Remembering cognates is the fastest way to learn Spanish vocabulary! Read on as tutor Sara T. shares some of the best cognates in Spanish to know, which will get you through basic interactions and more…
Believe it or not, the U.S. is now the 2nd largest Spanish-speaking country! It surpasses Spain and only follows behind our southern neighbor, Mexico.
The increase in Spanish-speaking households means an increased opportunity for bilingual people in the workforce. Learning Spanish as a second language can give you a leg up in your professional field and put you way ahead of your competition. (Learn more benefits of being bilingual here!)
If you’re just beginning to learn Spanish, rest easy, as it’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to pick up! This is because Spanish and English are full of cognates. What is a cognate, you ask? Cognates are words that sound the same (or almost the same) and have the same meaning in both languages.
Recognizing Spanish-English Cognates
By studying cognate patterns, you can tap into thousands of Spanish vocabulary words that you already know. And as a bonus, cognates exist across all aspects of the language — so they can be a great way to increase intermediate, advanced, and even industry-specific vocabulary.
Below are some of the most common types of cognate patterns:
- No Spelling Changes
The easiest cognates to recognize are exactly the same in English and Spanish. However, the Spanish pronunciation of the word may be slightly different than what you’re used to.
Examples: metro, hospital, idea, escape, lava, visa, sociable, inevitable, funeral, original, cereal, horrible, motor
- Adding an –ar or –ir
In Spanish, verbs end in –ar, -er, or –ir, and each follows its own conjugation rules. Many verb cognates exist by simply adding –ar or –ir to the English version of the word.
Examples: adopt – adoptar, calm – calmar, control – controlar, limit – limitar, invert – invertir, insist – insistir
- Changing –tion to –ción
The common English suffix –tion is used to form noun versions of verbs. It commonly expresses the state or action of the verb. Luckily for Spanish learners, the rule is consistent in Spanish nouns as well.
Examples: action – acción, celebration – celebración, condition – condición, nation – nación, fiction – ficción
- Adding an –o
This type of cognate is so common that many Spanish learners will try adding an –o to any English word when they don’t know the Spanish version. And to be honest, sometimes it works (although this isn’t always the case).
Examples: academic – académico, alcoholic – alcohólico, domestic – doméstico, organic – orgánico, panic – pánico
There are many more cognates in Spanish, as well as patterns other than the ones listed above. Taking the time to study cognate patterns will increase your vocabulary tenfold overnight. However, be aware of false cognates! These are words that appear to be the same in two languages, but actually have very different meanings.
For example, embarazada means “pregnant” in Spanish, but it’s often confused with “embarrassed” because they appear so similar.
General Rules for Cognates in Spanish
Here are some general rules you can use to understand how Spanish-English cognates relate:
- –ity becomes –idad (difficulty = dificultad)
- –ous becomes –oso (curious = curioso)
- –ance becomes –ancia (ambulance = ambulancia)
Now, check out the infographic below to learn 75 of the most helpful (and easy!) Spanish cognates to know…
What other easy Spanish cognates have you learned? Let us know by leaving a comment below!