Cognate and false cognate

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Cognate and false cognate are linguistic terms. We will look at the definitions of cognate and false cognate, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A cognate is a word that is derived from the same source as another word, usually of a different language. For instance, the word doctor in English is a cognate of the word docteur in French, and the word doctor in Spanish, all derived from the Latin word docere which means to teach or to show. There are many cognates between English, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese as a large amount of words in these languages are based on Latin roots. The word cognate is derived from the Latin word cognatus  which means being of common descent.

A false cognate is a word that appears to be related to another word but in fact is not, as it is not derived from the same roots. For example, the word pie in English refers to a type of pastry, derived from the Latin word pia which means pastry. The Spanish word pie means foot, derived from the Latin word pes meaning foot. The English word pie and the Spanish word pie, though currently spelled in the same manner, come from two different root words.


Indeed, the force that operates most pervasively and powerfully in this novel is that of fear – a word whose cognates and synonyms appear throughout Neve’s narrative with unignorable frequency. (The Nation)

Next, people who were more language-savvy suggested that both the Chinese and Korean students would have a huge advantage because of all of the Chinese cognates between Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. (The Foreign Policy Journal)

The proofreader’s job is not to correct the translation but to note possible misinterpretations, especially false cognates (words that sound similar in both languages but do not necessarily mean the same thing). (The Daily Business Review)