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Italian and Spanish: Language Similarities and Differences

To begin comparing Italian and Spanish, let’s take the example phrase “We love languages” as an illustration. The Italian version is “Amiamo le lingue”; the Spanish version is “Amamos los idiomas”.

Both sentences begin with a verb because in Spanish (as well as in Italian) the subject pronoun is frequently left out as it can be inferred from the verb ending. Spanish and Italian are languages that evolved from Latin so they have many similar vocabulary words, including these two verbs which come from the same Latin word.

The example sentences differ in their last word. The Italian word for “language” is “lingua” (in the singular form). It comes directly from Latin. The English word “bilingual” has the same root.

The Spanish word for “language” is “idioma”. It comes from Late Latin which got it from the Ancient Greek term that gave us the English words “idiom” and “idiomatic”.

Vocabulary comparison

With a significant portion of their vocabulary terms coming from Latin, it is no surprise that quite a few Spanish and Italian words are either the same or very similar.

Spanish Italian English
vivir vivere to live
ayudar aiutare to help
abrir aprire to open
cuando quando when
padre padre father
mano mano hand
evitar evitare to avoid
verde verde green
perder perdere to lose
sentir sentire to feel
casa casa house
correr correre to run
mar mare sea
cual quale which

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Here are some more examples of vocabulary words that are similar in Italian and in Spanish:

English Spanish Italian
life vida vita
happy feliz felice
love amor amore
water agua acqua
world mundo mondo
heart corazón cuore
truth verdad verità
week semana settimana
party fiesta festa
month mes mese
friend amigo amico
how much cuanto quanto

There are many cases of Spanish vocabulary words that contain the letter 'g' while the corresponding Italian vocabulary word contains the letter 'c' instead.

Spanish Italian English
alguno alcuni some
segundo secondo second
seguridad sicurezza security
agua acqua water
domingo domenica Sunday
amigo amico friend
jugador giocatore player
siglo secolo century

Another pattern in the spelling differences between Spanish and Italian are the many cases of Spanish vocabulary words containing the letter 'd' while the corresponding Italian vocabulary word contains the letter 't' instead.

Spanish Italian English
vida vita life
verdad verità truth
resultado risultato result
salud salute health
estado stato state
propiedad proprietà property
universidad università university
publicidad pubblicità advertisement

We have many similar vocabulary words between Spanish and Italian. We don't want to leave the reader with the impression that all Spanish and Italian words are similar, so we end this section with a table of vocabulary words that differ significantly between these two languages.

Spanish Italian English
día giorno day
trabajar lavorare to work
buscar cercare to search
dinero soldi money
chico ragazzo boy
querer volere to want
lluvia pioggia rain
antiguo vecchio old
llamar chiamare to call

Spanish has more Arabic loanwords than Italian

Part of the vocabulary differences between Italian and Spanish result from a historical event —the Moorish rule in Spain from the 8th to the 15th centuries— which led to an influence of Arabic on the Spanish language.

Arabic influence is particularly noticeable in Spanish vocabulary. Approximately 8% of the words found in a Spanish dictionary can be traced back to Arabic.

These Arabic loanwords entered the Spanish language, replacing some Latin-derived terms and leading to vocabulary differences between Spanish and Italian. The table below contains some examples.

English Italian Spanish
carrot carota zanahoria
blue blu azul
oil olio aceite
rice riso arroz
basil basilico albahaca

Vocabulary false friends

In the context of language learning, the term “false friend” refers to a pair of vocabulary words from different languages that look alike and yet have completely different meanings.

Here are some examples of Spanish-Italian vocabulary “false friends”:

Spanish Word Italian Word
esposar (to handcuff) sposare (to marry)
caldo (clear soup) caldo (warm, hot)
vaso (drinking glass) vaso (vase, jar)
guardar (to keep, to save) guardare (to look at)
bruto (brutish, stupid) brutto (ugly)
aceite (oil) aceto (vinegar)
subir (to go up, to upload) subire (to endure, to suffer)
burro (donkey) burro (butter)
hacienda (ranch, farm) azienda (company, business)
estero (estuary) estero (foreign, foreign countries)
salir (to go out, to leave) salire (to go up, to mount)
seta (mushroom) seta (silk)
timo (a swindle, a scam) timo (thyme)
loro (parrot) loro (they)
carta (a letter) carta (paper)
gamba (a shrimp) gamba (a leg)

Additional similarities and differences

Omitting subject pronouns in Spanish and Italian

A significant grammatical similarity between Spanish and Italian is the common practice of omitting subject pronouns when they can be easily inferred from the context.

In linguistics terminology, Spanish and Italian are classified as “pro-drop languages”; a term which refers to the practice of omitting (dropping) pronouns.

For example, the phrase “I love you” translates to “ti amo” in Italian and “te quiero” in Spanish. Note the absence of the subject pronouns (“yo” in Spanish and “io” in Italian) which can be inferred from the form of the conjugated verb.

Italian and Spanish differ in this respect from languages such as English or French where omitting the subject pronoun would generally lead to a grammatically incorrect sentence.


In Spanish, the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are pronounced the same. Linguists refer to this phenomenon as betacism. In contrast to Spanish, standard Italian pronounces the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ differently.

Formal and informal pronouns

When addressing a person in English the pronoun “you” is used in both casual and formal situations. In contrast, Italian and Spanish are languages in which different pronouns are used depending on the level of formality.

The Spanish pronoun “tú” and the Italian pronoun “tu” are used when addressing a person informally. In formal language, the Spanish pronoun “usted” and the Italian pronoun “lei” are used instead.

Since the Italian word “lei” also corresponds to the third person feminine singular (she), it is oftentimes capitalized when used as a formal pronoun, to distinguish it from its other usage.

The lexical similarity coefficient

Lexical similarity is a number that linguists calculate to see how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary.

The lexical similarity between Italian and Spanish is 0.82 (the range of possible values for lexical similarity goes from 0 to 1, with zero meaning no similarity, and one meaning complete similarity).

As a means of comparison, the lexical similarity between English and German is 0.60.

Also, the lexical similarity between Italian and French is 0.89, which means that Italian vocabulary is slightly closer to French than it is to Spanish.

To continue exploring the vocabulary similarities between Italian and Spanish, see these lists of the 1000 most common Italian words and the 1000 most common Spanish words.