The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Romanian language

Romanian (limba română IPA ) is an Eastern Romance language, spoken natively by about 26 million people, most of them in Romania, Moldova (where it is the official language) and nearby countries.



The Romanian territory was inhabited in ancient times by the Dacians, an Indo-European people. They were defeated by the Roman Empire in 106 and part of Dacia (Oltenia, Banat and Ardeal) became a Roman province. For the next 165 years, there is evidence of considerable Roman colonization in the area, the region being in close communication with the rest of the Roman empire. Vulgar Latin became the language of the administration and commerce.

Under the pressure of the Free Dacians and of the Goths, the Roman administration and legions were withdrawn from Dacia between 271-275. Whether the Romanians are the descendents of these people that abandoned the area and settled south of Danube or of the people that remained in Dacia is a matter of debate. For further discussion, see Origin of Romanians.

Due to its geographical isolation, Romanian was probably the first language that split and until the modern age was not influenced by other Romance languages, so the grammar is roughly similar to that of Latin, keeping declensions and the neuter gender, unlike any other Romance language.

Map of Balkans with regions inhabited by Romanians/Vlachs highlighted
Map of Balkans with regions inhabited by Romanians/Vlachs highlighted

All the dialects of Romanian are believed to have been unified in a common language until sometime between the 7th and the 10th century when the area was influenced by the Byzantine Empire and Romanian came under the influence of the Slavic language. Aromanian has very few Slavonic words. Also, the variations in the Daco-Romanian dialect (spoken throughout Romania and Moldova) are very small, which is quite remarkable, as until the Modern Era there was almost no connection between Romanians in various regions. The use of this uniform Daco-Romanian dialect extends well beyond the borders of the Romanian state: a Romanian-speaker from Moldova speaks the same language as a Romanian-speaker from the Serbian Banat.

It is also noteworthy that Romanian was the only Romance language that was not under the cultural influence of the Roman Catholic Church, instead being influenced by the Orthodox Church, Slavonic, Greek and Turkish cultures.

Contacts with other languages

Dacian language

The Dacian language was an Indo-European language spoken by the ancient Dacians. It was the first language to influence the Latin spoken in Dacia, but there is very little knowledge about it.

About 300 words found only in Romanian (in all dialects) or with a cognate in the Albanian language are generally thought to be inherited from Dacian, many of them being related to the pastoral life. (for example: balaur=dragon; brânză=cheese; mal=shore; see also: List of Dacian words). Some linguists believe that in fact Albanians are Dacians who were not Romanized, and migrated south.

There is another theory that Dacian was fairly close to Latin, originally advanced by linguist Bogdan Petriceicu-Hasdeu. However, there is little support available for this claim, and it is therefore generally discarded by linguists.

Balkan linguistic union

While most parts of the Romanian grammar and morphology are based on Vulgar Latin, there are however some features that are only shared with other languages of the Balkans and cannot be found in other Romance languages.

The languages of this sprachbund belong to distinct branches of the Indo-European languages: Bulgarian and Albanian, and in some cases Greek and Serbian.

Among the shared features, there are the postponed definite article, the syncretism of genitive and dative cases, the formation of the future and perfect tenses, as well as the avoidance of infinitive.

Slavic languages

The Slavic influence was largely based on the Old Church Slavonic, which used to be a liturgical language up to the 18th century, as well as Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Serbian.

Up to 20% of the vocabulary is of Slavic origin, including words such as: a iubi=to love; glas=voice; nevoie=need; prieten=friend;

However, many Slavic words are archaisms and it is estimated that only 10% of the words in modern Romanian are Slavic (according to Uwe Hinrichs' Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik).

There are some Slavonic influences, both on the phonetic level and on the lexical level—for example Romanian took the Slavonic da for yes. Also Romanian is the only widely-spoken contemporary Romance language that retains the phoneme /h/. (The Norman language also retains phoneme /h/. In many dialects of Spanish, particularly in the Americas, <j> is pronounced as [h], but this appears not to be a matter of "retention": the original Castilian phoneme is /x/.)

Other influences

Even before the 19th century, Romanian came in contact with several other languages. Notable among these are:

  • Greek (for example: folos < ófelos = use; buzunar < buzunára = pocket; proaspăt < prósfatos = fresh)
  • Hungarian (for example: oraş < város = town; a cheltui < költeni = to spend; a făgădui < fogadni = to promise)
  • Turkish (for example: cafea < kahve = coffee; cutie < kuta =box; papuc < papuç = slipper)
  • German (for example: cartof < Kartoffel = potato; bere < Bier = beer; şurub < Schraube = screw)

International words

Since the 19th century, many modern words were borrowed from the other Romance languages, especially from French and Italian. (for example: birou < bureau = desk, office; avion = airplane; exploata = exploit, etc). It was estimated that about 38% of the number of words in Romanian are of French or Italian origin and adding this to the words that were inherited from Latin, it makes about 75-85% of the Romanian words that can be traced to Latin.

