As you might have noticed if you study Spanish, most of the words that we encounter in this language have some sort of “related word” in English: beber (to drink) has beverage, sentir (to feel) has sentiment, etc.
English is so vast, that it has words coming from all over the world, and being aware of this feature can help you to rapidly improve your level when studying almost any foreign language… certainly, Spanish.
Sometimes, the related word we look for is evident; other times, it is more hidden (“hecho” is related to “fact”); sometimes, the meaning of the related word is more close to the original, in other cases, it is more distant. In some occasions, similar words are not related at all (in meaning or origin… nor both), and we call them “false friends” (Spanish “sin”-without- is not related to the English concept of “sin”, Spanish “red” is not a color, as “pie” is not related to cakes, etc.) It is also wise to be aware of them and spare ourselves an embarrassing situation; as it could happen if you ignored that “embarazada”, the most famous example, in Spanish, does mean “pregnant”, not “embarrassed”.
In any case, the important thing is to make observations and connections that can help us to remember and retain vocabulary and, in some cases, even enhance the one we use in our own language.
Here, from my years of teaching in a US High-School, I selected 100 cases where a word in Spanish has a more or less evident correlation to one or more in English.
In order to help fast visualization, in bold red color the Spanish word, next to it is its meaning, and in the next line a more or less detailed explanation and the word (sometimes the group of words) that are related to it in English. When there is more than one option I selected the one that I consider more closely related to the Spanish original. Where I did not use colors the subject is more general than referred to one single word.
ABRIR: to open
It is less difficult to remember it, if we can relate it to music, where we know an “overture” is the opening piece of an opera.
It is present in English in words like: “aquatic”, “aqueous”, “aquamarine” (Spanish: aguamarina).
It is in “amicable”. See: AMOR.
AMOR-AMAR: love, to love
They are related to “amorous”, “polyamorous”. Less evident and known is the correspondence with AMIGO and ENEMIGO in English in “amicable” and “enemy”. They are all from Latin “Amare”, “to Love”, and also the proto-Indo-European concept of “hold of”. Also related to love are: “amable”, the names “Amy” and “Amanda”, and of course “amateur”.
It is evidently related to “anterior”.
It is in English botanical terms such as: “arboretum”, “arbor”, “arboreal”.
AYUDA-AYUDAR: help, to help
It is in “aid”.
AZAR: chance, randomness
Due to historical reasons, some thousands of words in Spanish descend from Arabic, but some of them spread out to other languages as well including English. One of the most fascinating ones is definitely this one, which is in English “hazard”, from the Arabic word for “dice”.
It is the same origin of ”banner”.
It is a term related to the act of “barter”, the first form of commerce, before money was invented. Note: the history (particularly Medieval) of European word of “barato” is one of the most fascinating and interesting in the whole dictionary.
It is already a closely related word but sounds significantly different; if one wants to be perfectly sure to remember it properly just recall the “barber”.
It is where you “embark” if you want to sail.
BEBER: to drink
It is in “beverage”.
First: English speakers are always surprised to know that Spanish (and Italian) do not have a word for “whiskers” but relate this feline feature to the concept of “mustache”. Spanish word for “mustache”, is closely related to the English “bigot”; Earliest French use of the word is as the name of a people apparently in southern Gaul, which led to the theory, now considered very doubtful on phonetic grounds, that the word comes from Visigothus. The typical use in Old French seems to have been as a derogatory nickname for big mustached Normans, leading to another theory (also shaky) that traces it to the Normans’ (alleged, unproved) frequent use of the Germanic oath: “by God”.
It is in “benevolent”
It is a bit confusing the fact that the color black is so close to its Spanish opposite BLANCO, which is “white”. In fact, the two words are ultimately related and they “traded places” long ago. It can help to remember, though, that BLANCO in Spanish is also a “target” (dar en el blanco: to hit the target) and that we shoot at “point-blank”. White is also the most traditional color of old-fashioned “blankets”.
We use our arms when we metaphorically “embrace” a cause, since it means “to hug” it.
It is evident in “cavalry”
It is the same word of “carnal”, same flesh and blood.
It is not difficult to remember or understand if we know some basic anatomy and spot “cerebellum”.
COCHE: car (in Spain, in Mexico and other South American countries “carro” is preferred)
It may seem strange but it is related with the popular sport figure “coach”, word invented (in this usage) in Oxford to mean “someone who drives you to achieve your goal”, and used in origin not only in sports.
