Learn 60 Italian Cognates and Turn Your Education into Educazione

Today we’re going to look at some different cognates between Italian and English. 

You might be wondering, “what is a cognate?” Cognates are words that have similar (or, in some cases, the same) spellings and pronunciations between two languages.  in English and Italian.

Cognates can give your Italian vocabulary a serious boost—as long as you don’t fall in with the wrong crowd of “false” friends.

So join us, dear audience, as we dissect some words and learn 60 Italian cognates and the patterns they follow!


Similarities Between Italian and English

When you start learning Italian, you’ll undoubtedly notice that it has many aspects that sound a lot like English.

That’s because they both have a lot in common with the other Romance languages. Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and some other European languages fall into this category.

And while English is usually grouped within the Germanic family of languages (along with German and Dutch), the island of Great Britain shares a long history with French conquerors. This has made English an extremely diverse and complex language that incorporates many common elements from French and its other neighbors.

Both English and Italian take their common words from Vulgar Latin, a conversational version of Latin spoken by commoners in the Roman Empire. In that time, Vulgar Latin was spoken primarily by slaves, soldiers and immigrants, which allowed it to spread far and wide across the continent.

Over time, different regions developed their own vernacular.

After the Roman Empire fell and these regions grew further and further apart, all of these geographic dialects evolved on their own to become the different Romance languages we know today.

Since all the Romance languages grew from the same single language, there are still many obvious vocabulary and grammatical similarities—even after almost 2000 years!

What Is a Cognate?

A cognate refers to two words from different languages that derive from the same original word. The words may be from different languages but if you go back far enough, they have the same linguistic root.

As we learned a moment ago, English and Italian share a historic root: Vulgar Latin. When you already know a language with elements of the Romance languages, cognates make it easier to learn others from the same family.

Cognates are usually easy to recognize, learn and remember. They’re generally pronounced the same or similarly in both languages and their spellings tend to be similar as well.

Most importantly, they have the same basic definition.

But of course, it can’t be that easy! Before you get too comfortable with cognates, you’ll need to learn about false friends and false cognates.

What Is a False Friend?

False friends are words that seem like cognates, and may even have the same root word, but actually have different definitions.

It’s easy get confused when an Italian word that sounds similar in English has a completely different meaning.

For instance, you might accidentally ask someone if they have a hotel room (camera) instead of asking if they have a camera (fotocamera)!

For this reason, you need to be mindful when learning cognates. Don’t assume that because a word sounds the same it has the same definition in both English and Italian.

Words that have the same root make this especially tricky—it might be difficult to understand the subtle distinctions between what each word implies.

It’s a good idea to check out a list of false cognates between Italian and English to avoid using the wrong word (and really confusing whoever you’re talking to!).

What Is A False Cognate?

False cognates are different from false friends but can also cause plenty of confusion.

False cognates are two words that may sound and look similar, and they may even have the same definition, but they come from different roots.

These words might be coincidentally similar or they may be a case of convergent evolution (words that came to be for similar reasons but are entirely unrelated) but they aren’t considered real cognates!

Cognates are useful when learning Italian as long as you know to be wary of false friends and false cognates. Otherwise, someone might tell you that they’re hungry (fame), but you might think instead that they’re famous.

Now that you know the difference between false friends, false cognates and cognates, let’s dig in!

60 Italian Cognates That Look Just Like Their English Translations

Cognates usually have similar spellings, which can help you identify them.

One easy way to tell a cognate is by looking at word endings. If an English word ends in a particular way, the Italian counterpart will also end a different, specific way.

This can also help you learn entire categories of words quickly and efficiently, including almost all adverbs.

Below are some examples of cognates and the patterns they follow when you compare the English to the Italian version. Just remember that these are not hard and fast rules, but rather general things to look for. (Beware of those false friends!)

Now, let’s turn our English knowledge into Italian knowledge with a flick of the wrist and a few letter changes!

When an English word ends in -ty, its Italian cognate ends in -tà.

Abilità — L’insegnante ha visto la sua abilità musicale.
Ability — The teacher saw her musical ability.

Other examples include:

Brevità — Brevity

Città — City

Durabilità — Durability

Felicità — Felicity

Generosità — Generosity

Maturità — Maturity

Pubblicità — Publicity

Qualità — Quality

Università — University

When an English word ends in -ble, the Italian cognate ends in -bile.

Memorabile — Il nostro viaggio in Italia è stato memorabile.
Memorable — Our trip to Italy was memorable.

Other examples include:

Adorabile — Adorable

Accettabile — Acceptable

Credibile — Credible

Eccitabile — Excitable

Flessibile — Flexible

Impossibile — Impossible

Possibile — Possible

Responsabile — Responsible

Visibile — Visible

When an English word ends in -tion, the Italian cognate ends in -zione.

Situazione — È una situazione delicata.
Situation — It’s a delicate situation.

Other examples include:

Attenzione — Attention

Celebrazione — Celebration

Comunicazione — Communication

Educazione — Education

Informazione — Information

Liberazione — Liberation

Organizzazione — Organization

Popolazione — Population

Reazione — Reaction

When an English word ends in -ly (as with most adverbs), the Italian cognate ends in -mente.

Probabilmente — Probabilmente mangeremo la pasta per cena.
Probably — We will probably eat pasta for dinner.

Other examples include:

Brevemente — Briefly

Costantemente — Constantly

Direttamente — Directly

Generalmente — Generally

Naturalmente — Naturally

Originariamente — Originally

Rapidamente — Rapidly

Semplicemente — Simply

Totalmente — Totally

When an English word ends in -ic, the Italian cognate ends in -ico.

Classico — “Il Mago Di Oz” ѐ un film classico.
Classic — “The Wizard of Oz” is a classic film.

Other examples include:

Automatico — Automatic

Drammatico — Dramatic

Economico — Economic

Elettronico — Electric

Fantastico — Fantastic

Ironico — Ironic

Pacifico — Pacific

Pubblico — Public

Traffico — Traffic

When an English word ends in -ism, the Italian cognate ends in -ismo.

Ottimismo — È pieno di ottimismo.
Optimism — He is full of optimism.

Other examples include:

Attivismo — Activism

Bilinguismo — Bilingualism

Eroismo — Heroism

Mechanismo — Mechanism

Multiculturalismo — Multiculturalism

Narcisismo — Narcissism

Ottimismo — Optimism

Organismo — Organism

Romanticismo — Romanticism

Vandalismo — Vandalism


Cognates are a quick and easy way to expand your Italian vocabulary and to better understand how languages develop and relate to each other. After all, Italian cognates are almost the same as words that you already know in English!

When you’re listening to Italian, keep an eye out and you’ll probably notice more cognates.

You can look for videos on YouTube that talk specifically about cognates, such as this video

To see cognates actually in use, you can also look for resources that focus on authentic Italian, like these podcasts or the FluentU program. FluentU’s subtitles will also help you spot these words better, since you’ll be able to see them written in Italian and English.

Using resources like these will help you find new vocabulary with context and give you a better understanding of whether you’ve found a cognate or a false friend.

As long as you keep a mindful eye for false cognates and false friends, you can build your Italian knowledge in a snap.

We hope you enjoyed the show!

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