Exploring 32 Loan Words in English Derived from Spanish

Spanish has had a huge influence on English vocabulary.

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When you learn a language like English, you also learn words that come from other languages. Over centuries these words have become a common part of English. Sometimes their meanings have changed, and sometimes they’ve stayed the same. Many times people won’t even know they come from a totally different language.

One language that has had a huge influence on English is Spanish — adding hundreds of words to English. Let’s take a look at some of the common English words borrowed from Spanish that English speakers use in daily conversation.

32 Borrowed words in English from Spanish

Here are 32 examples of words borrowed from Spanish to English. English speakers around the world use these words every single day. Below, you’ll find the word, its English meaning, and its Spanish origin.

1. Alligator

Alligators are big lizards found in the USA and China. The word “alligator” comes from the Spanish word "el lagarto" which means the lizard.

Interesting fact: When Spanish explorers first met alligators in Florida they called them "el lagarto." Over time, this changed into "alligator" in English.

2. Armada

An armada is a large fleet of ships (usually warships). The word comes directly from the Spanish word "armada.”

Interesting fact: The Spanish Armada going to attack England in 1588 was such a huge event that the word “armada” became a common way to describe a powerful fleet of warships.

3. Avocado

Avocados are pear-shaped fruits with rough skin. The word comes from the Spanish "aguacate," and the Nahuatl (Aztec) "ahuacatl."

4. Barracuda

Barracuda are scary-looking, tropical fish. The word comes directly from the Spanish word "barracuda."

5. Bonanza

A bonanza is something very valuable or profitable. It directly comes from the Spanish word “bonanza.”

6. Breeze

A breeze is a gentle and pleasant wind. It comes from the Spanish word "brisa."

7. Cafeteria

A cafeteria is a restaurant or dining area (like in a school) where people serve themselves. It comes directly from the Spanish word "cafetería."

8. Canyon

A canyon is a deep gorge with a river flowing through it. It comes from the Spanish word "cañón."

Interesting fact: "Cañón" originally meant "tube" or "pipe." Spanish speakers used this word to describe the deep valleys with steep sides they found in America.

9. Cargo

Cargo is the goods traveling around on ships, planes, and trucks. It comes from the Spanish word "cargo," meaning to load.

Interesting fact: During the Age of Exploration, Spanish ships carried valuable goods around the world. The word "cargo" become important in international transport and shipping.

10.Cigar

A cigar is like a big, fat (and often expensive) cigarette. The word comes from the Spanish word "cigarro."

11. Cockroach

Cockroaches are unpopular — but common — insects that are pests. The word comes from the Spanish "cucaracha."

Interesting fact: For words to integrate into another language, they sometimes have to change pronunciation and spelling. This makes it easier for the native speakers to use them. Cockroach is a great example of how a loanword evolves from its original form (“cucaracha”) to fit its new language.

12. Corral

A corral is a pen for cattle or horses. It comes from the Spanish word "corral," which means an area for animals on a farm.

13. Embargo

An embargo is an official ban on trade with a particular country — for example, the embargo the US placed on trade with Cuba in 1962. The word comes directly from the Spanish word "embargo."

14. Guerrilla

A guerilla is a member of a small group (like rebels, etc) fighting against a larger regular force (like an army). It comes from the Spanish word "guerrilla," which means little war

Interesting fact: "Guerrilla" started as a word to describe hit-and-run tactics small groups of fighters used against regular armies during the Napoleonic Wars in Spain. Since then it has become the English way to describe irregular warfare tactics and the people who use them.

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15. Hurricane

A hurricane is a tropical storm in the Caribbean and Southern USA. It comes from the Spanish word "huracán."

Interesting fact: The Taíno people indigenous to the Caribbean used the word "hurakán" to describe violent storms. Then Spanish explorers started using "huracán" to describe the powerful storms they experienced in the Caribbean. And later it became part of English as "hurricane."

16. Jalapeño

A Jalapeño is a medium-sized chili pepper common in Mexican cooking. It comes from the Spanish "jalapeño."

17. Javelin

A javelin is a spear nowadays used in athletics but was originally a weapon. It comes from the Spanish word "jabalina."

18. Junta

A junta is a government (usually a military one) that rules a country after taking power by force. It comes from the Spanish word "junta.”

19. Lasso

A lasso is a rope with a noose on the end that cowboys use to catch livestock. The word comes from the Spanish word "lazo," which means a rope or a knot.

20.Macho

Macho describes someone who is manly in an assertive, or aggressive way. It comes from the Spanish "macho," which means male.

21.Mosquito

From the Spanish "mosquito," meaning little fly, it refers to a small insect known for biting and potentially spreading diseases.

22. Patio

A patio is a paved, outdoor area of a house where people relax and eat. It comes directly from the Spanish word “patio,” which means courtyard.

Interesting fact: The architecture of Spanish-speaking countries places importance on outdoor and communal living spaces. The word “patio” reflects this. People in English-speaking countries, especially in warmer areas, continue this by using their patios for outdoor relaxation, dining, BBQs, etc.

23. Plaza

A plaza is a town-center public area for gatherings or markets. It comes from the Spanish word "plaza," meaning a public square or marketplace.

24. Puma

A puma is a wildcat in North, Central, and South America also known as a cougar. This word comes directly from the Spanish word "puma."

25. Ranch

A ranch is a large livestock farm in the western USA. It comes from the Spanish word "rancho," which means a small farm.

26. Renegade

A renegade is a person who deserts their cause, organization, country, etc. They’re often rebels and sometimes traitors. The word comes from the Spanish "renegado," which is an old word for someone who denies religion.

27.Rodeo

A rodeo is a horse, or bull riding sport for cowboys and cowgirls. It comes from the Spanish word "rodear," which means to go around.

Interesting fact: Originally, people used this word to describe rounding up cattle. But over time in the American West, it became a competitive sport involving various cowboy skills.

28. Savanna

A savanna is a grassy and hot place found in places like Africa, Brazil, and Australia. It comes from the Spanish word "sabana."

29.Stampede

A stampede is when many people or animals move suddenly, quickly, and in an uncontrolled way due to fear. It comes from the Spanish "estampida."

30. Tornado

A tornado is a violent, and fast-spinning column of wind that reaches from storm clouds to the ground in a funnel shape. It comes from the Spanish "tornado.".

Interesting fact: "Tornado" started from a combination of two Spanish words: "tronada," meaning "thunderstorm," and "tornar," meaning to turn. It originally described a thunderstorm but later came to specifically refer to the violently rotating column of air distinct to this natural phenomenon.

31. Vanilla

Vanilla and vanilla beans are a common food flavoring around the world. The word comes from the Spanish "vainilla."

Interesting fact: “Vainilla” originally referred to the long, pod-like fruits of the vanilla orchid, native to Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Brazil. Spanish explorers then introduced vanilla to Europe and its popularity spread around the world.

32. Vigilante

A vigilante is a member of a group who decided to fight crime in their area (even though they’re not the police). It comes from the Spanish word "vigilante," which means watchman.

You can’t learn English without picking up some Spanish along the way

Hundreds of Spanish words have integrated into English so well that most people don’t even know they’re not originally from English. Over centuries of communication between English and Spanish speakers, these words have become part of English with billions of people worldwide using them daily.

These English words from Spanish origin serve a real purpose. They fill the gaps in English vocabulary and make it a richer, more expressive language. Without them — and thousands of English words borrowed from languages other than Spanish — English wouldn’t be as we know it.

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