How Similar Are Spanish and Italian?

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to the LangFocus channel and my name is Paul.

Today, we'll be answering the question...

How similar are Spanish and Italian?

Spanish and Italian are both members of the Romance Language Family,

which developed from dialects of Vulgar Latin which were spoken throughout the Roman Empire.

For more information on their history and development,

check out my video on the Romance Language Family right here

Like any pair of Romance languages, Spanish and italian have a lot in common,

and they are mutually intelligible to some extent,

especially in their written form and when spoken slowly and clearly.

Some speakers of Spanish and Italian report that they are able to have extended conversations with speakers of the other language,

provided that they both speak slowly and clearly and they stop to clarify unfamiliar vocabulary.

But, despite their similarity, Spanish and Italian are also different in many ways.

Let's examine both of the languages together and we'll see just what's similar and different about them.

Spanish and Italian have about 82% lexical similarity

That means that 82% of the words in either language will have cognate vocabulary in the other language.

Let's look at some examples of Spanish and Italian cognates.

In Italian:

and in Spanish:

and these mean "garden"

In Italian:

and in Spanish:

This means "place".

In Italian:

and in Spanish:

This means "flower"

In Italian:

and in Spanish:

This means "probable" or "likely"

In Italian:

and in Spanish:

This means "port".

Those pairs of words are quite obvious cognates.

Let's look at a couple of less obvious cognates as well.

In Italian:

in Spanish: (Rem = "son")

In Italian:

in Spanish: (Rem = "key")

In Italian:

and in Spanish: (Rem = "case, box")

Now let's look at a couple of sentences to see how many of the words are similar

First, in Spanish:

And in Italian:

This means "I'm reading a good book".

So, in these two sentences, all of the vocabulary is equivalent or cognate.

Another example. In Spanish:

in Italian:

These sentences mean: "I need to change a little money"

The way to express "need" is different in the two sentences

In Spanish, it's:

and in Italian, it's:

In Spanish, the way to say "a little" is:

in Italian, it's

In Italian, you can also say " un poco ", which is correct, but its more common to say " un po' "

Next, the preposition like "of" is "de" in Spanish and it's "di" in Italian .

The word for money is "dinero" in Spanish and it's "soldi" in Italian

So, in this case, you can see that some of the vocabulary is the same or equivalent but not all of it.

And one more example. In Spanish:

and in Italian:

These sentences mean "I need to find a bank".

In these sentences, we see "need" expressed in different ways than the last pair of sentences.

In Spanish, its "tengo que" while, in Italian, it's "devo".

But, in Spanish, it's also possible to say "debo", an obvious cognate of "devo".

The word meaning "to find" is also different.

In Spanish, it's "encontrar" but in Italian, it's "trovare".

Actually the Spanish word can also mean "to meet".

And there's a different italian word "incontrare" which is a cognate of "encontrar".

But it only means "to meet", not "to find".

Next, you can see that the words for "bank" are cognates.

But, interestingly, they have different gender.

In Spanish, it's masculine which we can see from the article "un" and the "o" at the end of "banco"

And in Italian, it's feminine which we can see from the article "una" and the "a" at the end of "banca".

So, from these examples, we can see that there's a lot of crossover between Spanish vocabulary and Italian vocabulary.

But there are also some "false friends" to watch out for.

False friends?

No, I don't mean two faced people who talk behind your back.

I mean "words that look and sound similar in either language and likely share a common origin,

but they have a different meaning or usage in each language. For example:

In Spanish, "pronto" means "soon" In Italian, "pronto" means "ready".

In Spanish, "guardar" means "to keep" or "to guard". In Italian "guadare" means "to look at".

In Spanish, "oficina" means "office". In Italian, "officina" means "workshop".

There's a different word in Italian "ufficio" which means "office".

In Spanish, "embarazada" means "pregnant" but, in Italian, "imbarazzata" means "embarrassed"

False friends like these are a common source of confusion for people who learn a language that's similar to one they already know.

