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Catalan, also known as Catala, Catalan-Valencian-Balear, Catalonian, belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken by 6.9 million people in Spain with a total world population of 7.2 million people. In addition, there are 5 million second-language speakers of Catalan. In Spain Catalan is spoken in the Barcelona area, Catalonia, Valencia provinces, Balearic Islands, Carche region, and Murcia Province. Itt is also spoken in Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela (Ethnologue).

Catalan first appeared as a distinct language in the 10th-12th centuries. It developed from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the eastern Pyrenees mountains in the 13th century, and was exported to several regions of southern Spain, such as Barcelona and Valencia, and to the Balearic Islands and the Alghero region of Sardinia, Italy.

Catalonia map


Catalan is an official regional language of Spain and Andorra, and the co-official language in Catalonia, the Balearic IslandsValencia region of Spain, and in the Sardinian city of Alghero.

Catalan suffered several periods of prohibition and repression in the 18th century, but in the 19th century, during a period of economic, cultural and national renaissance, Catalan was reborn as the language of literary culture. The language was standardized through the publication of spelling rules in 1913, and a grammar in 1918. During the first 30 years of the 20th century, Catalonia recovered a degree of political power. During the Spanish Second Republic (1931-1939), Catalan was restored to its official language status, which it had lost in the 18th century. However, the Spanish Civil War put an end to Catalan’s resurgence and it was banned once again from public use. Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy, the ban was lifted, and Catalan is now an official regional language that is used in politics, education and the media.


Catalan is usually divided into two major dialects that are broken into further regional varieties. The dialects are characterized primarily by differences in pronunciation and to some extent by vocabulary. For the most part, all dialects are mutually intelligible. The two major dialects are listed below. They are distinguished principally by differences in the vowels.

Western Catalan 
North-Western Catalan
Transitional Valencian or Ebrenc
Eastern Catalan
Northern Catalan
Central Catalan


Standard Catalan is based on Central Catalan as spoken by educated people in Barcelona.


Sound system

The sound system of Catalan shares many features with neighboring Romance languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Sardinian, and Spanish.

Catalan has 7 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. In addition, Catalan has several diphthongs. Compared with Spanish, Catalan does not have the rising diphthongs , e.g., ie and ue, but has a large number of falling diphthongs, e.g., eu, au, ou.

  • /i/ in beet
  • /e/ in bait
  • /ɛ/ in bet
  • /u/ in boot
  • /o/ in boat
  • /ɔ/ in bog


Catalan has an inventory of 23 consonant phonemes. The phonemic status of bracketed consonants is a matter of dispute due to dialectal differences.

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
  • /p, t, k/ are not aspirated, i.e., they are produced without a puff of air, as in English.
  • Voiced stopsfricatives, and affricates are devoiced in final position.
  • /ç, ɟ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ʃ/ = sh in sheep
  • /ʒ/ = s in treasure
  • /tʃ/ = ch in cheap
  • /dʒ/ = in jeer
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ʎ/ = ll in million


Stress normally falls on the penultimate syllable if the word ends in a vowel, vowel + s, or –en; otherwise if falls on the final syllable.


The grammar of Catalan has many similarities to the grammar of Spanish.

Nounsarticles, adjectives, and pronouns
Catalan nouns have the following features:

  • There are two genders: masculine and feminine.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural. The plural is formed by adding -s to the singular form.
  • There are no case inflections.
  • Articles and adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number, e.g., el meu pare ‘my father’ (masculine singular); la meva mare‘ my mother’ (feminine singular); un gat ‘a male cat’; una gata ‘a female cat’.


The pronominal system of Catalan is quite complicated. Below are a few of its features:

  • Catalan makes a distinction between informal and formal second person pronouns tu (informal ‘you’) and Vostè (formal ‘you’), much like Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.
  • Personal pronouns can take several forms: full form, e.g., Creieu-me ‘believe me,’ reduced form, e.g., Deixa’m tranquil-la ‘Leave me in peace,’ emphatic form, e.g., Em van donar un premi ‘They gave me an award.’
  • The rules for combining pronouns are complicated, e.g., Dòna-l’hi. (li + el = l’hi) ‘Give it to him’.


The verb system of Catalan is characterized by the following features:

  • Verbs agree with their subjects in person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular, plural).
  • Subject pronouns can be dropped since the verb endings carry information about person and number, e.g., Jo t’estimo or T’estimo ‘(I) love you’.
  • There are three regular conjugations and some 150 irregular verbs.
  • There are four simple tenses ( present, past, imperfect, and future).
  • Compound tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb haver ‘to have’ + the past passive participle.
  • There are five moods: indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and conditional.
  • There are two voices: active and passive which is formed with the auxiliary esser ‘ to be’ + the past passive participle.
  • Reflexive verbs are similar to those in Spanish, e.g., Em rento ‘I wash myself,’ M’he rentat ‘I have washed myself,’ Renta’t! ‘Wash yourself!’


Word order
The neutral word order in Catalan is Subject-Verb-Object. Other word orders are possible to indicate topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information), as well as emphasis.


Catalan shares most of its vocabulary with other Romance languages. Below are a few common Catalan phrases and words.

Hello Hola
Good bye Adéu
Please Si us plau
Thank you Gràcies, mèrces
Excuse me, pardon me Disculpeme, perdoni
Yes Si
No No
Man L’home
Woman La dona

Below are the numerals 1-10 in Catalan.



Catalan began to appear in written documents during the 12th century. It was standardized through the publication of spelling rules in 1913, and of a grammar in 1918. Standard literary  incorporates features of several dialects but is largely based on the Central Catalan dialect as spoken by educated people in Barcelona.

