Common Germanic Word Roots in English and Other Germanic Languages


By J. Wes Ulm, MD, PhD

Medical researcher, physician, linguist, and author

Echoes of the Mystic Chords: A Novel, Book One of The Leibniz Demon Trilogy



The list below contains an extended collection of Germanic word roots in English, all with close cognates in fellow Germanic languages – German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish (almost always a combination of several of these, and usually all five). I’ve compiled many of the words below alongside their cognates in the other Germanic languages in an accompanying table. As can be seen here, that detailed chart still houses only a fraction of the common terms for which the modern Germanic languages retain close lexical relationships, and even the list here is only partial. Once again, in spite of common presumptions to the contrary (often relating to the Norman Conquest), modern English very much retains its Germanic core in vocabulary as well as in grammar and syntax. Likewise, while English has been quite open to borrowing from the Romance and other language families, so have German and the other Germanic tongues. The entire Germanic language family, in other words, has blazed a path of parallel evolution, with or without an equivalent to the Romanized Viking descendants who assumed the English aristocracy after 1066. Abbreviations are spelled out after the list.


acknowledge, acorn, after (ONr), again (ONr), against, all, almighty, alone, along, an, and, angling, answer, ant, any (LGr), ape, apple, are (ONr), arm, arrange (Fr), as, ash, attack (Fr), away, axe, axle, back (ONr), background, backing, bake, balcony (Fr), ball, balloon (Ital), ban (ON and Fr), band, bandit (Ital), barefoot, baron (Fr), bath, bathe, beacon, bean, bear (noun and verb), beard, beaver, bed, bee, beer, beeswax, bell (LGr), begin, (be)hind, believe, bench, bereave, berry, best, better, (be)tween, bid, bier, bind, birch, birth, birthday, bit, bite, bitter, blade, blank (Fr), blasé (Fr), blaze, bleach, bleed, blend (ON), blind, blink, blister (Fr), block, blond (Fr), blood, bloodbath, bloodstream, bloom, blow, blue (Fr), blueberry, board, boat, bolt, bond, book, boost (ON), booth (ON), booty (Fr), bore (to drill), born, borrow, both (ON), bottom, bouquet (Fr), bow (n and v), brain (LGr), bread, break, break up, breast, brew, bride, bridge, brine, bring, bristle, broad, brood (n and vb), brother, brow, brown, brush (Fr)*, buckwheat, bull, bundle, burn, burst, bush, busy (LGr), cake, calf, call (ON), can, carp, cart (ON), chafer, chew, chic (Gmc), chin, choose (LGr), churn (ONr), clamber, clammy, claw, cleavage, cliff, climb, cling, cloth (ONr), clothes, clover, club (ON), coal, cold, comb, come, cool, could, cow, crab, crash, creep, crib, croak, crow, crumb, crumble, crutch, dam, dance (Fr), dapper, daughter, day (IE), daylight, dead, deadly, deaf, deal (as vb), death, deed, deep, devil, dew, dike, dizzy (LGr), do, door, dough, dove, doze, drag, dribble, drink, drinking water, drip, drive (as in push), drop, drought, drum, drunk, dry, duck (vb), dumb, dune, dung, dunk, dwarf, ear, early (ONr), earring, east, Easter, eat, ebb, eel, egg (ON), either, elbow, end, enough, etiquette (Fr), even (adj), evening, ever, every (ONr), evil, ewe (Du), eye (IE), eyebrow, eyelid, fall, fang, far, fare, fat, father (IE), fear (IE), feather, feed, feel, feeling, felt (fabric), ferry, fiasco (Ital), fiddle, field, fill, fill out, find, find out, finger, fingernail, fire, fireworks, fish, fishing, fist, flake, flask (Latin loanword of Germanic origin), flat, flea, fleck, fleet, flesh, flee, fleece (as vb), flesh, flit, flood, floor, flounder, flow (IE), flutter, fly (noun and verb), foal, fold, folk, follow, foot, football, for, forbid, ford, foremost, foresight, forever, forget, forgive, forlorn, foul, fowl, fox, free, freeze, fresh, Friday, frog, frost, full, fumble, furrow, gallows, gape, garage (Fr), garden, gasp (ON), ghost, gifted, give (ON), give up, glass, gleam, glide, glint, glow, go, go away, go through, goat, God, gold, golf (Du), good, goose, grab (LG), grass, grave, gray, graze, greedy (LG), greet, grimace, grin (sort of), grip, grisly, grits, ground, group (Fr), grow (LGr), grunt, guarantee (Fr), guest, hair, hairdryer, hairy, half, hallow, hammer, hamster (Ger.), hand, handbook, handle, hang, harbor, hard, hare, harm, harmless, harp, harpoon (Fr), harry, hart, haste, hasty, hate, have, have on, hawk, hay, heap, hear, hearsay, heart, heartless, hearty, heat (n and vb), heath, heathen, heave, heaven, hedge, heed, height, heel (LGr), hell, helmet, help, hem, hen, hence, her, herd, here, herring, hew, high, hill, him, hind, hip, hire, hoard, hoarse, hoe, hole, hollow, holy, home, honey, hoof, hook, hoop (LGr), hop, hope, horn, hornet, hot, hound, house, household, how (LGr), howl, hunger, hungry, hurdle, hut, I, ice, iceberg, if, in (IE), income, inlaid, inland, insofar, install (Fr), instead, iron, is, it, itch, ivy, keen, kernel, kid, (kid)ney, knee, kneel, knob, knot, know (IE), ladder, lair, lamb, lame, lane (LGr), lark, last, late (LGr), latter, laugh, law (ON), lay, lay out, layer (LGr), lead, leader, leak, lean, learn, leather, leek, left, lend, let (IE), lick, lie (both meanings), life, lift (ON), light (noun-- IE, and adjective), limb, listen, little (ONr), live, liver, lip (IE), load, loaf, long, loose (ON), lose, loss, loud, loudspeaker, louse, love, lovely, luck, lukewarm, lull, lung, maggot (ON), maiden, malt, man, manifold, many, mare, mark, marrow, marsh, mast, may, me (IE), meal, mean (vb and adj), melt, mesh, midday, midge, might, mild, mine/my, mire (ON), miss, mistletoe, Monday, month (IE), moon, moonlight, more, moss, moth, mother (IE), mouse (IE), mouth, mow, murder (IE), must, nail, naked, name (IE), neck, need, neighbor, nest (n and v), net, network, new (IE), next, nibble, nigh, night (IE), nightingale, nightlife, no (IE), noodle (Ger.), nose (IE), nosebleed, not (IE), now, {numbers [i.e. one thru thousand]}, nut (IE), oak, oar (ONr), oath, offal, old, on, one another, open, other (IE), our, out, outbreak, outlet (for fluid), oven, over, overall, overboard, overflow, overnight, overseas, overshadow, own, ox, park (Fr), path, penny, plow, pluck, plug (LG), plunder (Ger.), pool, prick. put (ONr), rain, rank (Fr), rant, rash, rat (IE), raven, raw, reach, reckon, red, reef (ON), reek, rib, rich, riddle, ride, right, rind, ring, ripe, roast (Fr), rob, rock, roe (both "fish eggs" and "deer" senses), room, rot, rough, row (n and vb), rub, rudder, run, rusty, rye, saddle, sag, salon (Fr), salt, saltwater, salve, same (ON), sand, sap, saw, say, scaffold, scary, scathe, scold (maybe), scoop, scrape (ON),  scratch, scream (ON), screen (Fr), sea, seam, seaman, see, seed, seek, seldom, set, self, selfless, settle, shade, shadow, shaft, shame, shape (verb), sharp, shawl, she, shear, sheath, sheep, sheer, shell, shepherd, shield, shinbone, shine, ship, shirt, shock (Fr), shoe, shoot, should, shoulder, shove, shovel, shower, shrill, shun, shy, sick, sieve, sigh, silver, sin, sinew, sing, singe, sink (vb), sister (ON), sit (IE), ski (Scand), skull (ON), slack, slag, slaughter (ON), sledge, sleep, slide, slime, slippery, slit, slither, slug, slumber, sly (ON), smart (as vb), smear, smuggle, snail, sneeze, sniff, snore, snout, snow, so, so long as, soak, soap, soft, some (LGr), son, sorely, sorrow, sorrowful, soul, soup (Fr), sour, sow, spare, sparrow, speak, spear, speech, spew, spider, spin (e.g. a web), spindle, spit (stick), splinter (LG), split, spoke, spool, spray, spread, spring (verb), sprinkle, sprout, spur, spy (OFr), stack (ON), staff, stammer, stamp, standard (Fr), star, stare, steal, stealth, steam, steel, steer (noun and verb), stem, stench, stepbrother, stepdaughter, stepfather, stepmother, stick, still (adj), stilt, sting, stink, stir (some senses), stone, stool, storm, strand, straw, streak, stream, stretch, strew, strip, stripe, strive (Fr), stroke, stutter, such, suck, summer, sun (IE), sunburn, Sunday, sunder, sunlight, swamp, swarm, swarthy, swath, sway (ON), swear, sweat, swell, swing, sword, swordfish, take (ON), tame, tape (ONr), tar, tear (n-- various senses), tell, that (pron and conj), thaw, the, then, there, these, they (ON), thick, thief, thigh (LGr), thin, thing, think, thirst, this, thistle, thorn, those, though, thread, threat, threaten, thresh, throat, throng, throttle, through, thumb, Thursday, teat, tick, tight, tin, tip, tit, to, toe, toenail, token, tomorrow, tongs, tongue, too, tool, tooth, toothbrush, tough, tousle, tow, toy, trample, tread, treadle, tree, trough, true, trust (ON), tub, twig, twilight, udder, under, underground, up, upright, uproar, upswing, us, utter, vat, waddle, wade, wake (up), wallow, walnut, wan, wander, ware, warehouse, warm, warm up, warn, wart, was, wash, wasp (IE), watch, water, waterfall, watershed, wax, way, we, weak, weapon, weasel, weave, web, wedge (LGr), week, weevil, weigh, welfare, well (n and adj), were, whale, what, what for, wheat, when, where, whey (Du), which, while, whimper, whine, whirl (ON), whirlwind, whisker, white, who, whom, whose, why, wide, widow(er) (IE), wiggle, wild, will, wilt, win, winter, wise, withstand, woe, wolf, wonder, wont, wood (ONr), wool, work, world, worldwide, worm, worth, would, wound, wreck, wring, yard, yarn, yawn, year, yell, yellow, yes, yesterday, yonder, you, young (IE), your, youth,