If we only look at lexical similarity, Spanish has more in common with Portuguese than it does with Italian.

And Italian has more in common with French than it does with Spanish.

In either case, it's 89% lexical similarity.

But, Spanish and Italian are more similar and pronunciation than those other pairs of languages,

which can sometimes lead to more intelligibility.

Spanish has five vowel sounds.

Italian also has these five vowel sounds, plus two additional ones.

Italian has 2 "e" sounds open e : "..", like the "e" in "bed"

and closed e : "..." like the vowel sound in "say"

It also has 2 "o" sounds. Open "o" ... like the "o" in "pop".

And a closed o sound ... like the "o" in "Pope".

And both Spanish and Italian have a similar rhotic R sound.

One notable difference between Spanish and Italian pronunciation is that

almost all Italian words end in a vowel, but in Spanish, this is not the case.

For example. In Italian "costare" which means "to cost", but, in Spanish, it's "costar".

So the Italian word ends in a vowel while the Spanish word ends in a consonant.

If you watch out for this, you'll notice it quite a lot.

In both Spanish and Italian "c" and "g" become soft when followed by "i" or "e".

But the soft sound is different in each language.

In Spanish, the soft "c" sounds like "th" or "s". In Italian, it sounds like "tch".

In Spanish, soft "g" sounds like "..." In Italian, it sounds like "j"

For example in Spanish:

and in Italian:

This means "city".

In Spanish:

means "people"

but, in Italian, it's "gente"

In Spanish:

means "general" In Italian, it's "...."

Some words like those above are cognates that sound different.

There are other words that sound more similar but have to be written differently to reflect their sound.

The word for "what" in Spanish is "que", spelled with "qu" and, in Italian, it's "che" spelt with "ch"

In Spanish, if you want to have the hard "c" sound before "i" or "e", you have to spell it as "qu".

In Italian, you have to spell it as "ch"

And while "ch" always represents a hard "c" sound in Italian, in Spanish, it represents the sound "tch" like in English

So, in Italian, you have cioccolato, spelled with "ci" at the beginning but, in Spanish, you have "chocolate" a spelled with "ch".

In Spanish, you have "cuando" meaning "when" and "cuanto" meaning "how much".

And in Italian you have "quando" and "quanto"

In Spanish, you can't write it with "qu" because that always represents a hard "c" sound.

So the words would end up sounding like "..." and "..."

Some of the differences in pronunciation and orthography between Spanish and Italian are fairly systematic.

For example, e in Italian often becomes "ie" in Spanish. For example:



And, when, in Italian, you have "sc", "sf" or "sp" or "st" at the beginning of a word,

in Spanish, these are often preceded by an "e".

For example, "scrivere" in Italian becomes "escribir" in Spanish.

And "speciale" in Italian becomes "especial" in Spanish.

One other thing to note is that double consonants are very common in Italian.

But, in Spanish, most consonants can't be doubled.

For example, in Italian, "gatto" means "cat" but, in Spanish, its "gato".

And, in Italian, "tazza" out means "cup" but it's "taza" in Spanish.

The general word order of Spanish and Italian is very similar. Have a look at these two sentences.

In Spanish:

in Italian:

You can see that there's some different vocabulary but the sentences are translatable word for word.

Notice that, in both languages, the subject pronoun is normally optional.

because the verb is conjugated for person and number.

Another example.

In Spanish:

in Italian:

This means "I wrote him a letter".

So here, the word order is still exactly the same.

And notice that the object pronoun comes before the conjugated verb.

In this case, the auxiliary verb in both languages.

Italian grammar has a couple of complications that Spanish doesn't have.

Articles in Italian are more complicated than it Spanish.

In Spanish, the indefinite articles are "un" for masculine nouns and "una" for feminine nouns.

Also, in Italian, it's "un" and "una".

But "un" becomes "uno" before words beginning in S or Z followed by another consonant.

and "una" become "un' " before a noun beginning with a vowel.

So, in Italian, we have "un passaporto" but "uno studente".

And we have "una chiave" but "un' italiana".

