Catalan vs Spanish: What is the Difference?

Catalan is a distinct language from Spanish and is far from a mere dialect or offshoot of the Spanish Language. While Catalan and Spanish share many similarities, the Catalan language evolved independently from Spanish, although they both had their roots in Vulgar Latin.

Catalan is different from Spanish, with a distinct historical evolution from Castilian Spanish. Catalan is pronounced differently and has three more vowel sounds than Spanish. Although the languages sound similar, Catalan has an independent vocabulary and a less phonetic written form than Spanish. 

Although spoken Catalan and Spanish may sound similar to an untrained ear, here are some reasons Catalan is different from Spanish.

What is the Difference Between Catalan and Spanish, Really?

Catalan emerged as a language when a part of the Spanish population fled the Moors and settled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, and Franconians ruled territory. Then, the Barons of Barcelona overthrew the Franconians and expanded their empire in successive defeats of the Moors. 

The Barcelonian barons grew in power through marriages to the north to Provence (Southern France) and the kingdom of Aragon, and their language spread with them. Catalan diverged from other Latin-based Romance languages as early as the 9th century. 

Catalan spread quickly through the Iberian peninsula as the Catalan counts conquered the surrounding Muslim territories and spread to:

Catalan isn’t a dialect of Spanish, but it’s a distinct language and shares more similarities with the Gallo-Romance languages such as French and the northern dialects of Italy. Old Catalan diverged from Old Occitan between the 11 and 14th centuries. 

The Catalonia region and specifically the port of Barcelona flourished through trade and commerce, which peaked in the 13th and 14th centuries. At this time, the Catalan language was one of the most widely spoken languages in the greater Mediterranean basin.

By the 15th century, the city of Valencia was the cultural center of the surrounding territories, and populations spoke Catalan all over the Mediterranean world.

In 1700, Louis XIV of France banned the Catalan language to consolidate their power in Northern Catalonia. This suppression continued, and after the French Revolution, the First French Republic banned non-standard languages of France, including Catalan. 

The suppression of the Catalan dialect in France continued to be in play until the surprising recent recognition of Catalan by the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales in 2007.

In Francoist Spain (1939–1975), the trend of suppression continued with Franco banning the use of the language outright, and Catalan only emerged in the political and public sphere after 1975.

Spanish vs Catalan Vocabulary

As the Catalan language developed independently from Spanish, many words are different between the two languages, from the days of the week to body parts.

Some of the uniquely Catalan words are as follows:

English Spanish Catalan
A little Un pocoUna Mica
Almost CasiGairebé 
StrawberryFresa Maduixa
Hole AgujeroForat
Dog PerroGos 

Catalan vs Spanish Grammar

The Catalan verbal system is typical in all Western Romance Languages, with some exceptions. Catalan grammar shares similarities to French and Italian grammar that aren’t evident in Spanish. The most noticeable differences between Catalan and Spanish grammar are the following:

  • Catalan speakers prefer to use the periphrastic past tense rather than the Spanish simple past tense. In Catalan, actions done in the past that are already completed are conjugated with “anar” at the end of the word.
  • Catalan Speakers use the place marker “himuch like the word “ci in Italian or “y” in French.
  • A definite article before proper names such asla Carla” exists in Catalan and not Spanish.
  • Catalan speakers use a definite article before possessive nouns. For example, “my car” would be “mi coche” in Spanish but “el meu cotxe” in Catalan.
  • Catalan speakers from their questions with the proposition “queat the beginning of the question.
  • Catalan has the most common pronouns out of any Romance Language and considerably more than Spanish. 

Catalan vs Spanish Speaking 

Although Spanish and Catalan share common pronunciations, Catalan speakers’ vowel pronunciation is more centered in the mouth. For example, the Spanish word “si” would be pushed forward in the mouth like the sound of the English word “Seed.”

The Catalan accent would pronounce the word with a more relaxed tongue and mouth similar to the English word “sit.”

Catalan has a group of unique sounds and more vowel sounds than Spanish, such as the Catalan ɛ–a sound much like the vowel in the English word “dead.”

Other unique aspects of Catalan that distinguish the language from Spanish include:

  • Catalan also uses an open ɔ sound much like the English word “Cut.”
  • Catalan uses a shwa– the natural ə like the English words “the”, “l”, or “alone.”
  • Catalan pronunciation uses a softer j or g before an e or i than the Spanish, more like the soft g of the French word “rouge” than the harder j of the Spanish. 
  • Catalan uses a reinforced l.l digraph called “ela geminada,” and the dot in the middle is called a “volat” (floating-point). This written Catalan distinction typically prompts the speaker to pronounce the l’s separately, similar to the English word “million.”
  • Catalan uses liaison common in French, a linkage of words that do not appear in written Catalan such as “els agrada” pronounced “el zegrada.” 

Spanish vs Catalan Writing 

Spanish is more phonetic regarding the written word and pronunciation. Like English, Catalan has many words that are written phonetically. Vowels have accent marks in written Spanish, depending on where they are located in the word to mark emphasis and stress. 

Catalan is more complex in that the language has eight phonetic notes marked by different accent positioning. The stress placed on the vowel in a specific word can substantially alter how the other non-stressed vowels are pronounced in the same word.

The Catalan alphabet contains more vowels than Spanish, with five vowels a, e, i, o, u, which are pronounced as written. Catalan has seven vowel phonemes, including the open and closed vowels from “e” and ‘o’, and a neuter vowel similar to a soft ‘a.’

Spanish vs Catalan Usefulness

Catalan is essential if you wish to understand more of the indigenous Catalan culture, which is distinct from Spanish culture. The Catalan language is not limited to communication but embraces the unique nature of the Catalan people with their distinct dance, food, music, and celebrations. 

While most Catalan speakers can also speak Spanish, the reverse is not true, with many Spanish speakers unable to communicate in Catalan. Most Catalan speakers had to learn Spanish as the language dominated the school system. 

Spanish is the more broadly spoken and understood of the two languages and thus may be more beneficial for those intending to travel. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages globally and the official language in 18 different American countries. 


The Catalan language faced formidable odds through history when political objectives undermined the language culturally and academically. The Catalan language is a testament to the Catalan people who held onto their language despite all attempts to crush their spirit. Catalan is far more than a Spanish dialect but an established language in its own right.

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