8 English loanwords that come from Spanish - Wannalisn

8 English loanwords that come from Spanish

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One of the reasons why so many loanwords from other languages have found their way into official English dictionaries is that English-speaking countries have never had an formally recognised national body that monitors the words that enter and leave the language. The other reason why English is so influenced by other languages can be found in history.

Over several centuries now, English has evolved by borrowing words, grammar, and (sometimes) pronunciation from other languages. In fact, a survey of around 80,000 words with from the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary shows that 80% of the words in English come from the following languages.


origin of English words
Chart showing the origin of English words

The influence of Spanish on English

As one of the major Romance or Latin languages, the influence of Spanish can be heard all over the world, and particularly in English.

The impact of Spanish on the English language is more evident in American English because of the Spanish colonisation of a large part of the Americas from 1492–1832. As migration spread westward in the 1800s, states and territories which had belonged to Mexico, namely Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado became part of modern day Southwestern United States.

As a consequence, the settlers began to borrow words from Mexican Spanish. Later, in 1898 with the Spanish-American war, more Spanish words entered the English language after Puerto Rico became part of the US.




8 Common loanwords from Spanish


1.  Siesta

A Siesta is another term for ‘nap’, but is generally taken in the middle of the day after lunch or for a break from work. In hot countries people typically have a siesta because of the intense heat in the afternoons.


// You can avoid the hottest time of the day by taking a siesta

2.  Plaza


A plaza is an open public area, also known as a ‘square’.

Plaza is often used in the names of shopping malls or business complexes.


//The town plaza is always full early in the evening


You will note how English speakers pronounce the vibrating ‘z’ sound instead of the ‘th’ sound of the Spanish pronunciation.


3.  Breeze

This word means a light wind or current, and originates from the Old Spanish and Portuguese word briza. 

// I love a cool breeze on a hot summer day. 


4. Guerrilla

This word literally mean ‘small war’ in Spanish. In both languages it is often used to refer to an unofficial group of rebels fighting against the government. When used in English it is normally  an adjective in phrases like guerrilla warfare or guerrilla marketing.


// The rebels decided to transfer to another territory which was more suited to guerrilla warfare


In terms of pronunciation, the English version sounds like the animal gorila without the Spanish ‘ll’ sound.



5. Patio

When we say patio in English we generally mean a roofless area outside a house with tables and chairs.

// I’m organising a barbecue on the patio this Saturday



6. Cafeteria

This word dates back to 1839 from Mexican Spanish meaning of «coffee store». Towards the 1890s cafeteria became associated with a self-service restaurant establishment. Starting in 1915 factories, schools and colleges added cafeterias to their facilities.

Notice the anglicised pronunciation kafiTEEria

//Everybody in the office has lunch at the cafeteria



7. Incommunicado

This word made its way into Spanish from Latin. The English usage is based on the past participle of the Spanish verb incomunicar ,  which seems to be related to  prisoners being put in solitary confinement  to prevent them from communicating with others.


// While I’m on holiday I’ll be completely incommunicado.


8. Savvy


As a noun , savvy means astute and practical knowledge about something

Savvy came into use in English in the late 1700s and is based on the Spanish and Portuguese sabe, (third person singular of the verb ‘to know‘), from the Latin sapere (to be wise)


// These investors are financially very savvy.


Savvy is also used as an adjective:


// They are savvy politicians



Spanish loanwords with indigenous origin

  • Avocado – Spanish aguacate, from Nahuatl ahuacat
  • Chili – chilli
  • Chocolate – Spanish chocolate, from Nahuatl xocolatl meaning «hot water»
  • Cocoa – from the Spanish cacao, from Nahuatle cacáhuatl
  • Guacamole  – via American Spanish from Nahuatl ahuaca-molli («avocado sauce»)
  • Tomato – Spanish tomate, from Nahuatl xitomatl


Loanwords: a great way to build your vocabulary 

Discovering and learning loanwords from other languages is a really fun way to increase your vocabulary, and will help you learn English quicker. In future posts we will explore more loanwords that come from languages such as German, French, and Latin . Don’t hesitate to use loanwords when speaking English (with the anglicised pronunciation!) so you can sound more natural and confident in conversation.

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