Cognate

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A 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.

History[change | edit source]

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[change | edit source]

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', Norwegian 'hell' and English 'hell'. In German, 'hell' means 'light' and in Norwegian it means 'luck', 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[change | edit source]

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 websites[change | edit source]