an h- in Spanish and only in Spanish. See famine/hambre, and huir/fugitive for example.

Refuse and Rehusar follow the same pattern. Both come from the Latin refundere — from which we also get the English, refund. They are all ways of giving back.

This f‑to‑h pattern usually happens with the first letter of the word. But here it is the first letter of the second syllable — because the re- is of course the standard prefix so it didn’t effect the sound pattern change.

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!

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