Italian and Spanish are Romance languages. This means that they evolved from the Latin which was spoken in the Roman Empire. The term “Romance” itself comes from the Latin adjective “rōmānicus” which means “Roman”.
The Roman Empire, at its pinnacle, ruled over the entire Mediterranean region, including the areas that would later become Italy and Spain.
After the fall of the Roman empire, Latin gradually evolved into different dialects throughout the former empire, eventually producing the Romance languages —including Italian and Spanish.
With a significant portion of their vocabulary terms coming from Latin, it is no surprise that quite a few Spanish and Italian words are either the same or very similar.
Here are some more examples of vocabulary words that are similar in Italian and in Spanish:
There are many cases of Spanish vocabulary words that contain the letter 'g' while the corresponding Italian vocabulary word contains the letter 'c' instead.
Another pattern in the spelling differences between Spanish and Italian are the many cases of Spanish vocabulary words containing the letter 'd' while the corresponding Italian vocabulary word contains the letter 't' instead.
We have many similar vocabulary words between Spanish and Italian. We don't want to leave the reader with the impression that all Spanish and Italian words are similar, so we end this section with a table of vocabulary words that differ significantly between these two languages.
Part of the vocabulary differences between Italian and Spanish result from a historical event —the Moorish rule in Spain from the 8th to the 15th centuries— which led to an influence of Arabic on the Spanish language.
Arabic influence is particularly noticeable in Spanish vocabulary. Approximately 8% of the words found in a Spanish dictionary can be traced back to Arabic.
These Arabic loanwords entered the Spanish language, replacing some Latin-derived terms and leading to vocabulary differences between Spanish and Italian. The table below contains some examples.
In the context of language learning, the term “false friend” refers to a pair of vocabulary words from different languages that look alike and yet have completely different meanings.
Here are some examples of Spanish-Italian vocabulary “false friends”:
|Spanish Word||Italian Word|
|esposar (to handcuff)||sposare (to marry)|
|caldo (clear soup)||caldo (warm, hot)|
|vaso (drinking glass)||vaso (vase, jar)|
|guardar (to keep, to save)||guardare (to look at)|
|bruto (brutish, stupid)||brutto (ugly)|
|aceite (oil)||aceto (vinegar)|
|subir (to go up, to upload)||subire (to endure, to suffer)|
|burro (donkey)||burro (butter)|
|hacienda (ranch, farm)||azienda (company, business)|
|estero (estuary)||estero (foreign, foreign countries)|
|salir (to go out, to leave)||salire (to go up, to mount)|
|seta (mushroom)||seta (silk)|
|timo (a swindle, a scam)||timo (thyme)|
|loro (parrot)||loro (they)|
|carta (a letter)||carta (paper)|
|gamba (a shrimp)||gamba (a leg)|
A significant grammatical similarity between Spanish and Italian is the common practice of omitting subject pronouns when they can be easily inferred from the context.
In linguistics terminology, Spanish and Italian are classified as “pro-drop languages”; a term which refers to the practice of omitting (dropping) pronouns.
For example, the phrase “I love you” translates to “ti amo” in Italian and “te quiero” in Spanish. Note the absence of the subject pronouns (“yo” in Spanish and “io” in Italian) which can be inferred from the form of the conjugated verb.
Italian and Spanish differ in this respect from languages such as English or French where omitting the subject pronoun would generally lead to a grammatically incorrect sentence.
In Spanish, the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are pronounced the same. Linguists refer to this phenomenon as betacism. In contrast to Spanish, standard Italian pronounces the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ differently.
When addressing a person in English the pronoun “you” is used in both casual and formal situations. In contrast, Italian and Spanish are languages in which different pronouns are used depending on the level of formality.
The Spanish pronoun “tú” and the Italian pronoun “tu” are used when addressing a person informally. In formal language, the Spanish pronoun “usted” and the Italian pronoun “lei” are used instead.
Since the Italian word “lei” also corresponds to the third person feminine singular (she), it is oftentimes capitalized when used as a formal pronoun, to distinguish it from its other usage.
Lexical similarity is a number that linguists calculate to see how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary.
The lexical similarity between Italian and Spanish is 0.82 (the range of possible values for lexical similarity goes from 0 to 1, with zero meaning no similarity, and one meaning complete similarity).
As a means of comparison, the lexical similarity between English and German is 0.60.
Also, the lexical similarity between Italian and French is 0.89, which means that Italian vocabulary is slightly closer to French than it is to Spanish.