Grammar Guide
Vocabulary
Spanish Words of Nahuatl Origin

Spanish Words of Nahuatl Origin

Quick Answer

Aguacate  (avocado), coyote  (coyote), and chocolate  (chocolate) - what do these words have in common? They're Spanish words of Nahuatl origin! Read on to find out more about how this Mesoamerican language shaped the Spanish spoken in modern-day Mexico.

The Aztecs

The Aztecs (los aztecas ) were a Mesoamerican people who ruled supreme in central Mexico between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Their capital, Tenochtitlan , sat on the western shore of Lake Texcoco  in what is now Mexico City. At its height, Tenochtitlan was the most populous city in all of Mesoamerica. Everything changed for the Aztecs with the arrival of Hernan Cortés , a Spanish conquistador whose arrival on Mexican shores spelled the end for the Aztec Empire.

Thankfully, náhuatl  (Nahuatl), the language of the Aztecs, lived on, and modern-day Mexican Spanish is full of the letter combinations tl and ch and the letter x , which can be seen in words like Tlaloc  (the Aztec rain god) mapache  (raccoon) and xico  (Mexico). A few words of Nahuatl origin have even made their way into English!

La Piedra del Sol (Aztec Stone of the Sun)

piedra del sol

Spanish Words of Nahuatl Origin

Below are some common words that have made their way into Spanish from Nahuatl. Since many of these words aren't used outside of Mexico, we've included alternate words that are used in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world wherever possible.

Animals

All the animals in this list owe their Spanish names to the Aztecs!

SpanishNahuatlEnglishAlso Called
chapulín
 
chapolingrasshopper
saltamontes
 
mapache
 
mapachraccoon
tecolote
 
tecolotlowlbúho  or lechuza 
tlacuache
 
tlacuatzinpossumzarigüeya  or comadreja 
coyote
 
coyotlcoyote
ocelote
 
tlatocelotlocelot
quetzal
 
quetzaltototlquetzal
ajolote
 
axolotlaxoltl or Mexican salamander
guajolote
 
huexolotlturkey
pavo
 
cenzontle
 
centzuntlimockingbird
sinsonte
 
zopilote
 
tzopílotlbuzzard
buitre
 

An Ajolote

ajolote

Food

The following foods were popular in the Aztec Empire and remain so today.

SpanishNahuatlEnglishAlso Called
jitomate
 
tomatltomato
tomate
 
aguacate
 
ahuacatlavocado
palta
 
camote
 
camotlisweet potatobatata  or ñame 
chocolate
 
xocoatlchocolate
chile
 
chillichili pepper
ají
 
guacamole
 
ahuacamulliguacamole
cacao
 
cacáhuacocoa
atole
 
atollihot beverage made with corn flour
cacahuate
 
cacáhuatlpeanut
maní
 
elote
 
élotlcorn on the cobmaíz  or choclo 
esquite
 
izquitlcreamed cornmaíz  or choclo 
tamal
 
tamallitamale
chipotle
 
chilpoctlichipotle pepper
jicama
 
xicamatljicama

Jícama

jícama

Other

Finally, the words below are just a few examples of other words of Nahuatl origin that can be heard in Mexico today.

SpanishNahuatlEnglishAlso Called
cuate
 
cóatlbuddy or guycompadre  or tipo 
papalote
 
papalotlkite
cometa
 
mitote
 
mitotiuproaralboroto  o bochinche 
tlapalería
 
tlapallihardware store
ferretería
 
petaca
 
petlacallisuitcase
maleta
 
zacate
 
zacatlgrasspasto  or hierba 
milpa
 
millicornfield or cornmaizal  o maíz 
escuincle
 
itzcuintlikidchico , nene , or muchacho 

A Milpa

milpa

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