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 Texcocoin 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
tecolotlowlbúhoor lechuza
tlacuache
tlacuatzinpossumzarigüeyaor 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 potatobatataor 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 cobmaízor choclo
esquite
izquitlcreamed cornmaízor 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 guycompadreor tipo
papalote
papalotlkite
cometa
mitote
mitotiuproaralborotoo bochinche
tlapalería
tlapallihardware store
ferretería
petaca
petlacallisuitcase
maleta
zacate
zacatlgrasspastoor hierba
milpa
millicornfield or cornmaizalo maíz
escuincle
itzcuintlikidchico, nene, or muchacho

A Milpa

milpa