From Spanish to Italian
This page is designed to help someone who speaks (some) Spanish learn Italian easier...
The good news is that the languages are pretty close, with ~82% of the words being similar and some degree of "mutual intelligibility" (so speakers of one language can understand much of what someone says in another). With a little bit of study and practice, you can learn Italian quicker than someone starting from zero.
Vowels are pronounced (more or less) the same in both languages; see the pronunciation page for details on how to pronounce consonants. For example, c, g, q, and j are different, especially when combined with i or e. In some cases, things are pronounced the same but written differently—for example, Italian "gn" is pronounced exactly like Spanish "ñ". A handful of other differences exist; for example ll (2 L's) is pronounced like a longer "L", not a "y" (or "j") sound...for example "pollo" is "chicken" in both languages but in Italian it's "pohl-loh" ("gli" in Italian is close to many Spanish versions of "ll").
Cognates and Rules
There are many cognates (words with similar sounds/roots) in both languages. Here are some basic "rules" that sometimes work for converting a Spanish word into its Italian equivalent:
- verbs ending in -ar/-ir/-er → verbs ending in -are/-ire/-ere (e.g. haber→avere, tener→tenire, poder→potere)
- ei-→e (veinte→vente, treinta→trenta...or sometimes ie→e, like fiesta→festa, siempre→sempre)
- cue/cua/gua/etc.→que/qua (cuarenta→quaranta, cincuenta→cinquanta, cuesta→questa, agua→aqua, ésta→questa)
- ch→tt (ocho→otto, noches→notte, leche→latte)
- j→ss (rojo→rosso, bajo→basso, caja→cassa) or j→gli (mejor→meglio, ajo→aglio, hijo→figlio) but ojos→occhi, jugo→succo, julio→luglio...
- ue→o (cuenta→conto, nuestro→nostro, buene→buono, muerte→morte, puerto→porto, puesto→posto, fuerza→forza but fuego→fuocco)
- es...→s... (españa→spagna, escriber→scrivere, escala→scala, escuadra→squadra, especial→speciale, espíritu→spirito, esposa→sposa, estacion→stazione, estados→stati, escuola→scuola)
- ll→chi (mi llama→mi chiamo, la llave→la chiave but llover→piovere, lleno→pieno...or sometimes it stays a double or single L, e.g. amarillo→giallo, millón→milione)
- en...→in... (ensalata→insalata, enamorando→innamorato, encontrar→incontrare)
- d→t (vida→vita, nada→niente, sabado→sabato, perdido→perdito, salud→salute, todo→tutto, ocupado→occupato)
- h→f (hijo→figlio, hacer→fare, humo→fumo, hoja→foglia...but not always, for example hue→o in hueso→osso, huerto→orto, huevo→uovo)
- bl/pl/fl→bi/pi/fi (blanco→bianco, planta→pianta, flore→fiore, plaza→piazza)
- ct/pt→tt (actual→attuale, producto→prodotto, perfecto→perfetto, directo→diretto, eléctrico→elettrico, característico→caratteristico, espectáculo→spettacolo, actual→attuale, aceptar→acettare, baptismo→battesimo)
- ...cción→...zione (protección→protezione, dimensión→dimensione, posición→posizione, fracción→frazione, atención→attenzione)
- ...idad→...ezza/...ità (seguridad→sicurezza, velocidad→velocità, ciudad→città, profundidad→profondità, unidad→unità, habilidad→abilità, posibilidad→possibilità, actividad→attività)
- ...ble→...bile (posible→possibile, flexible→flessibile, probable→probabile)
- des→s (desvestirse→svestirsi, desarrollo→sviluppo, desconocido→sconosciuto, desabotonar→sbottonare)
- (other words don't follow a pattern but still look/sound similar, like billete/boleto→biglietto)
Italian grammar is very similar to Spanish grammar, although with a few exceptions:
- There are more articles (e.g. "lo"/"gli" in front of certain consonants) and they are used in more places (e.g. "mi casa es su casa" becomes "la mia casa è la sua casa")
- Plurals are formed by changing the vowel, not by adding an s (e.g. "el niño / los niños" becomes "il bambino / i bambini")
- The Italian preterit past tense (Spanish pretérito indefinido) is called the passato remoto, and is rarely used outside of literature. Instead, in most cases Italian uses the passato prossimo (roughly the equivalent of the Spanish pretérito perfecto). (The imperfect past tense is used in roughly the same way in both languages.)
- Italian has essere/stare (similar to Spanish ser/estar) but stare isn't used as frequently; for example the most common way to say "Where is the bathroom" is "Dov'è il bagno" not "Dove sta il bagno" (the most common way you'll use stare is in expressions like like "come stai?" and "sto bene" which are roughly equivalent to "¿como estas?" and "estoy bien")
- Lei is a bit like usted (formal "you"), but also means "she" (in writing the "you" form is capitalized); voi is somewhere between ustedes/vosotros.
- ne and ci don't really have Spanish equivalents - these can replace expressions with "di/da" or "in/a"...if you know French, they're equivalent to "en" and "y" (for example, "Ho tre bambini" / "Ne ho due" for "I have three kids" / "I have two [of them]")
- avere is equivalent to both tener (to have) and haber (auxiliary verb)...although confusingly there's also the (less commonly-used) Italian verb tenere that means "keep/hold/grasp"
- even more suffixes: in Spanish you're used to abuela/abuelita (Italian: nonna/nonnina) and grande/grandissimo (same in Italian), but Italian uses suffixes even more, including ones for "big" ("-one" like nasone = big nose), "naughty" ("-accio/a/e/i", so "foccacia" litterally means "naughty oven thing"), and lots of diminuitives ("-ino/a/e/i", "-etto/a/e/i", "-ello/a/e/i", "-uccio/a/e/i" ...some common examples being topolino, libretto, limoncello, and cavalluccio; you can even combine them like "librettino" is a "little tiny book")
This page from Lancaster University has a great summary of the main differences between Spanish and Italian (including "false friends" that look similar but mean different things like burro means butter in Italian, not donkey!). For more information on Italian grammar (such as articles and plurals), see the Basic Italian page.
Key "Small" Words
The following words are useful in both languages, and are used in almost the same way; for more cognates, see the Indo-European Languages Romance Language page: