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Cognates in linguistics are words that have a common etymological origin.

An example of cognates within the same language would be English shirt and skirt, the former from Old English scyrte, the latter loaned from Old Norse skyrta, both from the same Common Germanic *skurtjōn-. Words with this type of relationship within a single language are called doublets. Further cognates of the same word in other Germanic languages would include German Schürze and Dutch schort "apron".

The word cognate derives from Latin cognatus "blood relative".[1]


Characteristics of cognate words

Cognates need not have the same meaning: dish (English) and Tisch ("table", German) and desco ("table", medieval Italian), or starve (English) and sterben ("die", German), or head (English) and chef ("chief, head", French), serve as examples as to how cognate terms may diverge in meaning as languages develop separately, eventually becoming false friends.

Cognates across languages

Examples of cognates in Indo-European languages are the words night (English), nuit (French), Nacht (German), nacht (Dutch), nicht (Scots), natt (Swedish, Norwegian), nat (Danish), raat (Urdu), nátt (Faroese), nótt (Icelandic), noc (Czech, Slovak, Polish), ночь, noch (Russian), ноќ, noć (Macedonian), нощ, nosht (Bulgarian), ніч, nich (Ukrainian), ноч, noch/noč (Belarusian), noć/ноћ (Croatian, Serbian), νύξ, nyx (Ancient Greek, νύχτα/nyhta in Modern Greek), nox (Latin), nakt- (Sanskrit), natë (Albanian), noche (Spanish), nos (Welsh), noite (Portuguese and Galician), notte (Italian), nit (Catalan), noapte (Romanian), and naktis (Lithuanian), all meaning "night" and derived from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *nókʷts, "night".

Another Indo-European example is star (English), str- (Sanskrit), Sitara/Tara(Urdu)/(Hindi), astre or étoile (French), αστήρ (astēr) (Greek or αστέρι/άστρο in Modern Greek), stella (Latin, Italian), stea (Romanian and Venetian), stairno (Gothic), astl (Armenian), Stern (German), ster (Dutch and Afrikaans), starn (Scots), stjerne (Norwegian and Danish), stjarna (Icelandic), stjärna (Swedish), stjørna (Faroese), setare (Persian), stoorei (Pashto), seren (Welsh), steren (Cornish), estel (Catalan), estrella or astro (Spanish) and Leonese, estrela (Portuguese and Galician) and estêre or stêrk (Kurdish), from the PIE *h₂stḗr, "star".

The Hebrew shalom, the Arabic salaam and the Amharic selam ("peace") are also cognates, derived from Proto-Semitic *šalām-.

Cognates may often be less easily recognised than the above examples and authorities sometimes differ in their interpretations of the evidence. The English word milk is clearly a cognate of German Milch and Croatian mlijeko. On the other hand, French lait and Spanish leche (both meaning "milk") are less obviously cognates of Ancient Greek γάλακτος (genitive singular of γάλα, "milk") , a relationship more evidently seen through the intermediate Latin lac "milk", as well as the English word lactic and other terms borrowed from Latin.

Cognates within the same language

Cognates can exist within the same language. For example, English ward and guard (<PIE *wer-, "to perceive, watch out for") are cognates, as are shirt and skirt (<PIE *sker-, "to cut"). In some cases, such as "shirt" and "skirt", one of the cognate pairs has an ultimate source in another language related to English, while the other one is native, as happened with many loanwords from Old Norse borrowed when the Vikings conquered part of England. Sometimes, both cognates come from other languages, often the same one but at different times. For example, the word chief comes from the Middle French chef, and its modern pronunciation preserves the Middle French consonant sound. The word chef was borrowed from the same source centuries later, by which time the consonant had changed to a "sh"-sound in French. Such words are said to be etymological twins.

False cognates

False cognates are words that are commonly thought to be related (have a common origin) whereas linguistic examination reveals they are unrelated. Thus, for example, on the basis of superficial similarities one might suppose that the Latin verb habere and German haben, both meaning 'to have', were cognates. However, an understanding of the way words in the two languages evolve from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots shows that they cannot be cognate (see for example Grimm's law). German haben (like English have) in fact comes from PIE *kap, 'to grasp', and its real cognate in Latin is capere, 'to seize, grasp, capture'. Latin habere, on the other hand, is from PIE *gʰabʰ, 'to give, to receive', and hence cognate with English give and German geben.

