I'm a native English speaker who's been learning French for a long time. I now have good vocabulary base and knowledge of grammar in French.

When learning French I found cognitive short-cuts, for example being able to use almost any '-tion' English word in French.

What are some good cognates for learning Spanish for people with knowledge of French?

  • 2
    Unfortunately, it is much easier to guess a French word given the Spanish form than vice versa. French has undergone more obfuscation than Spanish in its history from Vulgar Latin to now. Jan 24, 2017 at 14:06
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    I've been learning Spanish from a French base for the last month and have found it very easy to guess the average Spanish word, particularly once you know the rules for how the spellings tend to be transposed. lágrima=larme, cuerpo=corps, ojo=œil, boca=bouche, cuello=cou, pensar=penser, jamás=jamais, caballo=cheveu, esfuerzo=effort, and on and on. The harder the word, the easier :) — because the root tends to be more visible in words like "preocupaciones" than a short word like "sueño". The main difficulty I found was faux amis. "Militantes", for example, turns out just to mean "members"... Mar 12, 2017 at 23:38

3 Answers 3


For inherited cognates, my go-to scholarly source is Meyer-Lübke's Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. It is a bit hard to read, because it is in German and has a lot of abbreviations, but it is very comprehensive.

A non-scholarly but easier to use source is Wiktionary. If, for example, you want to find the cognates of main (hand), you can go the French entry; in the etymology section, you will find a link to the word's Latin etymon (manus); in the Latin entry, you will find a descendants section which lists, among others, the Spanish cognate mano.


Edit: I've since been recording these cognates and creating open-source activities.

I ended up finding a really good book which lists several cognates between all the Romance Languages. It's called EuroComRom - The Seven Sieves: How to Read All the Romance Languages Right Away.

According to the book there are:

  • 39 Pan-Romance (PR) words
  • 108 words in 9 romance languages
  • 33 words in 8 romance languages
  • 227 words in 5-7 languages
  • 73 PR words learned from Latin
  • 20 PR words of Germanic origin

From page 30

(picture from page 30)

Here is a snippet of the word list on page 32 which lists the pan-romance words:

enter image description here

Full PDF of book online.

I'm also reading that 'tion' cognate I used with French is also applicable in Spanish:

enter image description here


Most French words are derived from Latin roots, as are Spanish words. So the languages have a lot of cognates. Of course, words sometimes evolve differently, so having the same etymology doesn't guarantee having the same meaning. But it helps.

Many families of French words come into two subfamilies: popular derivations (formes populaires), which have drifted quite a bit since Latin, and scholarly derivations (formes savantes), which were reinjected during the Middle-Ages and are closer to the original. Typically, the main, everyday noun has come through popular derivation while more “highbrow” terms such as adjectives and rarer nouns have come through scholarly derivations. Scholarly derivations can often be transposed into Spanish (and other Romance languages) by simple transformations. Occasionally the basic French word has a different origin but other words in the same cognitive area are close to the Latin root.

Here are a few examples.

  • Fr. main (hand); Fr. manuel (by hand); Lat. manus; Sp. mano.
  • Fr. arbre (tree); Fr. arborescence (tree shape); Lat. arbor; Sp. árbol.
  • Fr. eau (water); Fr. aquatique (of/from/related to water); Lat. aqua; Sp. agua.
  • Fr. cheval (horse); Fr. cavalier (horse rider); late Lat. caballus; Sp. caballo.
  • Fr. roi (king), royal (royal, the “everyday” word); Fr. régalien (royal, in a legal context, e.g. a regal prerogative = prérogative régalienne), régir (to rule, as in to determine an outcome); Lat. rex, regis; Sp. rey.
  • Fr. mère, père (mother, father); Fr. maternel, paternel (motherly, fatherly); Lat. mater, pater; Sp. madre, padre.
  • Fr. bouche (mouth); Fr. buccal (relating to the mouth); Lat. bucca; Sp. boca.
  • Fr. langue (tongue, language); Fr. linguistique (linguistics); Lat. lingua; Sp. lengua.
  • Fr. milieu (middle, milieu); Fr. médian (which is in the middle) (different origin); Lat. medius; Sp. medio.

A similar phenomenon happened with many French irregular verbs, where the infinitive and the present indicative have drifted a lot but other tenses or derivatives are closer to the original and closer to the Spanish word.

  • Fr. dire (say); Fr. dicible (which can be said), diction (diction); Lat. dicere, dictum; Sp. decir.
  • Fr. entendre (hear); Fr. ouïe (hearing) (this one is a completely different root); Lat. intendere vs. audire; Sp. oír.
  • Fr. aller (go); Fr. j'irai (I will go — here the French verb is very irregular with three different roots for the different tenses); Lat. ire, itum; Sp. ir.
  • Fr. pouvoir (can, be able); Fr. possible (possible), potentiel (potential); Lat. posse, potui, possum; Sp. poder.

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