Can You Tell Italian From Spanish Words?


By: Kevin Zed

6 Min Quiz

Image: Jebulon via WikiCommons

About This Quiz

“Learn a language!” they said.
“It’ll be fun!” they said. 

And so you started taking Italian. After mastering your verb tenses and gendered nouns, you decided to try out a new language: why not Spanish? You opened your first textbook and … wait a minute. Isn’t this Italian? Why do the two languages look so similar? 

Well, it’s because they’re both rooted in Latin, which was the operating language of the Roman Empire. After the Empire collapsed in the 5th century, multiple dialects naturally developed in previously occupied countries, including Italy and Spain. By some estimates, the existence of Italian is traced back to the 14th century, when Dante Alighieri, the poet known for the Divine Comedy, noted that Italy likely contained over a thousand dialects. Meanwhile, Spanish stems from the Castilian dialect, which emerged in the 9th century. When the kingdoms of Castile and León combined with that of Aragon in the 15th century, Spain declared Castilian as its official language, and Spanish eventually developed from there. 

With this history lesson out of the way, here’s a warm-up question: Is “storia,” meaning "history," an Italian or Spanish word? If you guessed the former, you’re right! Ready for the full quiz? It’s brimming with verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns and phrases that are either Italian or Spanish. Put your thinking cap on and let’s dive in!

Everywhere in the world, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Is "una cocina" Italian or Spanish?

The Italian word is similar, "cucina," and it's no doubt that Italians love to cook, or "cucinare." Food, or "comida" in Spanish, is also a big part of Spanish-speaking cultures, from curanto in Chile to ceviche in Peru.


Whether you’re in Columbia or Italy, who doesn’t love a cup of coffee with their breakfast? Speaking of which, what’s the Italian word for "breakfast"?

It’s common to refer to breakfast as "la prima colazione" in Italian, meaning "the first meal." Both Italian and Spanish use "cena" for "dinner," but only Spanish uses "desayuno" for "breakfast" and "almuerzo" for "lunch."


Hopefully this quiz hasn’t made you run away. Is "corridore" — the word for "runner" — Italian or Spanish?

Both Italian and Spanish contain gendered nouns, and "corridore" is a male runner. The female version is "corritrice." The Spanish term looks a lot like its Italian cousin: "corredor(a)."


Italian and Spanish are both romance languages, can you tell us the Italian word for "romance"?

While you might suspect that "romancia" is the Spanish variation, in fact, it's the first option. Who would’ve known? "Amor" is the Spanish word for "love," and "amore" is the Italian counterpart.


Oh no, there’s an Italian word in this Spanish sentence. Do you know which one? "Mi vecino siempre cocina riso en su jardín."

Why your neighbor would always be cooking rice in their backyard is a mystery. Regardless, "arroz" should be here, though it’s no wonder where risotto — the delicious Italian staple — got its name.


These word pairs contain either two Italian or Spanish words, except for one, which contains a word from each language. Which is it?

Each answer contains opposites, with the first being the Spanish words for "man and woman," and the second being "day" and "night" in Italian. The answer is "clean" in Italian and "dirty" in Spanish, and the last is Italian for "hot" and "cold."


Everyone knows that Latin America and Italy have amazing weather. What’s the Italian word for "sun"?

It often only takes one letter to distinguish Italian and Spanish words, in this case the "e." If it had been raining, the forecast would’ve called for "pioggia" — but if you were in a Spanish-speaking country, it would be "lluvia."


Some Italian and Spanish words look identical and have the same meanings. Which option doesn’t adhere to that rule?

The words for "moon," "cloud" and "house" are the same in both Spanish and Italian. But the Spanish equivalent of "portafoglio" — a wallet — is "billetera," easily remembered by noting that bills are kept in wallets.


Oh snap, a Spanish word has found its way into this Italian sentence. Do you know which one? "Voglio mangiare un postre in questo momento."

The sentence translates to, "I want to eat a dessert right now," and honestly, nobody’s blaming you. The correct word is "un dolce" or "un dessert," and the sentence’s Spanish variation is “Quiero comer un postre ahora mismo.”


It's almost lunchtime and you hear a light rumbling in your stomach. What’s the Italian term for "I’m hungry"?