*The etymological origin of “brush” isn’t entirely certain but the bulk of evidence suggests a Germanic origin, adopted into the Vulgar Latin (Gallo-Roman) ancestor of Old French and then transmitted into English in the Middle Ages





In the list above, the abbreviation “Fr” in parentheses means the English word is from French (though of Germanic origin, as 5-10% of modern French words are), while “Ital” means it hailed originally from Italian. “ON” means the Germanic word was borrowed in from Old Norse after the Danish Viking invasions (rather than originating in Old English, i.e. the original Germanic dialect of the Anglo-Saxons). “IE” means the word has close cognates in not only the other Germanic languages, but in most other European languages as well, most of which are descended from the so-called “Proto-Indo-European” precursor language (e.g. words like “lip” and “name”). 


“LG” means the word was imported into English from a fellow Low German language like Dutch (sometimes abbreviated straightaway as “Du” to indicate a clearly documented Dutch loanword), Frisian, or Middle Low German itself. Broadly speaking, the Low German languages are spoken by the lowland Germanic regions around the North Sea – as opposed to the mountainous High German region to the south – and are distinguished by their lack of the Second Germanic Sound Shift, which (for example) turned English “toe” and Duch “teen” into German “Zehe,” or English “dough” and Dutch “deeg” into German “teig.” (See the note on the Second Germanic Sound Shift which follows the accompanying table of cognate Germanic vocabulary.) “Ger.” means the word is of High German origin and imported as a loanword into English, either directly from German (or Yiddish) or indirectly (e.g. via French).


LGr” means the word is of Anglo-Saxon origin (i.e. it was documented in Old English and originated from the Anglo-Saxon dialects themselves). However, it retains modern cognates only in Low German languages (like Dutch or Frisian) and sometimes in North Germanic (Scandinavian) tongues, with no such cognates in High German languages like German or Yiddish. (Examples: bell, whole, late, heel, hoop, lane, all of which constitute a kind of “distinctive Low German” lexicon.) Likewise, ONr implies a word of similarly Anglo-Saxon origin (i.e. it was not imported from Old Norse itself), but which, for various contingent reasons, resembles vocabulary only in the North Germanic languages, and is not shared in Dutch or German. (Examples: after, again, are, early, every, put.) Lowercase notes in parentheses simply refer to a part of speech (e.g. “vb” = “verb”) or a clarification of meaning (e.g. “felt” referring to fabric).


Please feel free to quote from, print, and cite this essay as, “Common Germanic Word Roots in English and Other Germanic Languages,” by J. Wes Ulm, originally published on Harvard University personal website, URL: , © 2016.


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