Easy Cognates for the Beginning Spanish Learner
Learning Spanish can be tough at times – verb conjugations, irregular verbs, subjunctive mood, and even articles can trip up a lot of Spanish learners. However, one thing that makes the learning adventure a lot easier is that there are hundreds of cognates in English and Spanish. Cognates are words that are either spelled the same or similar and often sound alike. Because English and Spanish have some of the same roots, there are numerous cognates that make communicating in Spanish a lot easier.
I remember when I was first immersed in Spanish conversation that 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.
Let’s look at some cognates that are spelled exactly the same:
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:
Easy right? Now, some more words sound like you just add ‘o’ or ‘a’ to the English word, but 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. Now, all of these words that we have looked at so far are nouns, or sustantivos. There are many more adjectives, adjetivos (look at that! Another example of cognates!), that follow the rule of “just add an ‘o/a.’”
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.’
Now, keep in mind that these adjectives will not ALWAYS end in ‘o.’ If you remember, the 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, remember that they change to maintain the noun-adjective agreement! 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!
Are there more patterns to making Spanish cognates, you ask? Why, of course! This next group of words are more nouns; check out how easy it is to make their Spanish equivalent!
-Y to -IA
As you can see, all these English words end in a -y. To make the Spanish cognates, you keep the base of the word but change the -y to a -ia. Be careful, though, because some words have an accent on the final ‘i.’
There is another group of cognates that changes to an -ia at the end of a word. Check out these nouns!
-ANCE to -ANCIA
-ITY to -IDAD
Now, not all words that end in -y in English end in -ia in Spanish. For those words nouns that end in -ity, the rule is a little different. The -ity becomes an -idad. Practice with these examples:
There’s one more cognate group of nouns; these are probably some of the most well-known ones.
-TION to -CIÓN
Phew! That’s a lot of noun cognates! Do you remember talking about some adjective cognates in Spanish? Well, there’s more. English words that end in -ous can change in two different ways in Spanish, either changing that ending to a -oso or just an -o.
-OUS to -OSO
-OUS to -O
Don’t forget what we previously talked about concerning adjectives – the ‘o’ ending is only for adjectives describing masculine words. If it is describing 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? You guessed it! There are many verbs that 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!
Now, not every cognate follows a rule or pattern. There are some words that unique – but are still cognates nonetheless!
Wow! There are so many cognates in English and Spanish, and there are countless more than just the ones listed here – this is just to get you started! Now that you know some of the main patterns to form Spanish cognates, you can try using them when you get stuck in a conversation. If you are not sure how to say a word in Spanish, try forming a cognate; more times than not, you’ll be correct! So many times, when I ask how to say a word in Spanish, it is just a cognate of the English word!
However, do be warned. These rules are not written in stone, and there are many exceptions and false cognates. Be sure to brush up on the false cognates before traveling to a Spanish-speaking country or immersing yourself completely in the language. In my experience, though, people are very forgiving and generally understand the idea you’re trying to get across. Trust me – if you make a mistake with cognates, you won’t be the first one!
Be sure to practice with a native Spanish speaker by trying a FREE class with us! Our teachers can give you more cognates and help you with your pronunciation!