Closer than you think: Cognates in Arabic, English and Spanish

Coffee beans - Shutterstock / Ilya Frankazoid

Arabica coffee beans

Cognates can act as bridges across languages or, at least, stepping stones that help learners link their knowledge of their native language with a new language. They also serve as a reminder of a shared history and the mixing of our cultures. On International Tolerance Day, we are reminded of a video that recently went viral, in which two young women, one a speaker of Arabic and the other a speaker of Spanish, discover that their mother tongues have more in common than they previously thought.

We loved this video and its message of shared culture visible through language.  The words featured in it (such as azúcar in Spanish and سكر (sukkar) in Arabic) got us thinking about words that have a similar form and shared history in English, Spanish and Arabic. So we came up with a short list of some Arabic-Spanish-English cognates that show how interconnected these languages really are:

café (qahwah) قهوة coffee
cero (sifr)صِفْر zero
jarra* (jarrah) جرّة jar
algodón (qutn) قُطن cotton
naranja (naarinj)نارنج ** orange
alcohol (al-kuhuul) الكحول alcohol
máscara (maskarah) مسكرة mask
álgebra (aljabr) الجبر Algebra
carmesí (qirmizyy)قِرمِزي crimson
elixir (aliksiir) الإكسير elixir
gacela (ghazaalah) غزالة gazelle
jirafa (zaraafah) زرافة giraffe
limón*** (laymuun) ليمون lemon
luffa (liifah) ليفة luffa/loofah
laúd (al’uud) العود lute
safari (safar) سفر safari
sorbete (sharbaat) شربات sherbet
zumaque (summaq) سُمّاق sumac
talismán (Tilsam) طلسم talisman


Learning Arabic as a speaker of English and/or Spanish is not easy, but cognates like these will help you along the way. We would love to hear from learners who have found more cognates on our Forum.


(*) Translates as ‘pitcher’ as well in Spanish.
(**) Refers only to bitter orange in Arabic.
(***) See our post on differences between Latin American and Castillian Spanish, including the translations of ‘lemon’ and ‘lime.’


Photo credit: Shutterstock / Ilya Frankazoid