Spanish has been influenced heavily and has many cognates, and one of the languages that Spanish has been shaped by is Arabic.
Which words and how?
If you’re curious to discover which Spanish words have Arabic etymology, you’ll learn some really interesting ones if you keep reading.
There are loads more that I could of included here but these will do for today.
First, a quick word on why Spanish was influenced by Arabic (quick history lesson).
A brief insight into the history of Arabic influence on Spanish
Though the Spanish language is known as a Romance language like French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian, which means that it was derived from Latin (spoken by the Romans), it also has other influences.
Yes, much of the Spanish language has Latin roots, but it also has Arabic influences.
If you’re wondering how the Spanish language came to adopt words that have their origin in Arabic, it’s because the Spanish kingdom was once conquered by Muslims (Moors).
This conquest occurred in 711 AD, and Arabic vocabulary was one thing that stuck around.
Now, Arabic words and phrases are commonly heard in Andalusian Arabic, and you’ll hear many of them in the south of Spain as these locations were former colonies.
How many Spanish words have Arabic roots?
Approximately 4,000 words in the Spanish language are believed to have been influenced by Arabic.
Keep reading and you’ll learn a handful of really interesting Spanish words that originate from Arabic.
Spanish words that originate from Arabic
Spanish words derived from Arabic words related to food
I’ll start with Spanish words of Arabic origin that relate to food.
Can you notice some of the similarities between the Spanish food phrase and the Arabic words?
Arabic origin: السكر
Azúcar is a Spanish word that has its origins in the Arabic word al-sukkar (السكر).
It means “sugar” in English.
Over time, Spanish speakers altered some of the words of Arabic origin that feature the al article at the beginning and start with solar letters, and azúcar is one example of this - the al (ال) have been replaced with an a.
Arabic origin: الزيت
Aceite is another Spanish word of Arabic origin; it is derived from the word al-zayt.
Again, the al (ال) article has been replaced with the letter a to give us aceite.
Aceite means “oil” in English.
Arabic origin: التون
Atún, which means “tuna” in English, is a Spanish word that has its origins in the Arabic language.
The original Arabic word is al-tun (التون), and again we can see that the article al (ال) has been replaced with the letter a giving us atún.
Arabic origin: البرقوق
The word albaricoque is a Spanish word of Arabic origin that means “apricot” in English.
This word is one example of a Spanish word that retained the article al (ال) when it was adopted into the language.
You can notice the similarity between the Spanish and the Arabic words—the original Arabic word is al-burquq (البرقوق).
Arabic origin: زيتونة
Aceituna means “olive”.
It’s a Spanish word of Arabic origin derived from the word zaytunah (زيتونة).
In its Hispanic Arabic form, the word became azzaytúna before evolving into the Spanish word aceituna that we have now.
Arabic origin: حبق
In English, albahaca means “basil” and refers to the herb that can be used for cooking.
Albahaca is a Spanish word that originated from the Arabic word habaq (حبق).
When used in the Hispanic Arabic language, the word used was alhabáqa (الحبقة) and then developed into the word albahaca.
Arabic origin: أرز
Arroz, meaning “rice” in English, is a word that developed from the Arabic word aruzz (أرز).
Like much of the vocabulary related to food, it was adopted into the Spanish language when the agricultural influences of the Moors began to be acknowledged by the Spaniards.
Arabic origin: السكباج
Assukkabág (السكباج) is the Hispanic Arabic translation of the Spanish word escabeche.
It is a Spanish word that has an Arabic origin and translates to English as “marinade”.
It’s another food related word that shows just how powerful the culinary influences have been from Arabic culture.
Arabic origin: ليمون
You can see the similarities between this Spanish word and the Arabic word laymun (ليمون).
It was adopted into the Spanish language and, with two syllables, it is similar in sound and structure to the Spanish counterpart.
It means “lemon” in English.
Arabic origin: نارنج
Since naranja is a Spanish word that has Arabic origin, it should come as no surprise that there is a striking resemblance and similarity in pronunciation between this Spanish word and the Hispanic Arabic equivalent, naranga.
The word evolved from the Classic Arabic word narang (نارنج) and became eventually became naranja in Spanish.
This Spanish word means “orange” in English.
Arabic origin: سندية
Sandía means “watermelon” in English.
