64 Spanish words in English you use without knowing it

November 10, 2023

Are you ready to pick up some Spanish vocab, pronto? If you think you’re starting with nada, think again. English is full of Spanish loanwords and cognates – which means you can already understand more Spanish than you think!

And it’s not just Spanish – you’ll also find that English is teeming with French words!

Spanish has a strong influence on American English in particular, where areas including Texas, California, Arizona, and Colorado (the latter literally meaning red-coloured) were once part of Mexico. 

Spanish colonialism in the 1500s imported many words into English, including war terms such as armada and embargo. Other Spanish loanwords are more recent from the 41 million native Spanish speakers living in the United States.

Here are 29 popular English words are close or direct translation from Spanish

You could probably guess that adios or fiesta come from Spanish, but did you know that patio, banana, and marijuana are also Spanish loanwords?

  1. Adiós – from the Spanish adios, literally meaning “may you be (commended) to God”.
  2. Aficionado – Spanish for a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a pursued interest or activity. From the Spanish afición, primarily meaning hobby/ pastime, but it can also mean affection.
  3. Amigo – Spanish word for friend (male). The female version amiga isn’t officially recognized in English.
  4. Armada – Spanish for a fleet of warships
  5. Banana – English borrowed this from Spanish and Portuguese, who in turn most likely borrowed it from Wolof (West Africa)
  6. Bodega – Spanish for wine storehouse or winery
  7. Bonanza – Spanish meanings include calm sea and prosperity
  8. Breeze – from the Spanish brisa, for northwest wind
  9. Cafeteria – from the Spanish cafetería meaning coffeehouse
  10. Cigar – from the Spanish word for cigarette in Spain, cigarro (the actual word for cigar over there is puro)
  11. Embargo – from the Spanish word embargar, to bar
  12. Fiesta – Spanish for a festival or party, in particular a saint’s day celebrated in Spain, Latin America, and the Philippines with processions and dances
  13. Guerilla – Spanish word derived from guerra, war in Spanish
  14. Hola – A Spanish interjection meaning hi
  15. Incognito – from the Spanish incógnito, meaning having one’s identity concealed 
  16. Lasso – from the Spanish lazo, meaning snare or bow
  17. Loco – Spanish for crazy or frenzied
  18. Macho – Spanish for male when referring to animals. Worth noting: when referring to people, macho has negative, sexist connotations!
  19. Marijuana – from the Mexican Spanish mariguana or marihuana
  20. Mucho – Spanish for much or many
  21. Nada – Spanish for nothing
  22. Patio – Spanish for courtyard
  23. Plaza – Spanish for a public square or open area
  24. Pronto – Spanish for without delay
  25. Renegade – from the Spanish renegado, one who abandons their ideals or faith
  26. Siesta – Spanish for an afternoon nap or rest
  27. Tango – Spanish for the Latin dance of the same name
  28. Tomato – from the Spanish word tomate, from the Nahuatl tomatl
  29. Vigilante – Spanish for watchman or guard

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Discover 16 Spanish ‘food’ words that we already use in English 

There’s no area where Spanish influence is more visible in English than with food. 

Popular Spanish words in English from Latin cuisine that need no introduction include nacho, tortilla, taco, jalapeño, guacamole, burrito, queso, quesadilla, chorizo and vanilla. But there’ll be others you might not have heard of:

  1. Avocado – a modification of the Spanish aguacate, from the Nahuatl āhuacatl
  2. Burrito – need we say more?
  3. Barbecue – comes from the Spanish barbacoa, the structure for cooking meat over a fire
  4. Chilli – hot or sweet peppers or a meat sauce made from them and comes from the Spanish chile.
  5. Chorizo – need we say more?
  6. Cilantro Spanish word for what the plant that cilantro (or coriander, according to the Brits) grows on 
  7. Guacamole – need we say more?
  8. Jalapeño – need we say more?
  9. Nacho – need we say more?
  10. Quesadilla – need we say more?
  11. Queso – need we say more?
  12. Salsa – the Spanish word for sauce, which in Spanish speaking countries, can include variations that don’t include tomatoes
  13. Taco – need we say more?
  14. Tortilla – tortilla is spelled the same in Spanish; but if you say tortilla to a Spaniard, their minds will first conjure up an image of an omelette, not a wrap, thanks to the one of the most traditional dishes in Spain, tortilla de patata (potato omelette).  
  15. Tequila – named after the town in Mexico, where the spirit originates
  16. Vanilla – from the Spanish vainilla

Introducing 7 Spanish nature words you’ll find in English

Nature enthusiasts might also be surprised to find loanwords from S

  1. Savanna – from the Spanish sabana
  2. Sierra – Spanish for mountains, hills or mountain range (and saw – the DIY tool, not the verb)
  3. Mesa – from the Spanish mesa, which literally means table  
  4. Pueblo – a cliff-style dwelling of Native Americans, which is named after the Spanish word for village.
  5. Tornado – derived from the Spanish tronada,  – a (rarely used) word for thunder – nowadays, Spaniards use tornado or trueno
  6. Hurricane – English adaptation of the Spanish huracán, a Spanish loanword from Taino. 
  7. The El Niño and La Niña weather patterns – translate to the boy and the girl.

Worth noting: English also often uses Spanish names for animals that are native to the Americas. Think armadillo, llama, alpaca, chinchilla, iguana, bronco, and even mosquito. The English word alligator comes from el lagarto, the Spanish word for lizard.

Wait, there’s more! Here are 12 great examples of Spanish cognates

Cognates are words that come from the same linguistic root – in this case, Latin. 

This includes words that are the same in English and Spanish, as well as words with variations in spelling and pronunciation

If you’re learning Spanish, look for cognates that can help you guess the meanings of words. There are loads of these handy word pairings in English that make Spanish easier than almost any other language to learn. 

Here are a 12 great examples: 

  1. Universidad – university
  2. Montaña – mountain
  3. Excelente – excellent
  4. Problema – problem
  5. Carro – Car
  6. Parque – park
  7. Comenzar – to start, commence
  8. Necesitar – to need
  9. Árbol – tree (arborist, arboretum)
  10. Creer – to believe (credence, credible, creed)
  11. Hospital – hospital
  12. Personal – personal

Top tip: You can also guess something about a Spanish word from common suffixes. For example, –ito or -ita means a smaller version of something, like casita (small house), or the cute nickname amorcito (little love).

But beware of false friends in Spanish and English

Hold on a minute! 

While cognates are very useful, proceed with caution. Not every similar-sounding word in English and Spanish shares the same meaning. We call these tricky words “false friends”, because they seem familiar but could betray you. 

Here are some examples of false friends in Spanish and English:

  • Lectura means reading, not a lecture
  • Embarazado means pregnant, not embarrassed
  • Librería means bookstore, not library
  • Sensible means sensitive, not sensible

And that’s a wrap – you’ve just learned (nearly) all there is to know about the Spanish words that have made their way into the English language. 

Our advice? Pay attention when you’re hearing or reading Spanish – even a beginner can pick up a word or two. Stay vigilant, and soon, you’ll fill in the rest. Adios! 

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