What are Cognates in Spanish? - False & True Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson will teach you the definition of both cognates and false cognates in Spanish. Lists of common cognates and false cognates and their pronunciation are also covered.

Words that Mean the Same and More

You already know lots of words in Spanish, you just didn't know it! Spanish cognates are words that not only have the same meaning as their counterparts in English, but the same spelling as well! Or, at least, the spelling is very close in both languages. This means that you have a huge advantage when learning Spanish.

Despite this language perk, you must be careful because there are also false cognates. These are words with very similar spelling in the two languages, but with completely different meanings.

To differentiate between true and false cognates, here are some helpful lists.

True Cognates

The reason why true cognates exist is that English and Spanish adopted words with a Latin origin. One can say, in such cases, that Latin is the mother tongue of those words. There are several groups of Latin originated cognates as follows.

The -Al Ending of Cognates

Several words that end in '-al' have identical spelling in English and Spanish. As a hint, remember that these words have the emphasis on the last syllable. Examples of these true cognates include but are not limited to the following:

  • animal (pronounced: ah-nee-mahl)
  • local (pronounced: loh-kahl)
  • universal (pronounced: oo-nee-vehr-sahl)
  • artificial (pronounced: ahr-tee-fee-see-al)
  • central (pronounced: sehn-trahl)
  • cerebral (pronounced: seh-reh-brahl)

The -Sion Ending of Cognates

Several words that end in '-sion' in English come from Latin. That ending is '-sión' in Spanish. Below are some examples:

  • confusión (pronounced: cohn-foo-see-on)
  • división (pronounced: dee-vee-see-on)
  • decisión (pronounced: deh-see-see-on)
  • dimensión (pronounced: dee-men-see-on)
  • explosión (pronounced: eks-ploh-see-on)
  • extensión (pronounced: eks-ten-see-on)

The -Or Ending of Cognates

The following are true cognates that have the exact same spelling in English and Spanish. They end in '-or' and the emphasis is on the last syllable:

  • actor (pronounced: akh-tor)
  • factor (pronounced: fakh-tor)
  • error (pronounced: ehrr-or)
  • exterior (pronounced: eks-teh-ree-or)
  • inferior (pronounced: in-feh-ree-or)
  • motor (pronounced: moh-tor)

The -Ico Ending of Cognates

Many words that end in '-ic' in English end in '-ico' in Spanish. The '-ico' ending is the masculine version of a word, whereas the '-ica' ending is the feminine. Below are some examples given in the masculine form, which you can change as needed:

  • académico (pronounced: ah-kah-deh-mee-ko)
  • electrónico (pronounced: eh-lekh-troh-nee-ko)
  • diplomático (pronounced: dee-ploh-mah-tee-ko)
  • básico (pronounced: bah-see-ko)
  • automático (pronounced: ah--oo-tom-atic-oh)
  • plástico (pronounced: plahs-tee-ko)

The -Ary Ending of Words

Many words that end in '-ary' in English end in '-ario' in Spanish. Below are some examples:

  • rosario (pronounced: roh-ssah-ree-oh)
  • comentario (pronounced: koh-men-tah-ree-oh)
  • salario (pronounced: sah-lah-ree-oh)
  • vocabulario (pronounced: voh-kah-boo-lah-ree-oh)
  • aniversario (pronounced: ah-nee-bear-sah-ree-oh)
  • arbitrario (pronounced: ahr-bee-trah-ree-oh)

The -Logy Ending of Words

Lots of fields of study take their name from Latin and, consequently, are very similar in English and Spanish. The '-logy' ending becomes '-logía' as in the following examples:

  • sociología (pronounced: soh-see-oh-loh-hee-ah)
  • patología (pronounced: pah-toh-loh-hee-ah)
  • geología (pronounced: heh-oh-loh-hee-ah)
  • biología (pronounced: bee-oh-loh-hee-ah)
  • tecnología (pronounced: tek-noh-loh-hee-ah)
  • toxicología (pronounced: tohk-see-koh-loh-hee-ah)

The above lists do not exhaust the number of cognates that English and Spanish share. Thus, there are a couple of links under the Sources tab of this lesson.

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