Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms - Definition and Examples

Examples of true cognates in English (E) and German (G).


A cognate is a word that is related in origin to another word, such as English brother and German Bruder, or English history and Spanish historia. Cognates have similar meanings and (usually) similar spellings in two different languages. Adverb: cognately.

False cognates are two words in different languages that appear to be cognates but actually are not (for example, the English advertisement and the French avertissement, which means "warning" or "caution").


See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


From the Latin, "born with"

Examples and Observations

  • "A cognate is a word that resembles (to varying degrees) a word in another language and that has a common origin. Cognates are often derived from Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian) that have their origins in Latin, although some are derived from other language families (e.g., Germanic). Students who are fluent in their native language and L1 vocabulary will be better able to recognize and translate L1-English cognates."
    (Patricia F. Vadasy and J. Ron Nelson, Vocabulary Instruction for Struggling Students. Guilford Press, 2012)
  • Partial Cognates
    "Partial cognates are words that have the same meaning in some, but not all contexts. For example, twig and Zweig are used similarly in some contexts, but in other contexts Zweig is better translated as 'branch.' Both Zweig and branch have metaphoric meanings ('a branch of a business') which twig does not share."
    (Uta Priss and L. John Old, "Bilingual Word Association Networks." Conceptual Structures: Knowledge Architectures for Smart Applications, ed. by Uta Priss et al. Springer, 2007)
  • False Cognates and Accidental Cognates
    "False cognates are etymologically related but no longer overlap in meaning between the languages; their meanings may be related but also opposite (in English an auditorium is a place for a large gathering, whereas in Spanish an auditorio is an audience; stretch means 'to extend' in English but estretcher in Spanish is 'to make narrow'). Accidental cognates are not etymologically related but just happen to share form (English juice and Spanish juicio, 'judge' ...)."
    (Annette M. B. De Groot, Language and Cognition in Bilinguals and Multilinguals: An Introduction. Psychology Press, 2011)
  • Cognates and Vocabulary Acquisition
    - "Because all but the 'good' or 'true' cognates may mislead the learner, the attitude toward cognates in applied-linguistics research and foreign language teaching has often been to stress the potentially detrimental effect of cognates, to communicate the message that cognates are language elements to be mistrusted, or to ignore their existence altogether by not pointing out the systematic cognate relations that may hold between native language and the target foreign language (see Granger, 1993, for a discussion). More recently, the awareness that under many circumstances cognates, also the 'not-true' ones, may facilitate vocabulary learning has led to a much more positive attitude and even sometimes to an over-reliance on cognates.

    "To illustrate, Ringbom (1987) reasoned that the existence of cognates might be one reason why Swedes are generally better in English than Finns; English and Swedish are related languages, sharing many cognates, whereas English and Finnish are completely unrelated. The consequence is that a Finn will be at a complete loss when encountering an unknown English word, whereas in many cases a Swede may infer at least part of the English cognate's meaning. It is plausible that explicitly pointing out to the foreign language learner that the native and targeted language share many cognates affects the way the learner approaches the vocabulary acquisition task, thus accelerating learning."
    (Annette M. B. de Groot, Language and Cognition in Bilinguals and Multilinguals: An Introduction. Psychology Press, 2011)

    - "Teaching cognates, which are words that are similar in two languages, is one of the most fruitful methods of instruction for English learners who speak Spanish as their first language. Researchers indicate that English-Spanish cognates account for one-third of educated adult vocabulary (Nash, 1997) and 53.6 percent of English words are of Romance-language origin (Hammer, 1979). Cognates can provide a potent method of comprehending English vocabulary, but many Spanish-speaking students do not notice even the most transparent cognates they encounter in texts."
    (Shira Lubliner and Judith A. Scott, Nourishing Vocabulary: Balancing Words and Learning. Corwin, 2008)

    Pronunciation: KOG-nate