Some Latin words have entered Romanian twice, first as part of its core or popular vocabulary and a second time as a more literary international borrowing. Typically, the popular word is a noun and the borrowed word an adjective:

  • brother: frate / fratern
  • finger: deget / digital
  • water: apă / acvatic
  • cold: frig / frigid
  • eye: ochi / ocular

Recently, an increasing number of English words have been borrowed (such as: gem < jam; interviu < interview; meci < match; manager < manager). These words are assigned grammatical gender in Romanian and handled according to Romanian rules; thus "the manager" is managerul.

Geographic distribution

Romanian is spoken mostly in Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, but there are also Romanian language speakers in countries like Canada, United States, Germany, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, mainly due to immigration after World War II.

Romanian language countries and territories
country speakers
speakers population
(July 2003)
not official:
Israel 3.7% 250,000 6,800,000
Kazakhstan 1 0.1% 19,458 14,953,126
Russia 1 0.7% 1,019,000 145,537,200
Romania 89.5% 19,420,000 21,698,181
Moldova 2 64.5% 3,483,600 4,430,654
Vojvodina (Serbia) 1.5% 29,512 2,031,992
not official:
Timocka Krajina (Serbia) 3 5.9% 42,075 712,050
Hungary 0.8% 80,000 10,198,315
Ukraine 4 0.8% 385,000 48,055,439
The Americas
not official:
Canada 0.2% 60,520 32,207,113
United States 5 0.11% 300,000 281,421,906

1 Many are Moldavians who were deported
2 In Moldova, it is called "Moldavian language"
3 Officially divided into Vlachs and Romanians
4 In Northern Bukovina and Southern Bessarabia
5 See Romanian-American

Official status

Romanian is the official language of Romania and Moldova (where for political reasons it tends to be called the "Moldovan language"). In Vojvodina it is established as equal in rights to the official languages, but in fact its status is inferior to that of Serbian.

In other parts of Serbia and in Ukraine, Romanian communities have very few rights regarding the use and preservation of their language in schools, press, administration and institutions.

Romanian is one of the five languages in which religious services are performed in the autonomous monastic state of Mount Athos, spoken in the sketae of Prodromos and Lacu (a sketa being a community of monks; sketae is plural).


Romanian has four dialects:

It is thought that the Romanian language appeared north and south of the Danube. All the four dialects are offsprings of the Romance language spoken both in the North and South Danube, before the settlement of the Slavonian tribes South of the river - Daco-Romanian in the North, and the other three dialects in the South.


Main article: Romanian grammar

The nouns are inflected by gender (feminine, masculine and neuter), number (singular and plural) and case (nominative/accusative, dative/genitive and vocative). Most adjectives and pronouns, and all articles indicate the gender of the noun they reference.

Romanian is the only Romance language that has the definite article attached to the end of the noun (as in North Germanic languages) instead of being a separate word in front. They were formed as in other Romance languages from the Latin demonstrative pronouns.

Romanian has the same four groups of verbs and four moods (indicative, conditional, imperative, subjunctive). Unlike English, it has no sequence of tenses nor strict rules regarding their use, but it does have many alternatives (for example, it has six different types of future tense). In spoken Romanian, the future tense is a very weak tense, often being replaced by present tense, e.g.: "Tomorrow, I go to school" rather than "I will go to school".


Main article: Romanian phonology

Romanian has seven voiced vowels: a /a/, e /e/, i /i/, o /o/, u /u/, ă /ə/, â, î /ɨ/ and one voiceless (ending "i"). Old Romanian had an additional voiceless vowel (ending "u"), but which is no longer used today.

There are also four semivowels and twenty consonants.


ea, ia, oa, ua
ai, ăi, âi, ei, ii, oi, ui
au, ău, âu, eu, iu, ou


ioa, eai, iau, eau

Phonetic changes

Due to its isolation from the other Romance languages, the phonetic evolution of Romanian was quite different, but does share a few with Italian, such as [cl] > [ki] (Lat. clarus > Rom. chiar, Ital. chiaro).

Among the notable phonetic changes are:

  • diphtongization of e, i, o
    Lat. cera > Rom. ceară (wax)
    Lat. sole > Rom. soare (sun)
  • iotacism [e] → [i]
    Lat. herba > Rom. iarbă (grass, herb)
  • velar [k], [g] → labial [p], [b], [m]
    Lat. octo > Rom. opt (eight)
    Lat. lingua > Rom. limbă (tongue)
    Lat. signum > Rom. semn (sign)
    Lat. coxa > Rom. coapsă (thigh)
  • rotacism [l] → [r]
    Lat. caelum > Rom. cer (sky)
  • dentals [d] and [t] palatalized to [dz]/[z] and [ts] when before [e] or [i]
    Lat. deus > Rom. zeu (god)
    Lat. tenem > Rom. ţine (hold)

Writing system

The first written record of a Romanic language spoken in the Middle Ages in the Balkans was written by the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes Confessor in the 6th century about a military expedition against the Avars from 587, when a Vlach muleteer accompanying the Byzantine army noticed that the load was falling from one of the animals and shouted to a companion "Torna, torna fratre" (meaning "Return, return brother!").