Catalan alphabet consists of 26 letters. Click here to see correspondence between letters and sounds they represent.

A a
B b
C c
Ç ç
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
L l
M m
N n
O o
P p
Q q
R r
S s
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z


Catalan orthography uses the following conventions:

  • acute and grave accents over vowels, e.g., À, É, È, ÍÓ, Ò, Ú.
  • diaeresis, a diacritic consisting of two dots over a vowel, to indicate it is to be pronounced as a full vowel and not as part of a diphthong, e.g., Ï.
  • k, w, y are used exclusively in loan words and foreign names.


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Catalan.

Declaraciò Universal de Drets Humans
Tots els éssers humans neixen lliures i iguals en dignitat i en drets. Són dotats de raó i de consciència, i han de comportar-se fraternalment else uns amb els altres.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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.



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Catalan?
Catalan, like other Romance languages, is considered to be a Category I language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

16 Responses to Catalan

  1. Graham Howe

    Just to point out that in Catalan, the sound of ç is, as in French and Portuguese, the same as unvoiced s, and not, as you state, ch as in cheap (which is represented by tx or, at the end of a word, by -ig – as in “vaig” – pronounced “batch” – I go.

  2. Graham Howe

    (1)The correct spelling in Catalan of the language is “català” (i.e. with a grace accent on the final a)
    (2)Your description of the consonant system seems to have gone awry and appears to have been copied and pasted from the description of Castilian Spanish;for example “z” and “c” are never pronounced /θ/ in Catalan; moreover, comparisons and references to pronunciation of Latin American variations is not appropriate, since Catalan is not spoken anywhere in the Americas (except, perhaps, by immigrants from Catalonia).
    (3)Your description of the sound of ç is quite erroneous. It does not have the sound of “ch” as in cheap (though it has this sound in Turkish and Albanian). In Catalan it has the same sound as in French and Portugfuese, i.e. the same as unvoiced s: so “caça” – “hunt” – is pronounced “kassə”. Similarly, the letter č (mentioned in the section on Writing)does not exist in Catalan. The sound of “ch” as in cheap is represented in Catalan by “tx” – as in “cotxe” – car – or, after a vowel, “ig” – “vaig” – pronounced “batch” = I go.
    (4) You have entirely omitted the diagraph l · l (double L separated by a dot and used to spell a double or reinforced L sound as in “col · legi” – school, or “ny” – with the same sound as Spanish ñ.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comments. We will be working shortly on revising the Catalan page. Your input is very valuable to us.

      • Irene Thompson

        I have revised the Catalan page, but am positive there are some remaining bloopers. If you have a minute, could you go over it and let me know what else needs fixed. Thank you.

  3. Sandra

    That is what I have been thinking for a long time, since I found this website, Graham. But since the older one did not even have a comments option or contact information I could not complain and correct this points you state.
    As a native Catalan speaker I confirm that what Graham says is absolutely correct.

    • Jon Phillips

      Thank you Graham and Sandra for your feedback! To receive valuable info like this is the exact reason why we updated the site to allow for comments. We very much appreciate your time, interest and energy to share your thoughts, and our content team will review them and work to update the site as soon as possible.

      Thanks again!

  4. Sandra

    I also want to say that “/ʎ/ = ll in million” is not pronounced like “million”. This Catalan sound does not exist in English.

    • Irene Thompson

      I have revised the Catalan page. Could you take another look at it and let me know if anything else needs to be fixed. Thank you.

  5. Graham Howe

    There are still one or two errors:
    (1) Catalan is not spoken in any of the South American countries you have mentioned (unless by emigrés from Spain or one of the other Catalan-speaking areas of Europe). Neither is there any reference in Ethnologue, which you quote as your source, to Catalan being spoken in any of these countries. It is certainly not spone in Algeria, though it is spoken by a small number of speakers in Alghero, the capital of Sardinia. (Alghero is known as “Alguer” in Catalan)

    (2) “Excuse me” is “Disculpi’m” or “Disculpi”; “discúlpeme” is Castillian (or it would be if you had spelt it correctly with the accent over the u)
    (3) Your section on the sound system still apears to bear little relationship to the sounds of Catalan. In particular there are 2 sounds qutoed as having “no equivalent in English”. The sound ç – usually associated with the voiceless palatal fricative such as the sound of “ch” in German after -i- or -ü-, does not exist in Catalan. The letter ç used in Catalan spelling is identical to the sound it has in French, i.e. as -ss- in English. I have no idea what the symbol ɟ is supposed to represent, but if it is the sound of intervocalic g, I believe the more usual symbol is γ. There is still no mention of the uniquely Catalan digraph “l·l”, which represents a doubled, or reinforced L sound and where you have made reference to it – in the example: Deixa’m tranquil·la – it is misspelt, with a hyphen instead of the dot.
    (4) Whilst what you say about verb tenses is essentially correct, you omit to mention that it the vast majority of Catalan dialects, the simple past (preterite) is not used and a periphrastic form consisting of a defective verb which resembles the present tense of “ana” to go – in all but the 1st and 2nd persons plural – is used both in conversation and usually in writing as well. “Vaig parlar – I spoke; vas fer – you did; va venir – he came; vam or vàrem veure – we saw, vau or vàreu caure – you (plural) fell; van or vàren anar – they went.

    • Irene Thompson

      Since you obviously know so much about Catalan, why don’t you edit the page and we will give you credit for doing it.

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  7. Albert

    I agree with the comments above, but someone needs to change the map, it is completely wrong!!!

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