Italian and Spanish: Language Similarities and Differences

Italian and Spanish are both languages which evolved from Latin. The family of languages which evolved from Latin is called the Romance languages.

Spanish is the most widely spoken Romance language with many native Spanish speakers in Latin America, in addition to those in Spain. Italian is the 4th most spoken Romance language. In addition to being spoken in Italy it is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland (the other three being French, German and Romansh).

In the list of most spoken Romance languages, between Spanish and Italian there are Portuguese and French.

Italian and Spanish vocabulary comparison

A large part of the vocabulary words in Italian and Spanish come from Latin, which explains why there are many similar vocabulary words between these two languages. Here are some examples:

Here are some more examples of similar vocabulary words between Italian and Spanish:

Table: more similar vocabulary words between Spanish and Italian
Spanish Italian English
vivir vivere to live
ayudar aiutare to help
abrir aprire to open
cuando quando when
padre padre father
mano mano hand
evitar evitare to avoid
verde verde green
perder perdere to lose
sentir sentire to feel
casa casa house
correr correre to run
mar mare sea
cual quale which

Since Spanish and Italian are different languages, not all of their vocabulary words are similar. Here are some examples of vocabulary words which differ significantly between Spanish and Italian:

Table: Examples of Spanish and Italian vocabulary words which are very different
English Spanish Italian
day día giorno
to work trabajar lavorare
to search buscar cercare
money dinero soldi
boy chico ragazzo
to want querer volere
rain lluvia pioggia
old antiguo vecchio
to call llamar chiamare

Italian and Spanish vocabulary false friends

In the context of language learning, the term “false friend” refers to a pair of vocabulary words from different languages which look alike and yet have completely different meanings.

Here are some examples of Spanish-Italian vocabulary “false friends”:

More Similarities and differences between Italian and Spanish

Italian and Spanish are pro-drop languages

Italian and Spanish are both what linguists refer to as pro-drop languages. This means that in Italian and Spanish, pronouns can be omitted (dropped) when they can be inferred from the context.

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.

In this respect Italian and Spanish differ from languages such as English or French where omitting the subject pronoun would generally lead to a grammatically incorrect sentence.

Italian pronunciation differs from Spanish pronunciation

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.

Italian and Spanish have both formal and informal pronouns

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.

The Lexical similarity between Italian and Spanish

Lexical similarity is a number which 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 is from 0 to 1, with zero meaning no similarity, and one meaning complete similarity)

As a means of comparison, the English-German lexical similarity is 0.60. Also the Italian-French lexical similarity is 0.89, which means that Italian vocabulary is slightly closer to French than it is to Spanish.

To continue exploring the vocabulary similarities between Italian and Spanish, see these lists of the 1000 most common Italian words and the 1000 most common Spanish words.