Language Guide
Vocabulary
Spanish Words of Arabic Origin

Spanish Words of Arabic Origin

Quick Answer

Almohada , almendra , aldea . Ever wonder why so many Spanish words begin with al? Contrary to what you might have learned, not all Spanish words come from Latin. In fact, a large portion of the Spanish vocabulary comes from the Arabic language. In this article, we’ll explain how Arabic came into contact with Spanish and we’ll point out some key Spanish vocabulary that is of Arabic origin.

Mezquita in Córboda, Spain

In 711 C.E., Arab armies began the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. With the conquest, the hispanomusulmanes , or Moors, brought with them their Arabic architecture, art, and of course, language. Over time, Arabic expressions mixed with old Spanish vocabulary to become the Spanish dialect that most Spanish-speaking countries use today: castellano , or Castilian Spanish.

Even after los Reyes Católicos  (the Catholic king and queen) Ferdinand and Isabel expelled the Arab empire from the Spanish kingdom in 1492, Castilian Spanish has retained approximately 8,000 words with Arabic origin to this day. After Latin, Arabic has made the greatest contribution to the Spanish language.

Traveling through Spain, it is almost impossible to avoid the name of a place or region that is derived from Arabic. To name just a few:

Map of Arabic Influence in Spain

Something interesting to note about this map is that the majority of the Spanish locations derived from Arabic are limited to the central and southern regions of the country, representative of how deep the Arab culture had set its roots into the culture of the peninsula. The Arabic influence on the Spanish language extends past the names of modern cities and regions. Perhaps the easiest way to see this influence in Spanish is in the simple words spoken every day. Here's a list of some of our favorite Spanish words with Arabic origin:

Ojalá

One of the most well-known words to come from Arabic, ojalá  means hopefully in English and comes from the Arabic expression: “ma sha allah” which means should God will it. Remember that ojalá is a conjunction that can often, but doesn't need to be, used with que .

Ojalá no llueva mañana mientras estemos corriendo el maratón.
I’m praying that it won’t rain tomorrow while we’re running the marathon.
 

Usted

This next word, usted , is interesting because the word itself is derived from the Spanish expression vuestro merced , but in fact is phonetically similar to the Arabic word for doctor/professor: “ustadh”. In Spanish, usted is a pronoun that denotes formality and is typically used when we are addressing someone in formal situations.

¿Ustedes desean algo para tomar antes de pedir la comida?
Would you like anything to drink before ordering lunch?
 

Hasta

Meaning until in English, hasta  comes from the Arabic word “hata”, which is a preposition with essentially the same meaning as hasta.

Tienes hasta el 15 de febrero para devolver estos libros a la biblioteca.
You have until February 15th to return these books to the library.
 

Azúcar

Definitely the sweetest word on this list, azúcar , meaning sugar in English followed along the silk road and originates directly from the Arabic word "as-sukkar".

Echa una cucharada de azúcar a la masa antes de mezclarla.
Add one tablespoon of sugar to the dough before mixing it.
 

Aceite

From the Arabic word, "zayt", aceite  translates to oil in English - not the fossil fuel, but the delicious liquid that comes from olives, almonds, and more.

Recomiendo que uses aceite vegetal en vez de aceite de oliva para hacer las palomitas.
I recommend that you use vegetable oil instead of olive oil to make the popcorn.
 

Almohada

Meaning pillow in English, almohada  originates from the Andalusian Arabic word “mijadda”, which became “al-mujadda” in Andalusian Arabic (the Arabic of the Iberian Peninsula) and means “cushion” or “pillow”. The Arabic root of this word is “jadd”, which can mean lado  (side) or mejilla  (cheek) in Arabic.

Por razones médicas, yo uso un mínimo de tres almohadas para levantar mi cabeza mientras duermo.
For medical reasons, I use a minimum of three pillows to lift my head while I sleep.
 

Barrio

Barrio , which translates to neighborhood in English, comes from the Arabic word, “barri”, which refers to the outer limits of a city. If you visit certain Spanish cities like Ciudad Rodrigo , Córdoba , or Béjar , you’ll immediately notice a muralla , or city wall, that separates the inner city from the neighborhoods on the outskirts. The hispanomusulmanes were meticulous about urban planning and specifically designed their cities to have specific barrios for the various religious and cultural communities living within them.

Mis tíos viven en Chelsea, un barrio de Manhattan, Nueva York.
My uncles live in Chelsea, a neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.
 

Ajedrez

Ajedrez , or chess, is a popular game that was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors when they arrived in the year 711. Ajedrez is a sport that has its roots embedded deep in the ancient Asian cultures, and the word came to the hispanomusulmanes through the Medieval Persian word “ash-shantranj”. When it was first adopted into Castilian Spanish, it was actually spelled acedrex, and over time the c and x became j and z, respectively.

Cuando era niño, mi abuelo me dejaba mover las piezas de ajedrez por él cuando jugaba con mi papá.
When I was a child, my grandfather would let me move the chess pieces for him whenever he played against my father.
 

Asesino

Asesino , meaning assassin in English, has a surprising etymology. The word originally comes from one addicted to hashish, as a term derived by the Christians during the Crusades to demonize a certain Muslim sect that would, according to the Crusaders, become intoxicated from hashish and murder Christian leaders. Our English word, assassin, has the same etymology, although it came into our language from old French.

Arya fue iniciada al orden de los asesinos después de sobrevivir sus varias pruebas.
Arya was inducted into the assassins' order after surviving their various trials.
 

Álgebra

Over the centuries, the Arab culture has made invaluable contributions to the advancement of human civilization. Giant leaps of thinking in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics were made by early Muslim scientists and mathematicians. It’s no wonder, then, that many of the Spanish words in these fields are derived from árabe. Álgebra , or algebra in English, is no exception. This word comes from the Arabic “al-jebr”, literally, the reunion of broken parts, a term coined in the book, “Rules of Reintegration and Reduction” by the famed Muslim mathematician and astronomer, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi.

Este año, estoy tomando clases de literatura europea, anatomía, y álgebra avanzada.
This year I’m taking classes in European literature, anatomy, and advanced algebra.
 

As you can see, each word of Arabic origin has a rich history that sheds light on how los hispanomusulmanes shaped the Spanish culture and language. Below you’ll find a list of even more Spanish words that have their origins in Arabic.

SpanishEnglish Translation
alacrán
 
scorpion
albahaca
 
basil
alberca
 
swimming pool
alcalde
 
mayor
almacén
 
storage, warehouse
almirante
 
admiral
alquimia
 
alchemy
alfil
 
bishop (chess piece)
azar
 
luck, chance
dado
 
die (for games)
jaque
 
check, checkmate (chess piece)
naipe
 
playing card
guitarra
 
guitar
azul
 
blue
añil
 
indigo
lapislázuli
 
lapis lazuli
naranja
 
orange
jirafa
 
giraffe
jabalí
 
wild boar
marrano
 
hog
atún
 
tuna
chivo
 
billy goat
almendra
 
almond
aldea
 
town
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