The oldest written text in Romanian is a letter from 1521, in which Neacşu of Câmpulung wrote to the mayor of Braşov about an imminent attack of the Turks. It was written using the Cyrillic alphabet, like most early Romanian writings. The earliest writing in Latin script was a late 16th century Transylvanian text which was written with the Hungarian alphabet conventions.

In the late 1700s, Transylvanian scholars noted the Latin origin of Romanian and adapted the Italian alphabet to the Romanian language. The Cyrillic alphabet remained in (gradually decreasing) use until 1860, when Romanian writing was first officially regulated.

In the Soviet Republic of Moldova, a special version of the Cyrillic alphabet derived from the Russian version was used, until 1989, when it returned to the Romanian Latin alphabet.

Romanian alphabet

Main article: Romanian alphabet

The Romanian alphabet is as follows:

A, a (a); Ă, ă (ă); â (â din a); B, b (be), C, c (ce); D, d (de), E, e (e); F, f (fe / ef); G, g (ghe / ge); H, h (ha / haş); I, i (i); Î, î (î din i); J, j (je), K, k (ka de la kilogram), L, l (le / el); M, m (me / em); N, n (ne / en); O, o (o); P, p (pe); R, r, (re / er); S, s (se / es); ș (șe); T, t (te); Ț ț (țe); U, u (u); V, v (ve); X, x (ics); Z, z (ze / zet).

The Romanian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, and has five additional letters (these are not diacriticals, but letters in their own right). Initially, there were as many as 12 additional letters, but some of them disappeared in subsequent reforms. Also, until the early 20th century, a short vowel marker was used.

Today, the Romanian alphabet is largely phonetic, with one exception: the "â" (used inside the words) and "î" (used at the beginning or the end), both representing the same sound. Long and short vowels are not distinguished in writing. Usually, the sounds denoted by letters are similar to Italian.

Q, W and Y are not part of the core Romanian alphabet; they are used mainly to write imported words, such as: quasar, watt, etc.

Writing letters Ș (/ʃ/) and Ț (/ʦ/) with a cedilla (Ş and Ţ) instead of a comma is incorrect, but rather widespread, especially in computer environments.

Group of letters

C and G have special pronunciation when used in these groups of characters, which are the same as in Italian

Group Sound Example
ce, ci /tʃ/ As ch in "cheer"
che, chi /k/ As the c's in "cactus"
ge, gi /dʒ/ As the consonants in "judge"
ghe, ghi /g/ Like the g in "tag"

Language sample

English text:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Contemporary Romanian - highlighted words are French or Italian loanwords:

Toate fiinţele umane se nasc libere şi egale în demnitate şi în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu raţiune şi conştiinţă şi trebuie să se comporte unele faţă de altele în spiritul fraternităţii.

Romanian, excluding French or Italian loanwords - highlighted words are Slavic loanwords:

Toate fiinţele omeneşti se nasc slobode şi deopotrivă în destoinicie şi în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu cuget şi înţelegere şi trebuie să se poarte unele faţă de altele după firea frăţiei.

Romanian, excluding loanwords:

Toate fiinţele omeneşti se nasc nesupuse şi asemenea în preţuire şi în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu cuget şi înţelegere şi se cuvine să se poarte unele faţă de altele după firea frăţiei.

See also: Lord's Prayer in Romanian

Common words and phrases

English Romanian phonetical transcription
Romanian (person) "Român" ro'mɨn
hello "Salut" or "Salutare" sa'lut; salu'tare
what's your name? "cum te cheamă?" kum te 'kʲe̯amə ?
how are you? "ce faci?" ʧe faʧ ?
good-bye "La revedere" la reve'dere
bye "Pa" pa
please "Vă rog" və rog
sorry "Îmi pare rău" ɨmʲ 'pare 'rəʊ
thank you "Mulţumesc" Mulʦu'mesk
yes "Da" da
no "Nu" nu
I don't understand "Nu înţeleg" nu ɨnʦe'leg
Where's the bathroom? "Unde e toaleta?" 'unde je twa'leta ?
Do you speak English? "Vorbiţi engleza?" vor'biʦʲ eng'leza ?

See also


  • Istoria limbii române, Alexandru Rosetti, 2 vols., Bucharest, 1965-1969.

External Links

Learning Romanian




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