The similarity of words between languages is not enough to demonstrate that the words are related to each other, in much the same way that facial resemblance does not imply a close genetic relationship between people. Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, words may change their sound completely. Thus, for example, English five and Sanskrit pança are cognates, while English over and Hebrew ′avar are not, and neither are English dog and Mbabaram dog.

Contrast this with false friends, which frequently are cognate.


  1. ^ from co (with) +gnatus, natus, past participle of nasci "to be born". Cassell's Latin Dictionary. The English word can also have a range of meaning "related by blood, having a common ancestor, or related by an analogous nature, character, or function". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition s.v. cognate.

See also



Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to cognate article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From Latin cognātus (related by blood), from nātus (born).



cognate (not comparable)


not comparable

none (absolute)

  1. (linguistics) Either descended from the same attested source lexeme of ancestor language, or held on the grounds of the methods of historical linguistics to be regular reflexes of the unattested, reconstructed form of proto-language.
    English mother is cognate to Greek μητέρα (mētéra), German Mutter, Russian мать (mat’) and Persian مادر (madar).
    In English, queen is cognate to quean, both of which are cognate to Russian жена (žená), Icelandic kona and Irish bean.
    In English, shirt is cognate to skirt, both descended from the Proto-Indo-European word *sker-, meaning "to cut".


Derived terms




cognate (plural cognates)

  1. A word either descended from the same base word of the same ancestor language as the given word, or strongly believed to be a regular reflex of the same reconstructed root of proto-language as the given word.
    English mother is a cognate of Greek μητέρα (mētéra), German Mutter, Russian мать (mat’) and Persian مادر (madar).
    English queen and quean, Russian жена (žená), Icelandic kona and Irish bean are all cognates.


Derived terms

See also




  1. Plural form of cognata.

Simple English

Cognate is a word derived from the same root as another word. Cognates are words that have a common origin (source). They may occur in a language or in a group of languages.

Example One: 'composite', 'composition' and 'compost' are cognates in the English language, derived from the same root in Latin 'componere' meaning 'to put together'.

Example Two: the word 'composition' in English and the word 'composición' in Spanish and similar words in French, Italian and Portuguese are cognates because they all come from the same root.

The general rule is that cognates have similar meanings and are derived from the same root (origin).

Basic English uses cognates in different languages. Example: animal, attention, night, apparatus, experience, brother, invention, metal, etc.



The word 'cognate' is derived from the Latin word 'cognatus' meaning 'to be born with'.

In reading Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, it would be well to keep in mind (remember) what George Bernard Shaw says: "England and America are two countries divided by a common language."

Speakers of British English and American English face this problem of meeting false friends.

False friends

As a rule, cognates have the same meaning but when they do not, they are called "false friends".

Example one: Spanish 'actual' and English 'actual' are cognates because they have the same root (origin) but they are "false friends" because Spanish 'actual' means "of the present moment" while English 'actual' means "real".

Example two: Spanish 'alias' and English 'alias' are cognates because they have the same root (origin) but they are "false friends' because Spanish 'alias' means "known also as" while English 'alias' means "having the false name of".

Example three: German 'hell' and English 'hell'. In German, 'hell' means 'light' while in English it means hell.

Here are two Spanish-English "false friends" in Basic English: moción/motion and disgusto/disgust. In Spanish, 'moción' is a petition made before an assembly. In Spanish, 'disgusto' is displeasure.

False cognates

Sometimes, two words look alike and it appears that they are cognates but they are not because they are not derived from the same root.

Example one: In the English language, the word 'light' (something that makes things visible) is not a cognate of the word 'light' (not heavy) because they are not derived from the same root.

Example two: The German word 'haben' and the English word 'have' mean the same thing and they appear to be cognates but they are not simply because they are not derived from the same root.

Other pages

List of British American False Friends

The English Wikibooks has more about this subject:

Other websites

Wikipedia: Cognate

Common Spanish-English False Friends

German-English False Friends

French-English False Friends


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