Both Spanish and Italian refer to "having hunger" – in the first option, "ho" is the Italian word for "have," and "fame" is "hunger." "Tengo" is the first person singular of the verb "tener," also meaning "to have."


If you’ve studied either Spanish or Italian, this quiz might be a walk in the park. Which language does the verb "studiare" belong to?

If you’ve been an "estudiante" of Spanish, you’d know that the Spanish answer is "estudiar." And if you haven't, "acabas de aprender" — you just learned — something new. You may have noticed that "studiare" and "estudiar" are essentially the same but with the "e" reversed.


You’re playing Snakes And Ladders with your friends. Which word wouldn’t belong in the Spanish title?

The proper translation is "Serpientes Y Escaleras," and the Italian variation is "Serpenti E Scale." Regardless of the language, it's a fun game — or "juego divertido" in Spanish and "gioco divertente" in Italian.


These pairs each contain an Italian and Spanish word, except for one, which contains two Spanish words. Which is it?

The Italian and Spanish words for "beach," "boat" and "table" look quite different from each other. Speaking of tables, you’ll likely find a "tenedor" and "cuchillo" — "fork" and "knife" — on one.


This quiz is hopefully not driving you bananas. Is “plátano” — the word for “banana” — Italian or Spanish?

Believe it or not, the Italian word for "banana" is ... drum roll ... "la banana." So if you’re ever asked to speak a foreign language, just say "banana," though the person you’re talking to might think you’re "matto," or nuts.


A Spanish word has sneakily snuck into this Italian sentence. Which one is it? "Sono andato a Firenze verano scorsa."

The question's phrase, "I went to Florence last summer," is a dream but the mistake is a nightmare. "Verano" is the Spanish word for "summer," which should’ve been "estate." Fun fact: Just as location names often change depending on the language, "Florence" in Spanish is "Florencia."


The Italian flag is green, white and red. Which color is actually written in Spanish?

This question is a bit tricky, because "verde" is also the Spanish word for "green." The second option should be "bianco" (or "bianca" if modifying a female noun), while the Spanish equivalent of "rosso" is "rojo" (or "roja").


Both Spain and Italy are known for their amazing museums. What’s the Spanish word for "painting"?

There’s no doubt an abundance of gorgeous "pinturas" in the Prado Museum in Madrid, and likewise for the "dipinti" in Rome’s Galleria Borghese. "Pintar" and "dipingere" are the verbs for "to paint" in Spanish and Italian, respectively.


You’re strolling down Geneva’s iconic Rue du Rhône, when someone approaches you, asking for your "nome." Which language are they speaking, and what did they ask for?

Unbeknownst to many people, Italian is one of Switzerland’s official languages. Had the person been speaking Spanish, they would’ve asked for your "nombre," which looks a lot like "number," but that’s "número" The Italian variation of "number" is almost identical: "numero."


Naples is a charming Italian town, known for being near Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano. Speaking of which, is "volcán" an Italian or Spanish word?

The Italian word is "volcano" and, guess what, the translation of "lava" is "lava." Care to guess the Spanish word? You'll be amused to know it's also "lava." What about eruption? "Erupción" and "eruzione" in Spanish and Italian, respectively.


Some Italian and Spanish words look the same, yet have different meanings. However, one word here is identical in both spelling and definition. Do you know which one?

Ask a Spanish speaker for a "burro" and they’ll wonder why you’re requesting a donkey. An Italian, on the other hand, will pass you butter. If you say you need it "pronto" in Spanish, they’ll think you need it soon, whereas an Italian will think you’re saying "I’m ready." This is odd for English speakers, but "topo" doesn’t mean "top" in either language – it's "mouse" in Italian and "mole" in Spanish.


Quizzes contain so many questions and answers, don’t they? Do you know which option is Italian for "questions" and "answers"?

"Preguntas" is the Spanish word for "questions," and "respuestas" means "answers." The Italian verb for "to ask" is "domandare," though there are several variations for specific ways of questioning, such as "interrogare" for "to interrogate."


Mamma mia! There’s an Italian word in this Spanish sentence. Which one? "Las occhiali no me quedaban bien."

This sentence says, "The glasses didn't look good on me," or "The glasses didn't suit me," and its Italian equivalent is, "Gli occhiali non mi andavano bene," with "occhiali" replacing "gafas."


In Italy, the town of Caldari di Ortona has a fountain that dispenses wine all day — yes, you read that right. What’s the Italian word for "wine"?

