Friends (Cognates)

If you like languages, you have probably heard the term “cognate,” Two words from two languages are cognates when they have the same meaning and origin. The English word “audition” and the Spanish audición are cognates. They mean the same and have the same root. As the vast mayority of these words are recognizable they can be called “friends.”

There are hundreds of cognates between Spanish and English. Around 61% of the English words are similar to Spanish words.

The meaning that carries two cognates needs to be the same; their spelling, just need to resemble each other. How similar can they be? In terms of spelling, they can be identical, for example, “gas” and “placenta” or they can be just similar, like “cancel”- cancelar or “analysis,” análisis. These words are friends because one resembles the other and both have the same meaning.

We should clarify that, strictly speaking, there are no identical words, (pronunciation wise) in Spanish and English. All words need to have at least one vowel sound, and vowels sounds are all different in both languages. A simple example to show this is the word “gas,” whose “a” sounds /ae/, not /a/ like in Spanish.

Regarding the level of similarity, we can categorize them into the following sets:

  • Words with same spelling, pronunciation (*), and intonation, e.g., Africa- África (from 1 to 17 in the list below)
  • Words with same spelling and pronunciation but different intonation: abdomen – abdomen (from 18 to 23 in the list below)
  • Words with same spelling but different pronunciation: agenda- agenda /aHenda/ (from 24 to 40 in the list below)
  • Words with same pronunciation but different spelling: asphyxia- asfixia /asfixia/ (from 41 to 42 in the list below)
  • Words with similarities but different spelling and different pronunciation: fever- fiebre /fiebre/ (43 in the list below). This case is the most numerous by far.
# English Spanish
1. Africa África
2. banana banana
3. bar bar
4. cafe café
5. cancer cáncer
6. colon colon
7. coma coma
8. drama drama
9. extra extra
10. gala gala
11. gas gas
12. kilo kilo
13. opera ópera
14. pasta pasta
15. patio patio
16. picnic picnic
17. taxi taxi
18. abdomen abdomen
19. actor actor
20. animal animal
21. civil civil
22. control control
23. dragon dragón
24. agenda agenda
25. area área
26. Asia Asia
27. base base
28. cable cable
29. club club
30. crisis crisis
31. debate debate
32. gel gel
33. hotel hotel
34. idea idea
35. pus pus
36. radio radio
37. solo solo
38. triple triple
39. violin violín
40. virus virus
41. asphyxia asfixia
42. asthma asma
43 fever fiebre

Lastly, don’t confuse cognates with indirect cognates or false cognates. Two words are indirect cognates when they are linked to a third word, for example, mil and “thousand” have a common link “mile,” which actually means a thousand feet. They are acquaintances, so to speak, they are friend’s’ friends. False cognates are words that you think you know in Spanish, but they have a different meaning. An example is the word preservativo as it doesn’t mean preservative. It means condom.

Cognates are words that we want to maximize in our vocabulary. These are easy words, words that you learn nearly effortlessly and that will stick in your memory forever.

The more friends, the better.

Francisco Bruquetas

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