Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate Voice . . . or How to Write with Style!

Adron J. Smitley
5 min readOct 7, 2023


Anglo-Saxon words derive from the languages spoken by Germanic settlers arriving in England from the fifth century. Latinate words derive from the British Isles’ interactions with the Roman Empire and later medieval France.

Modern English is a mercurial mix of the two, breaking down to 60% Latinate and 25% Anglo-Saxon, with the rest being a mix of several other global influences.

So, what’s the real bloody difference when it comes to writing?

Voice, tone, and readability.

Anglo-Saxon words are short and straightforward, for example: think, pick, help, eat and drink. They have hard sounds like CK or the hard “g” and are also more concrete, which makes them easier to picture.

Latinate words are multisyllabic and cerebral, for example: imagine, select, assist, consume and imbibe. They are softer, flowery, and more musical.

Latinate words are often more nuanced and precise, and usually sound posher and more proper, while writing with Anglo-Saxon words is more direct.

If you need help differentiating the two, remember “short for Saxon, long for Latin.”

There was a period in English history when the language of the upper class was significantly influenced by the French, thereby Latin, language. While the lower class spoke Old English, which has primarily German influences.

Words of Latinate origin were the language of aristocrats and intellectuals, which come off as scholarly and sophisticated. Words of Anglo-Saxon origin were the language of the ‘common folk’, which come off as simple and blunt.

The distinction matters in various parts of your writing because it defines the tone and readability of your scenes. Action scenes are often better served with Anglo-Saxon words to afford them a sense of urgency and to provide a faster flow of reading. Exposition scenes are often better served with Latinate words to afford them a slower sense of nuance and to provide a more poetic flow of reading.

It all comes down to description, really.

This also applies to dialogue in various ways.

Take the fantasy genre, for example. There’s a big difference in the way a well-educated noble speaks compared to an uneducated peasant farmer:

Noble: “I shall frequent the establishment a final time and imbibe in excess before taking my departure and retiring to my residence.”


Peasant: “I’m going to stop by the tavern and get drunk before going home and sleeping it off.”


Noble: “I’m well exhausted and exceedingly famished after spending the day laboring.”


Peasant: “I’m very tired and hungry after working all day.”

If you have your poor, unschooled peasant speak like a rich, well-educated noble (or vice versa) without a logical explanation as to why then you remove the believability of the personalities you intend them to represent.

Knowing this distinction also provides you plenty of options, because you can apply various subtleties to your characters by having your rough-and-tumble streetwise cop fighting a robber into handcuffs during one scene then the next you hint at his finer education at Harvard before he decided to drop out of college and take up the badge by showing him wearing a tuxedo and rubbing elbows with highbrows at a snooty wine-tasting extravaganza while he’s secretly scoping out a potential perpetrator. Or maybe the straight-laced CEO businesswoman, when relaxing with her closest friends, enjoys getting drunk and gambling while swearing like a sailor, which hints at her rather crude upbringing before her advancement into a more sophisticated path of life.

A great example of this is the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. One moment the eccentric detective is brilliantly deducing clues while deliberating with Dr. Watson then the next he’s bare-knuckle boxing while utilizing his superior intellect and martial skills to impressive effect against his physically intimidating opponent.

These distinctions add interesting depth to your characters, helping present them as three-dimensional persons of interest instead of flat and boring stereotypes, limited only by how you choose to apply them, as well influencing the tone and flow of your writing.

A quick list of examples of Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate words include:

angry vs. furious

ask vs. inquire

baby vs. infant

begin vs. commence

belief vs. credence

belly vs. abdomen

burn vs. incinerate

cold vs. frigid

come vs. arrive

cry vs. lament

drink vs. imbibe

eat vs. consume

end vs. terminate

friendly vs. amicable

give vs. provide

go vs. depart

god vs. deity

green vs. verdant

ground vs. terrain

hate vs. detest

height vs. altitude

help vs. assist

horse vs. equestrian

job vs. profession

know vs. recognize

length vs. longitude

light vs. illumination

loving vs. amorous

match vs. correspond

mean vs. intend

meet vs. encounter

mistaken vs. erroneous

nightly vs. nocturnal

old vs. ancient

pick vs. select

put out vs. extinguish

rot vs. putrefy

shy vs. timid

sight vs. vision

smart vs. intelligent

stop vs. arrest

teach vs. educate

tired vs. exhausted

understand vs. comprehend

wage vs. salary

watchful vs. vigilant

whole vs. entire

width vs. latitude

wise vs. prudent

wish vs. desire

work vs. labor

youth vs. adolescence

Stephen King is the perfect example of a writer who relies heavily on the Anglo-Saxon voice while sprinkling in just enough granules of the Latinate throughout his novels to add vernacular spice to his stories. Because King’s writing comes off as conversational in that it almost feels as if he’s sitting there beside you and telling you the story while you’re reading it. He doesn’t use a profusion of complex words you have to pause and look up to define, or employ lengthy strings of purple prose in the hopes of impressing you with his extensive vocabulary we already know he possesses. Instead he keeps things elementary, and for that his books are beloved by millions of readers the world over and by people from every background imaginable.

Here’s a parting tip to keeping your sentences short and to the point like King when writing in Anglo-Saxon voice: if you are tempted to write the word ‘and’ or ‘but’ in the middle of a sentence, consider if it might not be better to close the sentence and start another.


The award-winning and best selling fantasy Soothsayer novella series!
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Adron J. Smitley

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