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Italian Cognates & Loanwords: 17 Rules to Expand Your Vocabulary + FREE PDF

You already know some Italian! Here's how to unlock a tonne of Italian vocabulary with 17 simple rules

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Italian Cognates and Loan words - 17 Rules to Italianizing Words You Already Know
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Beginner of Italian? Instead of jumping right into the deep end of the large pool of Italian words, first, we’re going to dip our toes in. In this guide, you are going to learn some Italian words that won’t seem completely foreign to you because they are exactly the same in English. Hurray!

Then, we will learn how to apply 17 simple rules so you can start Italianizing English words you already know including nouns, verbs and adverbs. Learning these rules will come in handy. With these rules, you’ll be able to unlock a tonne of Italian vocabulary without too much effort.

Pronti? Ready? Cominciamo! Let’s get started!

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Although Italians are very proud of their language, they have allowed some English words to creep in. Generally, they are pronounced the same way as in English with a couple of exceptions. You’ll hear words such as gadgets, jogging, feeling and shock. You’ll even hear them use the word okay. Since computers have entered our lives, Italians will even say cliccare sul mouse, meaning ‘to click (on) the mouse’. Finally, there’s lo zapping, which means to change TV channels with the remote control.

Consider the following list of words. Each is shown with the appropriate Italian definite article or better known as the word ‘the’ which we will learn more about later.

  • la radio
  • l’autobus
  • l’antenna
  • l’hotel
  • l’area
  • l’idea
  • l’hamburger
  • il cocktail
  • il jazz
  • il cinema
  • il computer
  • il bar
  • il blues
  • il film
  • il rock and roll
  • il weekend
  • il camping
  • i jeans
  • lo snob
  • lo shock
  • lo shopping
  • lo sport
  • lo shampoo
  • lo zoo

Italian cognates and loan words - English loan words in Italian

These are only a few of many English words that have entered the Italian language. You can see my complete guide to English words in Italian here. In the same way, many Italian words are used in English-speaking countries too! Including:

  • la pizza
  • la pasta
  • gli spaghetti
  • i tortellini
  • la mozzarella
  • l’espresso
  • il cappuccino
  • il panino – a sandwich / i panini – sandwiches
  • i biscotti – cookies / il biscotto – cookie
  • il tiramisù

Incidentally, did you know that tiramisù literally means ‘pull me up’? This refers to the fact that this sweet dessert is made with strong Italian espresso coffee effectively giving you an energy boost or a ‘pick me up’.

Italian cognates and loan words - Italian loan words in English

Italian Cognates

In addition to the words that have crept into the language directly, Italian and English have many cognates. A cognate is a word in one language that has the same origin as a word in another one and may sound similar. Here are some examples:

  • airport – l’aeroporto
  • attention – l’attenzione
  • communication – la comunicazione
  • important – importante
  • incredible – incredibile

Fortunately, there are some rules that you can apply to Italianize words you already know. Here are a few tips that will help you recognize and use Italian cognates.

Italianizing Nouns

Now that we’re starting to look at the grammar, let’s brush up on some grammatical terms. Don’t stress. We’re going to keep this really simple.

Don’t know what a noun is? To identify a noun, ask yourself this easy question. Can I place either ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’ in front of the word? If the answer is yes, then you’ve got yourself a noun!

For example, the word pizza is a noun because when we say ‘a pizza’ or ‘the pizza’ it makes sense. However, saying ‘the delicious’ or ‘a delicious’ on its own doesn’t make sense.

With that in mind, here are a few rules to help build up your vocabulary of nouns.

Rule 1: Nouns in English ending in -y become -ia in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 1 - Nouns in English ending in -y become -ia in Italian

Here are some examples:

  • biology – la biologia
  • philosophy – la filosofia
  • sociology – la sociologia
  • anatomy – l’anatomia

Rule 2: Nouns in English ending in -ic(s) become -ica in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 2 - Nouns in English ending in -ic(s) become -ica in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • music – la musica
  • politics – la politica
  • republic – la repubblica
  • mathematic – la matematica
Keep practising!
Get your Italian Cognates & Loanwords Cheat-Sheet! (Free PDF Download)

Don't let the learning stop here. Download your free PDF guide and expand your vocabulary Italian cognates and loanwordsIncludes essential vocabulary, grammar and example sentences. Impariamo insieme! (Let's learn together!)

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Rule 3: Nouns in English ending in -ty become -tà in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 3 - Nouns in English ending in -ty become -tà in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • city – la città
  • identity – l’identità
  • society – la società
  • university – l’università

Rule 4: Nouns in English ending in -ce become -za in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 4 - Nouns in English ending in -ce become -za in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • importance – l’importanza
  • elegance – l’eleganza
  • violence – la violenza
  • patience – la pazienza

Rule 5: Nouns in English ending in -tion become -zione in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 5 - Nouns in English ending in -tion become -zione in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • nation – la nazione
  • attention – l’attenzione
  • education – l’educazione
  • situation – la situazione

Rule 6: Nouns in English ending in -o(u)r become -ore in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 6 - Nouns in English ending in -o(u)r become -ore in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • actor – l’attore
  • doctor – il dottore
  • professor – il professore
  • motor – il motore

Rule 7: Nouns in English ending in -ary become -ario in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 7 - Nouns in English ending in -ary become -ario in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • secretary – il segretario
  • vocabulary – il vocabolario
  • salary – il salario
  • functionary – il funzionario

Rule 8: Nouns in English ending in -ist become -ista in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 8 - Nouns in English ending in -ist become -ista in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • artist – artista
  • violinist – violinista
  • pianist – pianista
  • optimist – ottimista

Italianizing Adjectives

Earlier we spoke about nouns in our pizza example. Let’s take this example one step further and add an adjective to it.