Spanish and Italian both have four basic definite articles.

In Spanish, they are "el" for masculine singular, "la" for feminine singular,

"los" for masculine plural, "las" for feminine plural. And that is it !

In Italian, they're "il" for masculine singular, "la" for feminine singular

"i" for masculine plural and "le" for feminine plural.

But "il" becomes "lo" before words beginning with S or Z plus another consonnant.

and it becomes " l' " before a vowel.

and "i" becomes "gli" before S or Z plus another consonnant.

So we have "il passaporto" but "lo studente" which are both masculine singular.

And we have "i passaporti" but "gli studenti" which are both masculine plural.

Also both "la" and "le" become " l ' " before a vowel.

The way possessive pronouns are used is also a little bit different.

In Italian, possessive pronouns are normally used together with a definite article.

Except when we talk about family members.

But, in Spanish, the definite article is not required.

So, in Italian, you have "la mia bicicletta" and in Spanish, you have "mi bicicleta"

So notice in Spanish, there's no definite article "la".

Another difference to notice here is that, in Spanish, there is no distinction between masculine and feminine possessive pronouns.

In Italian, there's "mia" for feminine singular and "mio" for masculine singular.

But, in Spanish, there's just "mi" for both.

The verb tenses use and the way that verbs are conjugated is really quite similar in both languages.

Of course, the exact conjugations are not quite the same but they are fairly similar.

Here's a sentence meaning "They will live in New York".

The verb to live in Italian is "vivere" and, in Spanish, it's "vivir"

The sentence in Italian :

in Spanish:

We can see that the third person plural future tense conjugation is similar

but notice that the Italian one ends in a double consonant and a vowel.

Now let's look at a sentence in the past. In the present perfect to be precise.

This sentence means "She bought too many things".

In Italian :

and in Spanish

The present perfect tense is formed the same way in both languages.

First here is the auxiliary verb meaning "to have".

"avere" in Italian, "haber" in Spanish

That's followed by the past participle of the verb meaning "to buy".

"comprare" in Italian and "comprar" in Spanish.

One thing to note about the present perfect tense is that, in Italian, most verbs take the auxiliary verb "avere" "to have".

But some verbs take "essere" meaning "to be" as the auxiliary verb.

That's similar to in French but, in Spanish, the only auxiliary verb is "haber", meaning "to have".

So, in Italian, there's "è entrato" meaning "he entered" but, in Spanish, it's "a entrado"

Those are just a couple of examples but, basically,

all verb tenses and all verb forms have an equivalent or a parallel in the other language.

Let's just look at a couple more sentences and see what we find along the way.

This sentence means : "Maria is less intelligent than her sister"

In Spanish:

And in Italian:

Here we can see that the word order is the same and we can basically translate the sentences word for word.

The third person female form of the verb "to be" is similar but slightly different.

The word for less is similar but slightly different.

The word for intelligent is similar but, in Spanish, the G sound is softened to a "...",

while, in Italian, it's softened to a "..." and the Italian word has a double l.

The preposition used is also different.

The possessive pronoun is similar but, in Spanish, there is no gender distinction.

And the word for "sister" is different in the two languages.

As you can see Spanish and Italian have a lot of similarities including basically the same word order,

similar grammar, a lot of similar vocabulary and generally speaking similar pronunciation.

But there are still significant differences, particularly in vocabulary, pronunciation and orthography.

They are different enough that they are, unmistakeably, two different languages

but they're similar enough that there is a certain degree of mutual intelligibility.

And that degree of mutual intelligibility can probably be greatly increased by studying even the basics of the other language.

But, producing the other language accurately is obviously another matter

and that would require dedicated study.

Okay. The question of the day for native speakers of Spanish and Italian:

How well can you understand the other language, both in speech and in writing?

And have you ever tried to converse with a speaker of the other language using only your native languages?

How did that work out?

And for learners of Spanish and Italian:

How much does your knowledge of one of those languages help you make sense of the other?

Let us know in the comments down below.

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