COMER-COMIDA: to eat-food
It can be spotted in the collective name of those things that you can actually eat safely: they are “edible”, or, less used: “comestible”.
The preposition CON, “with” can be spotted in all English compound words of Latin origin that use a “co-“ with that meaning, very common, with or without hyphen, eg. “co-worker”, “coexist”, in some example it even repeated two times, like in: “co-conspirator”.
CONSTRUIR: to build
Of course, we have “construction”.
As always, it is in anatomical vocabulary such as in “cardiac”, but in English it can also be found in: “courage” (Spanish: coraje).
CORRER: to run
You do not normally run in a “corridor”, at least in schools you are not supposed to, but it is definitely a straight-up place where you could speed up your pace, hence the name.
The word is related to the number four (cuatro) because originally the paper that formed the “cuaderno” was folded in four and cut. The same root is in “quaternary”, “quadratic”, etc.
The same logic but based on the number five (cinque) applies to the Italian “quinterno” in typography a booklet of twenty pages (five sheets folded in two).
Also related to four is “quarantine” (but, to be specific, from Italian).
It is used in: “collar”.
It is in the English word “debilitating”, something that makes you “débil”, “weak”.
It is the same root of “digit” and “digital”.
If we consider that this word is composed from Latin “de” and “post”, it will not be difficult to relate it to “posterior”, “posterity”, all things that come “after”.
Maybe is not intuitively close to “tooth”, but “dentist“ definitely is. Another word for tooth, generically used is: MUELA, technically it is a “molar”. A “muela” is also a “grinder stone”, which produces a similar effect by chewing.
We can suffer together with the people we care about, that is what literally means to give your “condolences”; it is a compound of “con” (with) and DOLER (to hurt).
DORMIR: to sleep
It is what you do in a “dormitory” or a “dorm-room”. See also: “dormant”, “dormancy”.
together with Janitor, originates from the first month of the year, dedicated to the Ancient Roman God of the endings and beginnings, protector of doors and gates (hence the job of janitor), and depicted with two opposite faces.
Easy to spot in: “integer”
ESCRIBIR: to write
It is contained in “graffiti”, “paragraph”, “description”, “scribe”, “script” and “to scrape” since originally this action was performed scraping waxed tablets.
ES: s (letter)
All Spanish words that start with a “liquid S” (an S followed by a consonant) need an “E” in front of it. Therefore, if we want to look for some similar word in our language it will be a good habit to get rid of the extra E and say the same word aloud without it. So, for example, ESTUPIDO means “stupid”, a word related also with “stupor”. Probably, the idea is that who is in a constant state of stupor is stupid, or that the stupid looks like being surprised all the time (not understanding, he looks confused). To the same family it belongs the word ESTUPEFACTO.
ESCALERA: stair, ladder
In English, we have a “stair” and a “ladder”, two different objects that are addressed with one word in Spanish, but in English a situation can increasingly get worse climbing to a crisis when it “escalates”. Also “scale” like in music or measures is related to it.
You can help yourself recalling what a “facility” (it makes things easier) is, or even better the role of a “facilitator”.
FELICIDAD, FELIZ: happiness, happy
is commonly expressed with “happy” and “happiness” but you can also use “felicity” and you definitely know about “felicitation” another way to express congratulations.
GANAR: to win, to earn
as in “gain” is probably a Gothic word. The original French word enfolded the notions of “profit from agriculture” and “booty, prey.” Neither the verb nor the noun “gain” is in Middle English, which however had “gainage” (profit derived from agriculture). In fact GANADO in Spanish means “cattle”.
If you ever heard or used the term “gargantuan”, or if you ever saw the movie where the name of a supermassive black-hole is “Gargantua”, it may surprise you that in Spanish GARGANTA is the “throat”, something not related to the concept of being massive. But, Gargantua, same root, is also the name of one of the two voracious giants in Rabelais’ novel “La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel”, from the same imitative root as “to gargle”, which is related to.
The other name, Pantagruel, is formed by the Greek “panta” (all-always) and the Arabic root “gruel” (thirsty) and it is used in the adjective form “Pantagruelian” to describe a huge feast, banquet, or someone who is insatiable, gigantic and with a disproportionate appetite.
Like in the zodiac, the sign of “Gemini”, from Greek mythology: Castor and Pollux.
This is one of the most difficult words to analyze, since it is related to something completely different as the fruit “grape”. from Germanic *krappon (hook) and “graper”, “steal”; it is also the same origin of “grasp”.
