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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » MN to MBR »

Nom­bre and Nom­i­nal

The usu­al Span­ish word for “name”, nom­bre, is very close­ly re­lat­ed to the Eng­lish word nom­i­nal, in an in­ter­est­ing way. Not on­ly does nom­i­nal­ly mean “re­lat­ing to the name”, but there is an in­ter­est­ing et­y­mo­log­i­cal pat­tern be­tween the words.

Latin words with an m‑n sound usu­al­ly turned the m‑n in­to an mbr sound as Latin evolved in­to Span­ish. Thus, we see cu­ri­ous pat­terns like hominem be­com­ing hom­bre, and famine and ham­bre be­ing close­ly linked.

The same pat­tern ap­plies here. The Latin nom­i­nalis turned in­to the Span­ish nom­bre and the Eng­lish nom­i­nal — thus the n‑m-n of nom­i­nal maps ex­act­ly to the n‑mbr of nom­bre!

Alum­brar and Il­lu­mi­nate

The Span­ish Alum­brar means “to light up” in Eng­lish — and, in­deed, it is lit­er­al­ly the same as to il­lu­mi­nate.

The Latin m‑n sound al­most al­ways be­came a m‑b-r as Latin turned in­to Span­ish. Com­pare hominem with hom­bre, for ex­am­ple.

We see the same pat­tern here. Both alum­brar and il­lu­mi­nate come from the Latin lu­minare, mean­ing the same, “to light up” — from which we al­so get the Eng­lish lu­mi­nary.

Thus, the l‑m-n in the orig­i­nal cor­re­sponds to the ll-m‑n in the Eng­lish il­lu­mi­nate and the l‑m-b‑r in the Span­ish alum­brar.

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.

Hem­bra and Fem­i­nine

The Span­ish hem­bra, for “fe­male” (usu­al­ly in re­gards to an­i­mals) sounds noth­ing like the Eng­lish fem­i­nine. But it turns out that they are et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly iden­ti­cal.

Both come from the Latin for fe­male, fem­i­ni­na. Hem­bra sounds so dif­fer­ent be­cause the f‑m-n root is changed to h‑mbr via two dif­fer­ent pat­terns:

  • The f‑to‑h pat­tern, where words be­gin­ning in the Latin f- change to an h- in Span­ish, such as fil­ial and hi­jo, or hac­er and fact — chang­ing the ini­tial h- of fem­i­ni­na to h-.
  • The m‑n to ‑mbr- pat­tern, where Latin words with the m‑n to­geth­er usu­al­ly changed to an ‑mbr- in Span­ish, like il­lu­mi­nate and alum­brar — chang­ing the m‑n of fem­i­ni­na to the ‑mbr- of hem­bra.

These two, tak­en to­geth­er, show a clear map­ping of f‑m-n to h‑mbr.

Hom­bre and Ad Hominem, Ho­minid

Hom­bre, Span­ish for “man”, comes from the Latin for the same, ho­minid. From the same root, we get the Eng­lish ho­minid and the clas­sic ad hominem at­tack.

Here’s the in­ter­est­ing part: the m‑n sound in Latin con­sis­tent­ly changed in­to the ‑mbr- sound in Span­ish. Thus, we have par­al­lels like nom­bre and nom­i­nal. And hom­bre maps ex­act­ly to this pat­tern with both ad hominem and ho­minid.

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