Cognates are Words That Have Similar Origins

English and Spanish Share Over 1,000 Words

World Cup stadium
Un estadio. (A stadium.). A C Moraes/Flickr

In a technical sense, two words that have a common origin are cognates. Most often, cognates are words in two languages that have a common etymology, or background, and are similar or identical. For example, the English word "kiosk" and the Spanish quiosco are cognates because they both come from the Turkish word kosk.

Other English and Spanish Cognates

One of the best things about learning Spanish from English is that there are about 1,000 words that are cognates or are borrowed from a common language.

In addition to the advantage of using the same alphabet, you can effectively know many word meanings without even trying. Examples of cognate pairs include "azure" and azul, "committee" and comité and "telephone" and teléfono.

Other terms meaning "cognate" in Spanish are palabra afín, palabra relacionada or palabra cognada.

Word Meanings Can Change Over Time

Cognates often have a similar meaning, but in some cases the meaning can change over the centuries in one language or another. An example of such a change is the English word "arena," which usually refers to a sports facility, and the Spanish arena, which means "sand." Both words come from the Latin word harena, which originally meant "sand" and both can refer to an area of a Roman amphitheater that was covered with sand. Spanish retained the meaning of "sand," and also uses the word to refer to a sports arena. English only borrowed the word from Latin meaning "arena" as a facility like a Roman amphitheater.

English already had a word for "sand," and it is not a cognate of arena.

False Cognates

False cognates are words that people commonly believe are related, but that linguistic examination reveals are unrelated and have no common origin. Another term for this is "false friends." An example of false friends are the Spanish word sopa, meaning "soup," and the English word, "soap." Both look alike, but are not related.

The Spanish word for "soap" is jabón.

Other examples of false cognates include the English word "much" and the Spanish word mucho, both look similar and have a similar meaning but are not cognates, as they evolved from different roots: "much" from early Germanic and mucho from Latin. The Spanish word parar, meaning "to stop," and the English word "pare," meaning, "to trim," are also false cognates.

List of Common False Cognates

There are many words that are cognates in English and Spanish. You see a word, it reminds you of an English word. You understand the meaning. But there are some trap words that can make you think it means one thing, but in fact, does not mean what it sounds like. What follows is a list of common false cognates to help you navigate past the traps.

Spanish WordMeaningUse in a Sentence
ActualmenteDoes not mean actually, it is an adverb that means currently.Actualmente el presidente de Estados Unidos es Donald Trump.
ContestarDoes not mean to contest, it is a verb that means to answer.Voy a contestar el teléfono.
ConstipadoDoes not mean constipado, it means to have a cold.Esta constipado.
EmbarazadaDoes not mean embarrassing, it means being pregnant.Mi hermana está embarazada.
En absolutoDoes not mean absolutely, it means not at all.No me gustan los perros en absoluto.
MinoristaDoes not mean minority, it is an adjective for retail or noun for retailer.Macy's es una tienda minorista.
MolestarDoes not mean molest, it is a verb that means to annoy.No molestes a su hermano.
RealizarDoes not mean to realize, it is a verb that refers to something becoming real or completed.Yo realicé mi sueño de ser abogado.
TunaDoes not mean tuna fish, it means prickly pear cactus.Quiero bebir jugo de tuna.