Adjectives can be identified by placing ‘is’ in front of a word. For example, ‘the pizza is delicious’, or ‘the coffee is hot’.

Here are some rules to help you build up your vocabulary of adjectives.

Rule 9: Adjectives in English ending in -al become -ale in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 9 - Adjectives in English ending in -al become -ale in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • special – speciale
  • personal – personale
  • original – originale
  • sentimental – sentimentale

Rule 10: Adjectives in English ending in -ect become -etto in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 10 - Adjectives in English ending in -ect become -etto in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • perfect – perfetto
  • correct – corretto
  • erect – eretto
  • direct – diretto

Rule 11: Adjectives in English ending in -ical become -ico in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 11 - Adjectives in English ending in -ical become -ico in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • typical – tipico
  • classical – classico
  • political – politico
  • geographical – geografico

Rule 12: Adjectives in English ending in -ous become -oso in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 12 - Adjectives in English ending in -ous become -oso in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • generous – generoso
  • curious – curioso
  • nervous – nervoso
  • ambitious – ambizioso

Rule 13: Adjectives in English ending in -able or -ible become -abile and -ibile in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 13 - Adjectives in English ending in -able or -ible become -abile and -ibile in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • possible – possibile
  • visible – visibile
  • terrible – terribile
  • responsible – responsabile
  • adorable – adorabile
Keep practising!
Get your Italian Cognates & Loanwords Cheat-Sheet! (Free PDF Download)

Don't let the learning stop here. Download your free PDF guide and expand your vocabulary Italian cognates and loanwordsIncludes essential vocabulary, grammar and example sentences. Impariamo insieme! (Let's learn together!)

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Italianizing Verbs

Last but not least, we have the all-important verbs. Verbs form the backbone of any language. This term alone might induce fear but just as we’ve done before we are going to keep things really simple.

A verb can be identified by adding ‘to’ in front of a word. For example, to do, to eat, to cook, to travel. These are all verbs. It’s that easy! It’s important that you recognise verbs as they will help you form sentences with ease. 

It’s worth noting that In Italian, the ‘to’ part of any verb is already included as part of the word and is identified by the last three letters. There are only three different verb endings, they are:

  • -ere
  • -ire
  • -are

For example, the verb for to eat is mangiare, therefore the ‘to’ part is the -are ending. You’ll be able to identify these endings in the following rules.

Rule 14: Verbs in English ending in -cate become -care in Italian.

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 14 - Verbs in English ending in -cate become -care in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • to educate – educare
  • to indicate – indicare
  • to complicate – complicare
  • to imply, implicate – implicare

Rule 15: Verbs in English ending in -ize(-ise) or -yze(-yse) become -izzare in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 15 - Verbs in English ending in -ize or -yze become -izzare in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • to organize – organizzare
  • to sympathize – simpatizzare
  • to analyze – analizzare
  • to minimize – minimizzare

Rule 16: Verbs in English ending in -ish become -ire in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 16 - Verbs in English ending in -ish become -ire in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • to finish – finire
  • to abolish – abolire
  • to embellish – abbellire
  • to establish – stabilire

Download your guide to the 24 most common Italian verbs and learn how to conjugate them in 3 simple steps.

Italianizing Adverbs

Kindly, slowly, here, often, and very are all examples of adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. By modify we mean to add to or change the meaning of a word.

In the following examples, the adverb is in bold and the verb that it modifies is in italics.

  • John speaks loudly. (How does John speak?)
  • Afterwards she smoked a cigarette. (When did she smoke?)
  • Mary lives locally. (Where does Mary live?)

But adverbs can also modify adjectives. Look at these examples:

Modify an adjective:

  • He is really handsome. (How handsome is he?)
  • That was extremely kind of you.

Modify another adverb:

  • She drives incredibly slowly. (How slowly does she drive?)
  • He drives extremely fast.

Now that we know what an adverb is, let’s look at the next set of rules.

Rule 17: Adverbs in English ending in -ably and -ibly become –abilmente and -ibilmente respectively, in Italian

Italian cognates and loan words - Rule 17 - Adverbs in English ending in -ably and -ibly become -abilmente and -ibilmente respectively, in ItalianHere are some examples:

  • probably – probabilmente
  • possibly – possibilmente

As you build up your vocabulary and don’t yet know the word for something, it’s ok to Italianize the English word using these 17 rules. Of course, there are some exceptions to these rules, but you’d be surprised how often they apply! As with everything, you learn by experience. Which rule/s surprised you the most? Let me know in the comments below.

Keep practising!
Get your Italian Cognates & Loanwords Cheat-Sheet! (Free PDF Download)

Don't let the learning stop here. Download your free PDF guide and expand your vocabulary Italian cognates and loanwordsIncludes essential vocabulary, grammar and example sentences. Impariamo insieme! (Let's learn together!)

I promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
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