HACER: to do, to make
It has a deep relation with the word “fact” (what is done, therefore cannot be changed). The resemblance increases if we consider that many Spanish words beginning with an H started with an F in ancient times (“hacer” was “facer”), and in this case from Latin (facere: to do, to make); the whole situation becomes evident if we know that the past participle of the Latin “facere” is, for instance, FACTUM.
If you observe that the first person singular of the present indicative of “hacer” is HAGO (I do, I make), it will not be a big surprise to spot it in the English word “protagonist”, “the one who does first” (proto-ago), the role of the main character.
They are already pretty closely looking words, but remembering the Spanish version of it becomes even easier if we remember “juvenile”.
LAVAR: to wash
It is the root of words related to the action of washing like “lavatory” but also “lavender” a flower that was used to scent washed fabrics and blankets.
We humans are the only specie that move the tongue in such ways as to speak a language, so it is not a surprise that this word in Spanish means both: “tongue” and “language”.
It exists in English “lentitude” and it is archaic.
LLAMAR: to call
From Latin “clamare” is in “exclam”! Literally: ex (out) clamare (call).
from Latin “clave” like in the anatomical part: “clavicle” (tha bone that resembles a “small key”). “Clave”, in Spanish, is basically the same word, but it is used exclusively with the meaning of a “code” or a “password”.
It is the same word of the adjective: “pluvial”.
It expresses your “location”. See also: “locate” or “localization”.
“Lunar landing”, “Lunar modules”. What people not always notice, is that Monday (the day of the Moon) is also translated in Spanish following the same pattern, with LUNES. There is another English word related to this Latin name of our satellite: “loony”. The Moon is inconstant and makes you weird.
These words originate from the same root, but it is easier to remember the meaning if we relate it to the name Lucy (bright), or to “luminal”, the velocity of light.
It is in: “malevolent”, “malignancy”, “malignant”…
It is not so exotic if you relate it to “manicure”, or to a “manual” car, or work in a “manufacture” job.
It is in “marine”, “submarine”, “mariner”, etc.
Like in: “marvel”.
MENTIR: to lie
There is a big distance between “to lie” and its Spanish counterpart, luckily people can be “mendacious” in English.
MIRAR: to look
It is what you do in a “mirror” and metaphorically what happens “admire” . Also “miracle”, belongs to the group, as something astonishing, a wonder.
This Latin-origin word is used in English terms such as: “mortal”, “mortality”, “mortgage”, the color “amaranth” (literally: “not fading”, “not dying”), “to mortify”, and many more.
It is contained in the word: “mundane”, relative to the world.
It is in “Navy” or “Naval”.
Like in: “orient”, “oriented”, “orientation”, and “Orion”, the origin is Latin “oriri” to raise (of the Sun), it is one of the ways the Romance Languages express the East (like in Italian “Oriente”).
It is easy to remember if we recall what “obscure” means.
It is part of what you have in a “pantry”, in fact the word as reported in the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from: “early 14c., panterie, pantre, “a storeroom or closet, especially for bread,” from Anglo-French panetrie (late 13c. in surnames; Old French paneterie) “bread room” and directly from Medieval Latin panataria “office or room of a servant who has charge of food” (“bread”), from Latin panis “bread,” from PIE root *pa- “to feed.” The sense in English soon evolved so that the word’s roots in “bread” were no longer felt and it came to be used of any closet for provisions generally or where plates and knives are cleaned”
PELO: hair – PIEL: skin/leather
both related to “peel” from Latin: “pellis” (skin).
this is just one example of a vast set (to which belong words as: “dependiente”, “depender”); in English they are related to “penchant”, “depend”, and in general to the concept of “hanging” and “leaning”.
PENSAR: to think
It is a very different word, but sometimes people can be “pensive”.
It is in “pejorative”.
PERDER: to lose
It is used in English in the context of one’s soul, in “perdition”.
PERMITIR: to allow
That’s why you may need a “permit”.
Everybody, at least who visited a Mexican restaurant once, knows what it means, a very different word, but maybe not everybody as noticed how close it is to “poultry”.
PONER: to put
In English it is found in word such as: “position”, “ponent”, “opponent”, “opposition”, “composition”.
Sometimes you can open a “portal”.
It is a false friend in Spanish, it is not related to any color, but it originates from Latin and can be found in English anatomical part “retina”, a “small net” in the eye.
