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Questions about the words 'evidence' and 'proof' in different languages
Thread poster: Claudia Alvis

Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:08
Partial member
+ ...
Feb 26, 2009

In English the word 'evidence' means 'something that furnishes proof' (1 b) per Merriam-Webster and 'Ground for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion' (5) per the OED, but by no means 'evidence' (in English) is inherently irrefutable.

In Spanish, however, 'evidencia' is irrefutable (same as 'proof' in English), while 'prueba' has the English meaning of 'evidence', so it's just something that furnishes proof not necessarily in a conclusive way (see DRAE 'prueba' 2). I know that in French 'preuve' has that "irréfutable" attribute (see Trésor 'preuve' 1.A). As far as I know, 'évidence' is like 'evidence' in English, 'prueba' in Spanish. I'm not 100 per cent sure though.

proof (English) = preuve (French) = evidencia (Spanish)
evidence (English) = évidence (French) [not 100% sure] = prueba (Spanish)

Why is it that in Spanish the meanings are reversed compared to French and English? How about other languages that use the same Latin root like Portuguese or Italian? And what does the Latin ēvidentia really mean?

I'd appreciate your comments


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Local time: 11:08
Spanish to English
Long time between Ciceronean orations, but Feb 26, 2009

I blieve that Latin "evidentia" derives from the root infinitive "videor" (to be seen, seem, appear), which is a passive form of "video" (I see), together with the e (from ex- from) prefix, meaning "from what apprears/ can be seen". There is no implication in Latin of its being conclusive.
Nor do either "proof" (considering its use in a legal context only, not for example in mathematics) or "evidence" in English imply that anything has actually been "proven". Evidence and proof (usually interchangeable) are offered, and may be rebutted, disputed or even ignored and discarded for various reasons.
"Prove" is quite another story; once proof or evidence is accepting as "proving" something, game over.
On another language complaint tack:
Could you explain to me why hand ("O mano", "Il mano", "le main", "manus") is masculine in most Romance languages, but feminine in Spanish? (La mano). It's sure tough on non-Spanish natives.

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Jacek Sierakowski
Local time: 18:08
English to French
+ ...
L'évidence et la main Feb 26, 2009

In my humble opinion, 'évidence' in French originally means 'obviousness'. If it is more and more used as 'proof', it's under the English influence.

And sorry, but it is 'la main', feminine.



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Local time: 18:08
English to Italian
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Manus, manus Feb 26, 2009

Hi Richard

in Italian, "la mano" , feminine.

In latin, I think it is "manus, -us" feminine (IV decl.)


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:08
German to English
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Legal and general usage (German) Feb 26, 2009

The German term is "Beweis" (= proof, evidence)

In legal usage, this word is almost exclusively used in the sense of "evidence" (which is submitted by one of the parties as an attempt to prove its case, but not in itself deemed to be "proof").
In the major German monolingual law dictionary (Creifelds, 2004 edition), the term "Beweis" and its compounds are discussed extensively for more than 3 pages (6 entries under the main headword "Beweis", plus a couple of dozen separate entries with compounds as the headwords). I every case except one, the English equivalent would be "evidence". The one exception is "Beweislast", which is the "burden of proof".

In general usage, however, "Beweis" is almost always used to mean "proof".
And the associated verb "beweisen" means to prove.

[Edited at 2009-02-26 09:49 GMT]

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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:38
German to English
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Great thread Feb 26, 2009

Hi Claudia:

Nice topic of discussion!

It never ceases to amaze me how English manages to give nuances to different words to express subtle shades of meaning, as reflected in the usage of the words "evidence" (intermediate) and "proof" (finality). While it may make the language difficult to master, it certainly lends it great power to be succinct and unambiguous ( at least in some areas, while English can be highly ambiguous in other areas ).

It's also interesting to read that other Latin-based languages have been evolving in a similar direction. I wonder, though, if these are as expressive and succinct through the use of nuanced words as is English. Not being a native speaker of French or Spanish, I couldn't say, but I doubt that is the case, since the number of words tends to shrink when translating from French/Spanish into English, indicating English crystallizes ideas into single words more often.

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Maria Amorim  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:08
Swedish to Portuguese
+ ...
Nice topic to discuss Feb 26, 2009

In Portuguese, “evidência” , which comes from latin “evidentia”, has the same meaning as in Spanish= obviousness, unequivocalness, certainty. But in dictionaries one can find also "evidence" as translation...

“Prova” in Portuguese has the same meaning as "prueba" in Spanish.

Regards Claudia,


By the way , in Portuguese “mão” (hand) is feminine too.

[Edited at 2009-02-26 11:59 GMT]

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:08
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
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Indizien Feb 26, 2009

When the police is searching for evidence, they find in German Indizien, which point to a guilty party. During the trial these pieces of evidence are called Beweisstücke.

In Finnish my online dictionary gives me a dozen alternatives for English proof, and even more for evidence. So there must be more in the word evidence than only one meaning. But that is not surprising, English uses most of the time the same word for different meanings. Its all in the context.


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Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:08
Partial member
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So in Spanish 'probar' (verb) is conclusive but 'prueba' (noun) is not Feb 27, 2009


So, since 'videre' (Latin) doesn't imply conclusiveness--just appearance, the nuances in Spanish (and Portuguese according to Maria) seem almost arbitrary. Specially because 'prueba' in Spanish does have a corresponding verb (probar) which has the same meaning as 'to prove' in English, which Richard perfectly explained: if something is proven ('probado'/'comprobado' in Spanish), then that's the end of it, the case is closed; however, the actual 'prueba' (=evidence) is not necessarily conclusive.

I'm not surprised at all

And even equivalent words, with different origins in different languages, are equally complex and rich. Thank you all for your comments, words (and their history) are indeed fascinating.


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chica nueva
Local time: 05:08
Chinese to English
False friends Feb 27, 2009

a case of 'false friends'?

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