Loanwords in Spanish

Quick Answer

The Spanish language has consistently been borrowing words from other languages since it emerged as its own language. Azúcar(sugar), aguacate(avocado), and chao(bye) are all préstamos lingüísticos(loanwords). Can you guess which languages these words come from? Keep reading to find out!

Spanish Words of Indigenous Origin

Starting in the fifteenth century, Spanish conquistadors invaded and conquered indigenous civilizations throughout the Americas. Thousands of Spaniards poured into the New World seeking land and gold. It’s no wonder, then, that hundreds of Spanish words come from Nahuatl, Mayan, Quechua, and other indigenous languages of the Americas.

The Spaniards borrowed terms for previously unknown indigenous concepts like plants, animals, tools, and traditions. Let's take a look at some examples!

Indigenous LanguageRegionIndigenous WordsSpanish Words
NahuatlMesoamericamapach, coyotl, ahuacatlmapache(raccoon), coyote(coyote), aguacate(avocado)
QuechuaAndean region of South America (Inca Empire)kancha, allpaqa, kinúwacancha(field), alpaca(alpaca), quinua(quinoa)
TaínoCaribbeanjurakan, hamaka, zavanahuracán(hurricane), hamaca(hammock), sabana(savanna)

Click here to learn more about Spanish words of Nahuatl origin!

Spanish Words of Arabic Origin

After Latin, Arabic has made the greatest contribution to the Spanish language.

In 711, Moorish forces from Northern Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered Visigothic Spain. Al-Andalus was the cultural epicenter of Europe where science, art, and architecture flourished. When the Christians reconquered the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, they adopted much of the Arabic culture and, in turn, absorbed Arabic words.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common Spanish words of Arabic origin!

ArabicSpanishEnglish
acedrex
ajedrez
chess
aḍḍáy'a
aldea
village
al-jebr
álgebra
algebra
as-saqiyah
acequia
irrigation channel
as-sukkar
azúcar
sugar
habaqah
albahaca
basil
law šá lláh
ojalá
hopefully
nāʾib
naipe
playing card
qīṯārah
guitarra
guitar
zarafa
jirafa
giraffe

Click here to learn more Spanish words that come from Arabic!

Spanish Words of English Origin

Hundreds of anglicisms have been borrowed into the Spanish language, many of which have kept the same exact spelling.

Golf(golf), rugby(rugby), surf(surf), and many other words related to sports come from English, as well as the names for most genres of music, such as jazz(jazz), pop(pop), and rock(rock).

English is arguably the language of technology, so it comes as no surprise that many vocabulary words in this field have been borrowed into Spanish. Email(email), clic(click), and chat(chat) are just a few common tech words used in Spanish.

And let’s not forget about food and drink! When you go to a restaurant in a Spanish-speaking country, you might be surprised to hear your waiter using words like beicon(bacon), sándwich(sandwich), and cóctel(cocktail).

Romance Languages

Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian are the primary lenguas romances(Romance languages), or languages based on Latin. Due to their shared heritage, many vocabulary words are written and pronounced very similarly.

However, some of the other words that Spanish shares with other Romance languages have been borrowed, which means they never existed in Latin. Let’s take a closer look at some terms Spanish has borrowed from other Romance languages!

French

Spanish has been borrowing words from French since the Middle Ages. There was an increase of French words adopted into the Spanish language in the 18th century when French fashion and culture were predominant at the Spanish court. Fashion-related French words like percale, brassier, and babouche became percal(percale), brasier(bra), and babucha(harem pants).

Italian

If you guessed that chao(bye) comes from Italian, you were right! Chao comes from the informal salutation ciao.

Most Italian words were borrowed into the Spanish language during the Italian Renaissance, but there has been a relatively recent wave of loanwords as well.

If you’ve ever been to Montevideo, there’s no doubt you noticed the abundance of Italian restaurants. Have you been to Buenos Aires? The gelato shops look exactly like the ones in Rome. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the River Plate experienced a massive influx of Italian immigrants who enriched the local culture and everyday speech.

Italian words were quickly adopted into español rioplatense(Spanish spoken in the River Plate). The Italian word muffa became mufa(bad luck), lavorare was slightly modified to laburar(to work), fiacca turned into fiaca(laziness).

Click here to learn about lunfardo, the Italian-influenced slang spoken in Buenos Aires.

Portuguese

Due to their high level of language contact, many words in Spanish come directly from Portuguese.

Maracuyá(passion fruit) comes from the Portuguese word maracujá, pagoda(pagoda) stems from the Portuguese root pagode, and barullo(racket) comes from the Portuguese word barulho, meaning noise.