REGAR: to water (the plants)
It is, obviously, in English “irrigation”, from a straight line (Latin “riga”) like in “rule”, (in Latin: “regula”). There is a deep connection between what is “straight” and what is “just”.
In ancient Rome, in Latin, “res” is a “thing” (thing, entity, concern…), in fact “res-publica” is the “common thing”, the republic: res (entity, concern) and publicus (of the people, public), or, what belongs to/concerns everybody.
in Spanish means “salt” and SALADO is “salty”. In English, we still have “salary” from Latin a word that belongs to this interesting “family”. In Roman times people (soldiers especially) were paid with that good. In Italy there is still a road called “Via Salaria” (Saline Road).
SALUDAR: to greet
Wishing people well is a very ancient and good behaved costume, that is the first meaning of SALUDAR (to greet) form SALUD (heath) like in the English verb “to salute”.
It is present in English in words such as: “sanitary”, “sanitarium”, “sane”, same Latin root (sanitas) as SALUD in Spanish toasts. If something is “healthy” in the sense of “good for your health” in Spanish you must use the word “SALUDABLE”.
sounds less atypical if we relate it to senior, from Latin senior “older,” comparative of senex (genitive senis) “old,” from PIE root *sen- “old.” It is the same word of “senate” and also “senile”. It is related also with “sir”.
SENTIR: to feel, to be sorry
You can say “I am sorry” and “I feel fine” instead of “lo SIENTO” or “me SIENTO bien”, but you can also be “sentimental”.
It is kept in English: “saddle”.
It is related to “solitude”.
This is one of the most famous Spanish words, especially due to the characteristic big hats that traditionally Mexican men wear, but the real meaning of the apparently strange word unfolds only if you think that the purpose of this item is to cast a shadow, “umbra” in Latin, SOMBRA in Spanish. “Umbra” is present also in the rare English word: “umbrage”, and in the more common “umbrella” (from Italian “ombrello”) is then somewhat more related to “sombrero”. The Spanish word for this pluvial object called PARAGUAS, which literally means “stop-waters”, a function that is more adjusted to the most common use of it though, which is to protect from rain, more than it is nowadays to cast a shadow protecting from the sun.
SUELDO: salary, pay
Somehow related, is the observation that if SUELDO (salary) looks like a difficult word to remember, it relates to “soldier”, the one who is paid. “Solidare” in Latin is “to pay” and ancient soldiers were paid in “solidi” a gold coin. Of course, the name of that currency is related to the word “solid”, originally “whole”.
It is in: “tambourine”.
TENER: to have
One peculiar and to some extent dreadful character of Spanish language is that “to have” is expressed with TENER even if there is a verb with a shared root: “haber”. “Haber” is used only as an auxiliary verb. But “tener” comes from Latin “tenere” originally with the meaning of “to hold”. In Spanish language (and southern Italian, a place under long domination of Spain) it modified its original meaning expanding it to express a general concept of “possession”. The original Latin root is present in English though, in several terms such as: “to detain”, “detention”, “content”, “to contain”, “continent”, etc. and of course the same ramifications are present in Spanish with words such as DETENER, CONTENER, which flex in the same way as “tener”. In English think also about a “tenure” position.
Also related to the music “tempo”, but in English there is also “temporal”, “atemporal”, “temporality”.
Everybody can spot the connection with “totalitarian”, “total”, and so forth.
TRAER: to pull (and much more)
To remember it, it is enough to consider what a “tractor” is, or what “traction” might come from.
TUMBAR: to overthrow (reflexive: to lay down, to rest)
“tomb” is not the same thing but people there assume the same position. Also see: “hecatomb”, and ancient sacrifice of one hundred animals.
If we struggle to remember that it is a “cow”, let’s just remember its relation to “vaccine”, which literally and originally meant: “relative to cows”.
“Venison” both form Latin “to hunt” (venare), like in “venation”.
If you want to be really refined (or pedantic) you can also use a rare term referred to fishing: “halieutics”. It is, according to Merriam Webster, the art or practice of fishing, and also: a treatise on fishes or fishing. From Latin; “Halieutica” was the title of a poem on fishing by Ovid.
It is contained, for instance, in a “veridical” statement.
Like in “verdant”.
VIVIR-VIDA: to live-life
“vivir la vida” (to live life) is the most banal of paronomasias; in English the same root is in “vivid”.
VOLAR: to fly
It could be difficult to remember unless we recall that in English we call those substances that easily evaporate at normal temperatures (fly away): “volatile”.