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Italian Cognates Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in Grammar

Identifying similarities between Italian and English words can be a very useful way of expanding your vocabulary, but it also has its pitfalls.

English is a Germanic language which has been heavily influenced by the Romance languages throughout its history. The Renaissance period in particular brought a huge influx of Latin words, and it’s estimated that the English vocabulary virtually doubled during this period.
Learners of Italian will soon begin to recognise helpful cognates in words such as stazione (station), ospedale (hospital), origine (origin) and so on. But this can easily lull one into a false sense of security, as lurking amongst these useful similarities we also encounter false friends (sometimes referred to as false cognates)

Notes:
cognates = words which have a common etymological origin. These may have the same, similar, or even quite different meanings. In most cases these words look and sound similar.
false friends = words which share a common etymology but have evolved to have different meanings.
false cognates = words which look or sound similar but have different etymological roots.

Here’s a short piece by Serena which we’ll use as a model for identifying helpful cognates and false friends:

“Andiamo a fare una passeggiata mentre l’aria è fresca?” dice Geoff.
“Sì, va bene!” gli rispondo io. E così facciamo rapidamente colazione, indossiamo gli scarponi e apriamo la porta, ma subito incontriamo un problema: i gatti reclamano la loro colazione.

Sfamati gli animali ci avviamo lungo il sentiero. Dopo la pioggia di ieri l’altro il cielo è limpido, la natura è verdeggiante, e la temperatura è piacevole. Siamo circondati dalla sinfonia degli uccelli, che cantano felici tutt’intorno. Ma ben presto la loro melodia viene coperta da un suono stridente: “Quante cicale ci sono!”, dice Geoff. “Sì, attualmente ce n’è una grande quantità“, replico io.

Arriviamo ad una biforcazione, e prendiamo a sinistra. Il sentiero diventa più difficile: “Fai attenzione a dove metti i piedi”, avverte Geoff. Infatti è impossibile non inciampare sui sassi sconnessi, tuttavia riusciamo a ritornare a casa senza incidenti.

La natura è verdeggiante. Photo by Geoff

Helpful Cognates:
aria = air
fresca = fresh
rispondo =  (I) respond
rapidamente  = rapidly
incontriamo = encounter
problema = problem
animali =animals
limpido = limpid
natura =nature
verdeggiante = verdant
temperatura = temperature
sinfonia = symphony
melodia = melody
coperta = covered
suono =sound
stridente = strident
cicale = cicada
quantità = quantity
replico = (I) reply
arriviamo = (we) arrive
biforcazione = bifurcation
difficile = difficult
attenzione = attention
infatti = in fact
impossibile = impossible
ritornare = return
incidenti = incidents (n.b. incidente is also equivalent to the English word accident)

False Friends:
reclamano = sounds like reclaim but means ask for
attualmente = sounds like actually but means presently/at present

False Cognates:
lungo = along (long). Lungo comes from the Latin longus, whilst along comes from Germanic andlang (entire, continuous, extended). However, it is not a false friend because both lungo and along have similar meanings.

Useful Ways Of Identifying Cognates:

Italian words ending with –zione often end with -tion in English:
biforcazione = bifurcation
attenzione = attention

Italian words ending with –ale often end with -al in English:
animale = animal
finale = final

Italian words ending with –bile often end with -ble in English:
impossibile = impossible
terribile = terrible

Italian words ending with –ente or –ante often end with -ent or -ant in English:
verdeggiante = verdant
stridente = strident

Italian words ending with –ia often end with -y in English:
sinfonia = symphony
melodia = melody

Some Italian words ending in –end with -ty in English:
quantità = quantity
università = university

Many words are almost identical but end with a different vowel, or no vowel in English:
natura =nature
temperatura = temperature
concerto =concert
moderno = modern

Find out more about false friends HERE

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Comments:

  1. Vera Fonseca:

    I love your Italianblog!
    Always with grammar tips and curious stories.
    Thank you!!!!

  2. Barbara Lloyd:

    Buonissimo – grazie!

    Molto interessante e utile.

  3. Boryana Gecheva:

    Very interesting and useful article. Thank you so much!

  4. Joanna Whiteside:

    Thanks Geoff – another excellent article. I often trip up with attualmente !

    I notice that you used the phrase ‘Sfamati gli animali,…’ which I would translate as ‘The animals fed,….’
    Would I be right in supposing that the Italians don’t like to end a phrase with a verb, so the word order is changed?

    Thanks, from sunny Lancashire

    • Geoff:

      @Joanna Whiteside Hi Joanna, yes, attualmente is one of the most common false friends.

      Allora, Serena wrote: “Sfamati gli animali ci avviamo lungo il sentiero.” This translates as: “Once the animals have been fed we set off along the footpath.” or “Having fed the animals we set off etc.”

      As for not ending a phrase with a verb, no, it’s very common, e.g: fammi sapere = let me know, non ci sono mai stato = I’ve never been there, sì, lo conosco = yes, I know him, and so on all infinito.

      Saluti da ‘sunny’ Lunigiana! 🙂

  5. Chippy:

    Sono d’accordo con gli altri commenti – il blog e` utilissimo!! Grazie!


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