Easy Cognates for the Beginning Spanish Learner
Learning Spanish can be tough at times—verb conjugations, irregular verbs, subjunctive mood, and articles can trip up the most astute of Spanish learners. One thing that seems to facilitate the learning adventure is the hundreds of similar-sounding words in English and Spanish. These words, called cognates, are words that are either spelled the same or similar and often sound alike in both languages. Because English and Spanish have some of the same roots, there are numerous cognates that make communicating in Spanish a lot easier.
When I first immersed myself in Spanish conversation, I understood a lot more than I expected because of cognates! Even though I hadn’t necessarily studied certain words, I was able to pick up on their meaning because the familiar structure and pronunciation reflected their English counterparts. Thanks to this blog post, you can do the same!
Let’s look at some cognates that are spelled exactly the same, but have a different pronunciation:
As you can see from these examples, while the cognates are spelled the same, the Spanish pronunciation is slightly different, mainly because of the vowels. Also, note that some cognates add an accent in Spanish!
Have you ever just added an o to the end of an English word to make its Spanish equivalent? While this doesn’t always work, there is some truth to it.
Let’s check out some nouns that can be changed into a Spanish word with just adding an –o or –a to the end:
Minor Spelling Changes
Now, the following words sound like you just add o or a to the English word, when in reality the spelling changes a bit more than that. Check them out!
Did you see how some vowels change or disappear, like in blusa and pingüino? In certain words, a ph is replaced by an f, like in teléfono, or a letter is added, like in carro. Either way, these words are extremely similar in both spelling and pronunciation.
All the words we’ve looked at so far are nouns, or sustantivos. Many more adjectives—adjetivos (another example of cognates!)—follow the rule of “just add an –o or –a.” Let’s see some examples:
Look for Patterns
Can you find any patterns to help you know which English adjectives just add an –o in Spanish? Here’s a hint: What do most of the English words end in? Yes! Most of them end in “-ic” or “-al.” The ones that end in “-ic” just need an –o added on to the end (and sometimes an accent mark) to turn them into their Spanish equivalent. For the words that end in “-al,” we need to take away those last two letters before adding on the –o.
Keep in mind that these adjectives will not always end in –o. You may remember that adjectives in Spanish change to agree with the noun. If the noun is feminine, the adjective will end in –a; if the noun is plural, the adjective will end need an –s at the end.
Ella es muy romántica. Él es muy romántico.
Ellas son muy románticas. Ellos son muy románticos.
So, while these cognates are pretty simple to form, they always change to maintain the noun-adjective agreement!
Tilde Adds Emphasis
Also, did you happen to notice that every Spanish word has an accent mark on the third to last syllable? Don’t forget those crucial tildes!
-Y to -IA Cognates
Are there more patterns to making Spanish cognates, you ask? Why, of course! This next group of words is more nouns whose English “-y” converts to a Spanish –ia. Check out how easy it is to make their Spanish equivalent:
As you can see, in order to make the Spanish cognates, you keep the base of the word but change the “-y” to –ia. Be attentive to pronunciation changes—some words have an accent on the final i.
-ANCE to -ANCIA Cognates
Another group of cognates changes to an –ia at the end of a word. Check out these nouns!
-ITY to -IDAD Cognates
Not all English words that end in “-y” end in –ia in Spanish. For those words nouns that end in “-ity,” the rule is a little different. The “-ity” becomes –idad. Practice with these examples:
-TION to -CIÓN Cognates
One more cognate group of nouns to go; these are probably some of the most well-known ones:
Back to Adjective Cognates
Phew! That’s a lot of noun cognates! Do you remember talking about some adjective cognates in Spanish? Well, there’s more. Let’s take a look.
-OUS to -OSO Cognates
English words that end in “-ous” can change in two different ways in Spanish, either changing that ending to a -oso or just add an –o.
-OUS to -O Cognates
Remember, the –o ending is for adjectives that describe masculine words. If it describes a feminine or plural noun, the ending will be slightly different.
Alright, we’ve looked at cognates with nouns and adjectives, but what about verbs? That’s right—many verbs are cognates as well. Before we start, do you remember the infinitive verb endings in Spanish? They are -ar, -er, and -ir. So, when we talk about verb cognates, we are referring to verbs in English that can be changed into Spanish verbs by just adding one of the infinitive endings. The trick is to know which one!
Cognates Without a Pattern
Not every cognate follows a rule or pattern. Some words are unique, but are still cognates nonetheless!
Wow! So many cognates exist in English and Spanish, including countless more beyond this starter guide. Now you know some of the main patterns that form Spanish cognates and you can use them as needed in a conversation.
The ultimate tip is: if you are not sure how to say a word in Spanish, try forming a cognate!
Trust me, if you make a mistake with cognates, you won’t be the first one! But, before you hit the ground running with your new cognate-forming skills, let me warn you—exceptions and false cognates are lurking everywhere. Catch up on false cognates before you travel to a Spanish-speaking country or start talking to a group of Spanish-speaking friends. (Luckily, people are pretty forgiving about mistakes in this area.)
Warm-up your skills by practicing with a native Spanish speaker for free in a trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy (you know you want to!). Our teachers will happily give you more cognates and help you with your pronunciation!