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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » F to P »

Cinco — Five

The relation between “five” in Spanish (cinco) and English is one of the more surprising relationships: they are indeed direct second cousins!

Both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, *penkwe, meaning the same, five. (The greek for five also comes from the same: think about pentagon, for example).

The interesting part is this: the p- sound in Proto-Indo-European evolved into the Germanic and then English f- sound. Think about father and padre, for example or foot and pie. Five and cinco follow this pattern too, but in a more subtle way.

The Proto-Indo-European for the same, *penkwe, evolved into the Latin word for “five”: quinque. The qu- was pronounced in a hard way like a k- and then, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the k- was softened into the soft c- in cinco. So p- to k- to c-. You can see it through the similar sounds.

Indeed, the pattern is most obvious in the repetition of the sounds in both works cin-co as the c/k sound twice, at the start of each syllable. And the fi-ve as the f- sound (and its closely related, usually identical and often interchangeable sound of v-) at the start of each of its syllables as well.

Padre and Father

Father padre spanish english

Father is one of the most basic words in every language and a traceable pattern throughout the Indo-European languages.

The original PIE sound “p-” changed in all the Germanic languages to “f-”. This is referred to as “Grimm’s Law”, from the fairy-tale fabulist who first noted this pattern.

In the Latin languages such as Spanish, the original “p-” sound was preserved. Thus, the Spanish padre’s p‑d-r root maps to the English father’s f‑th‑r root.

Pluma and Fleece

Pluma, Spanish for “feather”, sounds nothing like the English feather.

But it is a cousin to the English fleece.

Both come from the same Indo-European root *pleus‑, which meant “feather” or to “pluck.”

But they sound so different! That is because the Indo-European p- sound stayed the same into Latin then Spanish, but changed into a f- in the Germanic branch (including English). 

Thus the p‑l of pluma maps to the f‑l of fleece.

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