When you’re learning a new language, a cognate is an easy word to remember because it looks and means the same thing as a word you already know. For example, gratitude in English means the same as gratitud in Spanish.

Just as words that are cognates have a shared origin — like gratitude and gratitud both coming from the Latin word gratitudo, meaning “thankfulness” — people can be cognates based on their shared blood. For example, you and your sister are cognates of your parents. You probably even look alike, just like word cognates. The adjective form of cognate can describe blood relations or anyone whose ancestors spoke the same language.

You may hear a word in English that is very similar to one in your language. You many wonder, ” Is it a cognate?” Think of the meaning  in your language. Is the English word is used in the same way? Does the meaning that you know make sense? If so, it is probably a cognate. About 30%-40% of  English words have a related word in Spanish. This means that Spanish has many English cognates. In addition, many math, science, and technology terms in other languages have English cognates. Perhaps your native language is very different from English, such as Arabic or Chinese. Even so, you will still find cognates with your language for scientific terms.

Common Spanish/English Cognate Word Endings

Dad in Spanish becomes ity in English.

actividad – activity

autoridad – authority 

capacidad – capacity

communidad – community

electricidad – electricity

Ción and sión in Spanish becomes tion or sion in English.

acción – action

adición – addition

atención – attention

función – function

televisión – television

directamente – directly

exactamente – exactly

False Friends

Sometimes a word may look like a cognate, but it is not. The spelling and the pronunciation may be similar.The meanings, however, are not. We call these words false friends.  Below are some common false friends. I give you the Spanish word first, and then the English word and the English meaning. Finally, I give you and an example sentence.

Common False Friends

actual (Spanish meaning: current) – actual (real)   My ring has an actual diamond.

asistir – assist (to help)  Can you assist me with my homework? Note: We can sometimes use this word in Spanish with the same meaning as in English. For this reason, it is not always considered as a false friend.

bombero (Spanish meaning: fireman) – bomber (an airplane that drops bombs in a war).  My uncle flew a bomber in the Vietnam War.

carpeta (Spanish meaning: folder) – carpet (rug)  I bought a new carpet for my living room floor. Note: in some Spanish speaking countries, this word has the same meaning as in English. Spain and Argentina, for example, use this word in the same way as English.

casualidad (Spanish meaning: coincidence, by chance) – casuality (victim–usually someone who dies)  There have been many American casualties in Iraq.

colegio (Spanish meaning: private educational institution) – college (university)  My brother finished high school, and now he’s in college.

enviar (Spanish meaning:to send) – envy (to wish you have what someone else has)  I envy my neighbor. He just bought a new car.

éxito (Spanish meaning: success) – exit (the way out)  Can you tell me where the exit is?  I’m ready to leave.

lectura (Spanish: a reading) – lecture ( a conference or a class where the professor talks and the students listen)  My history professor lectures us.

librería (Spanish meaning: bookshop) – library (place where you borrow book). I have to take my books back to the library.

molestar (Spanish meaning: to bother) – molest (to abuse sexually)  She was molested when she got drunk at a party

pretender (Spanish meaning: to wish/ to seek/ to court) – pretend ( to make believe that something is true)  My son likes to pretend he is Batman.

realizar (Spanish meaning: to perform/ to do/ to carry out) – realize (to understand something)  I realized that I was lost, so I stopped and asked for directions.

ropa (Spanish meaning: clothing) – rope (something you can use to climb or tie around something) At the rodeo, we watched the cowboy rope a horse.

sopa (Spanish meaning: soup) – soap (something you use to wash with)  I put a new bar of soap in the shower.

últimamente (Spanish meaning: recently) – ultimate (last)  After a difficult game, the Broncos ultimately won.

vaso (Spanish meaning: a glass) – vase (a lace to put cut flowers)  My date brought me flowers, so I filled a vase with water and put them in.