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 reference book Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Grammar.
Grammar Note: Cognates
Adjectives Ending in -zione, -za, -izziare, -ia
The ending –zione in Italian is equivalent to the ending –tion in English. All nouns with this ending are feminine and take the definite article la, which means the. Make the plural as usual, by changing the –e at the end of the noun to an –i and use the definite article le, as in “le lezioni.”
*Note: In order to describe the process of filling out a form to apply for a position, do not use applicazione, which does mean application, but is a “false friend” if used in this way! Instead, use the phrase “fare una domanda.” A work application would be “la domanda di lavoro.”
The ending –za in Italian is equivalent to the ending –ce in English.
The ending –izzare in Italian is equivalent to the endings –ize or –yze in English.
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!