What Are Cognates? Words That are Spelled the Same in
Spanish and English
If you want to learn Spanish or any language for that matter, a good tip is to identify the language’s cognates – the vocabulary you already know! Cognates are words that have common etymological origins, a.k.a. words that are spelled the same in Spanish and English or have only slight alterations.
These cognates will become your very best friends, holding your hand and building up your confidence throughout the whole language-learning process!
In this article, we will identify:
- What cognates are
- Where cognates come from
- The most common Spanish and English cognates
Before we get into the Spanish words you already know from English, let’s take a look at why different languages have the same words in the first place.
Where Do Cognates Come From?
Languages are living systems that are constantly evolving. English is unique in that while it derives from the Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, it still has many words borrowed from Latin, due mostly to the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD. The Normans spoke a language much closer to Latin than modern-day French, and the English language evolved to accommodate the lexicon of the Normans.
Listen up English speakers! This gives us a great advantage when it comes to learning other languages because while we have Germanic words, we also have an abundance of Latin words.
For example, the English word “father” comes from German vater, but we also have the word “paternal”, from Latin pater. Or take the word “speak” from the German sprechen. We also have a similar verb “narrate“, from Latin narro.
The first step to learning Spanish is realizing the similarities between the two languages – both English and Spanish are full of cognates, words derived from Latin.
Spanish Cognate Examples
There are some words that share similar prefixes and suffixes, along with words that are exactly the same and just the pronunciation changes. We’ll separate the cognates by genres below.
Spanish to English “Perfect” Cognates
Perfect cognates are exactly what they sound like – words that are spelled the same and have the same meaning. (But note, they may be pronounced differently.) Take a look at the categories of perfect Spanish cognates below.
- Words ending in -or :
actor, anterior, doctor, director, exterior, interior, factor, horror, inferior, inspector, pastor, protector, superior, terror
- Words ending in -al :
artificial, admirable, brutal, capital, colonial, cordial, criminal, cultural, diagonal, electoral, experimental, fatal, federal, festival, final, formal, fundamental, general, global, hospital, ideal, individual, industrial, iegal, liberal, literal, local, marginal, mental, metal, normal, original, penal, personal, plural, principal, regional, ritual, social, superficial, total, tropical, universal, visual, vital
- Words ending in –ón:
conclusión, confusión, decisión, dimensión, división, explosión, extensión, invasión, región, religión, reunión, televisión, versión
- Words ending in -ble:
abominable, admirable, flexible, horrible, invisible, terrible
English to Spanish “Near Perfect” Cognates
These cognates are close but not “perfect.” A few letters change, but the root of the word stays the same. See how easily you can guess the English equivalent?
- Words ending in –ary in English, → end in –ario in Spanish:
adversario, comentario, contrario, necesario, ordinario, salario, secretario, vocabulario, temporario
- Words ending in -tion in English → end in -ción in Spanish:
administración, aplicación, asociación, atención, autorización, celebración, colección, colaboración, concentración, dedicación, educación, formación, manipulación, nación
- Words ending in -ic in English → end in -ico in Spanish:
académico, auténtico, clásico, dinámico, diplomático, dramático, económico, étnico, fantástico, mágico, orgánico, plástico, público, romántico, tóxico
- Words ending in -ious in English → end in -oso in Spanish:
aventuroso, curioso, delicioso, misterioso, precioso, religioso
- Words ending in -ct in English → end in -cto in Spanish:
abstracto, artefacto, conflicto, contacto, correcto, dialecto, efecto, exacto, excepto, insecto, perfecto, producto
Spanish to English Greek Words
Some Spanish and English words were actually borrowed from Greek. Here are some Greek cognates that both English and Spanish share.
- Words ending in -ema in Spanish:
crema, esquema (scheme), poema, problema, sistema
- Words ending in -ma in Spanish:
aroma, asma, dilema, dogma, drama, sigma
Spanish “False Cognates” Examples
False cognates are the words that LOOK the same but they actually have different meanings. Let’s go over the Spanish English false cognates that most second language-learners get wrong.
Often mistaken for the English word “embarrassed”. To say embarrassed in Spanish, use avergonzado.
Often mistaken for the English word “sensible”. In Spanish, someone sensible would be sensato or razonable.
Often mistaken for the English word “molest”, it simply means “to inconvenience” in Spanish.
Often mistaken for the English word “fabric”. In Spanish, use tela to mean “cloth” or “fabric.”
To perform/ carry out
Often mistaken for the English word “realize.” To say “realize” in the English sense, use darse cuenta (yo me doy cuenta).
To remember/ recall
Often mistaken for the English word “record”. To say “record” in Spanish, use the verb grabar.
Often mistaken for the English word “actual.” Use actual in Spanish to mean current, i.e. el president actual (the current or acting president).
Often mistaken for the English word “Exit.” To say “exit” in Spanish, use salida.
You Know More Spanish Than You Think!
See? Your Spanish lexicon is much bigger than you could ever have imagined, and it’s all thanks to the Normans (That was a test to see if you were paying attention!).
Feeling confident and ready to take the next steps in your Spanish learning process?
Download a free lesson of Pimsleur Spanish today!