It’s a Spanish word that has its origin in the Arabic language, and note that it evolved from the Classic Arabic word sindiyyah (سندية).
In the Hispanic Arabic language it means sándiyya, and we now have the Spanish word sandía which is extremely similar in the way it sounds.
Arabic origin: شربة
Šarbah (شربة) is the Classic Arabic word from which sorbete is derived.
The latter word sorbete is a Spanish word that translates to English as “sorbet”—a refreshing postre (that’s “dessert”) that combines delicious fresh flavours and fruit purée.
Arabic origin: ترنجة
Toronja is a Spanish word that translates to English as “grapefruit”.
This Spanish word has its origins in the Arabic language and is derived from the word turungah (ترنجة).
The word used in the the Hispanic Arabic language is turúnga and it was adopted into Spanish, becoming toronja.
Arabic origin: سفنارية
The Hispanic Arabic word for zanahoria is safunnárya (سفنارية).
Zanahoria translates to English as “carrot”.
Spanish words derived from Arabic words related to objects, places and things
The next batch of words are some of the Arabic-derived Spanish words related to objects, places and things.
Do you recognise any of them?
Arabic origin: بري
This Spanish word is derived from the Arabic word barri.
Barrio means “neighbourhood” in English, and the Arabic word barri (بري) refers to the outskirts of the city. The term was used in the Hispanic Arabic language and was subsequently adopted into Spanish.
You’ll hear it frequently in Spain, where Spanish speakers describe the neighbourhood in which they live.
Arabic origin: عداد
Dado in Spanish translates to English as “dice”.
This Spanish was incorporated into the Spanish language from the Classic Arabic word a‘dād (عداد).
Arabic origin: بلوطة
Bellota is a Spanish noun that means “acorn” in English.
The word stems from the Arabic word balluṭa (بلوطة), which became ballúta when spoken in the Hispanic Arabic language and, finally, bellota when adopted into the Spanish language.
Arabic origin: قيتارة
Similar to the English word “guitar” and referring to the same musical instrument, guitarra is a Spanish word that originates from the Arabic qīṯārah (قيتارة).
Arabic origin: العود
Another instrument makes our list—laúd. Laúd in Spanish means “lute”.
It is thought that this Spanish word comes from the Arabic ud (عود) and that its Hispanic Arabic version was al’úd (العود) before
Arabic origin: ركن
The Hispanic Arabic word from which this Spanish word was derived is rukán, and the Classic Arabic word is rukn (ركن).
Rincón translates to English as “corner”.
Arabic origin: طلق
There’s a real similarity between this Spanish word and the Arabic word from which it is derived.
Talco in Spanish translates to English as “talcum powder”.
The similar word from which it is derived is talq (طلق) in the Classic Arabic version, and tálc in the Hispanic Arabic version.
Arabic origin: طريحة
Tarea is a Spanish word that means “task” in English.
It is thought that it has Arabic origins and stems from the Hispanic Arabic word taríha (طريحة) which means “endeavor”.
Arabic origin: القطن
Al-qutn (القطن) is the Arabic word from which algodón stems from.
This Spanish word means “cotton” in English.
The Spanish word retains the Arabic definite article in the adopted word algodón, so the similarity between these two words can be easily noticed.
Arabic origin: طباق
The Arabic word from which tabaco originates is tubbaq (طباق), and this is the Classical Arabic version of the Spanish word.
Spanish words derived from Arabic related to mathematics
This final short section contains two Spanish words related to mathematics that come from Arabic.
Have you heard of these words before?
Arabic origin: صفر
Cifra in Spanish translates to English as “digit”.
This Spanish word stems from the Arabic word sifr (صفر), which means “zero” in English.
Arabic origin: الجبر
We have this cognate algebra in the English language too, and it refers to the tricky sums and calculations that we had to make in school.
This Spanish word derives from the Arabic word al-jabr (الجبر).
Take note of the Spanish/Andalusian words of Arabic origin
Knowing the history and etymology of words and phrases is important, and can be a useful mnemonic for remembering vocabulary.
If you have a background in Arabic or Spanish, knowing terms like the ones listed above can help you learn the other language.
If you’re interested in learning more, also see our post on Semitic languages.
What are your thoughts on the Spanish words of Arabic origin? Are there any that we’ve missed?
Add your words and phrases to the comments!