Anyone who has studied Italian for even a short time has probably noticed how many Italian words are very similar to English. This is because both languages have words with origins that date back to the Latin language spoken by the Romans. These words are called cognates—words that have a common origin and a similar meaning.
English/Italian cognates can be the best friend of one who is trying to learn either language. But beware! Not all words that sound alike have the same meaning in both languages. There is a pattern, though, and if you can recognize the different groups of cognates, your vocabulary will greatly increase with very little effort.
For words that are similar in Italian and English, the stem of the word will provide a clue to the actual meaning, and the ending will also follow a common pattern.
See how this works below with an excerpt reprinted from the grammar section of our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, courtesy of publisher Stella Lucente, LLC.
For an easy-to read reference book on grammar, the same section is found in the easy-to-read reference book Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Grammar.
Grammar Note: Cognates
Adjectives Ending in -ista, -ologo(a), -ore, -essa/ice, -ario
Chapter 9 of Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Grammar contains examples of the many different types of jobs available today.
Many of the words that describe the professions in Italian and English are cognates—they have a common origin, share a common stem, and have equivalent endings. The Italian ending will be invariable for some professions, as it is in English, but for others, it will change to reflect the gender of the professional
The ending –ista in Italian is equivalent to the ending –ist in English. The –ista ending is invariable, but the definite article (il, la, or l’) will change to reflect the gender. For more than one professional, change the –a ending to the plural –i for men and –e for women and use the plural definite articles (i, gli, or le), of course!
|il farmacista||=||pharmacist||=||la farmacista|
|il pianista||=||pianist||=||la pianista|
|il socialista||=||socialist||=||la socialista|
|il turista||=||tourist||=||la turista|
The masculine ending –ologo and the feminine ending –ologa in Italian are also equivalent to the ending –ist in English.
|il biologo||=||biologist||=||la biologa|
|il geologo||=||geologist||=||la geologa|
|il psicologo||=||psychologist||=||la psicologa|
|il radiologo||=||radiologist||=||la radiologa|
The ending –ore in Italian is equivalent to the ending –or in English. You will notice that these nouns refer to masculine professions. The corresponding profession in the feminine is either –essa or –ice.
|il conduttore||=||driver/chauffeur||=||la conduttrice|
|il dottore||=||doctor||=||la dottoressa|
|il professore||=||professor||=||la professoressa|
The endings –aria and –ario in Italian are equivalent to the ending –ary in English.
|il segretario||=||secretary||=||la segretaria|
If you can think of another cognate to add to these lists, please join our Conversational Italian! Facebook group and leave a post, or leave a message below. I’d love to hear from you!