This is a bit of a twist, because "vino" is also the Spanish word for "wine." The other three options are Spanish, meaning "water," "beer" and "milk" — or "acqua," "birra" and "latte" in Italian.


Italy’s population is estimated to be almost 60.5 million people. Can you tell us the word for "population"?

A population is comprised of people, or "gente" and "persone" in Spanish and Italian. Rome is estimated to have about 2.8 million people, making it Italy's biggest city, though this doesn't include urban areas. Milan is the second-largest, with 1.7 million inhabitants, but counting urban zones renders it much bigger.


These word pairs contain Italian synonyms, except for one, which contains an Italian and a Spanish word. Do you know which one?

If you didn't answer the first, you're probably "contento" or "gioioso" — happy or joyful. If you answered the second, you might be "triste" or "infelice" — sad or unhappy. And if you're worried or anxious about your Italian skills, you might have accidentally picked the third. "Emocionado" is Spanish for "excited," which is surely what you're feeling if you got this right.


You're probably hoping most of your answers are right. If so, do you know how to correctly say, "Correct and incorrect" in Italian?

Another way of saying "wrong" in Italian is "sbagliato," or "sbagliata" if referring to a female noun. If talking about the verb "to correct," use "correggere" in Italian and "corregir" in Spanish.


The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination in the province of Salerno. What's the Italian word for coastline?

"Mar" means "sea" in Spanish, and the Amalfi Coast lies on the Tyrrhenian Sea. You'll surely encounter "arena," Spanish for "sand," on the coastline. And you'll need a "toalla" or "towel" if you plan on hitting the beach. Sometimes, "costiera" is used interchangeably with "costa," meaning "coast."


Madrid's Gran Vía is a popular shopping district, but finding an Italian speaker to translate your fashion choices might be a little difficult. Which word pair translates to "shirt and pants" in Italian?

"Camisa" and "pantalones" are the Spanish counterparts, but there are variations depending on the type of shirt and pants. For example, a "T-shirt" is "una camiseta," and "shorts" are "pantalones cortos" or simply "shorts."


Alessandro Volta was an Italian scientist, known for creating the electric battery. Can you tell us the Italian word for "electricity"?

"Voltaje" and "voltaggio" mean "voltage" in Spanish and Italian, respectively, but should not be confused with the words for "volt" — "voltio" and "volt." In case you're baffled about the difference, even in English, volts are a unit of measure for voltage, which is an electromotive force.


An Italian word is hidden in this Spanish sentence. Do you know which one? "Nuestro volo fue tarde y esperamos dos horas."

This sentence translates to, "Our flight was late and we waited two hours," but the "volo" should be "vuelo." The Italian version is, "Il nostro volo era in ritardo e abbiamo aspettato due ore."


Can you identify the Italian adverb among the three Spanish adjectives?

You might be "orgulloso" — or proud — if you got the answer right, but you might be "enfadado" — or angry — if it's wrong. If you were slow to answer, you could say you were "lento."


Make sure to pack a map if you visit Italy's Labirinto della Masone, the biggest maze in the world. Which direction isn't written in Italian?

The Italian version of "east" is "est," whereas the Spanish answers would be "norte," "sur" and "oeste." If you decide to buy a map, ask the clerk for a "mappa." If you were in a Spanish-speaking country, you'd request a "mapa."


By some estimations, tourism accounts for 16% of Spain's GDP and has undoubtedly created plenty of jobs. Which option isn't a job in Spanish?

You'll surely encounter a "camarero," Spanish for "waiter," on a trip. If staying at a hotel, you'll also likely talk to a "mucama," or "maid." The Spanish equivalent of "autista" — a driver — is a "conductor," who may even be your guide, or "guía."


Can you tell us which option is "left and right" in Spanish?

Left-handed Italians must love knowing their handedness sounds a lot like the word "sinister": "sinistro." Don't confuse "derecha" with "derecho," which refers to a "right," such as human rights.


In many Spanish-speaking countries, it's a tradition to eat twelve grapes on New Year's Eve, representing good luck in each month. Which option isn't a Spanish month?

The Italian translation of "January," the first answer, is "gennaio." "Maggio" and "giugno" are "May" and "June," options two and three, and the Spanish version of "July" is "julio."


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