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  • Clare Rainey

Spanish words, Arabic origins

I should start of by saying that this post is a bit of a cheat. I wrote it months back and shared it via my Facebook page but I have always been thoroughly fascinated by the etymology of words and, frankly, I want to put the post here where I can easily find it again. In my defence, I have added to it somewhat.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Real Alcázar in Seville last October. As well as being generally pretty breathtaking, the Real Alcázar is a superb example of Mudéjar, a style unique to Spain in which traditional Islamic elements were combined with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance design.



The rich legacy of Islamic Spain is reflected as much in the language as in the architecture. A number of Spanish nouns, as well as some English nouns, beginning with 'al' derive from Arabic. This is because in Arabic 'al' is the definite article and many words, such as 'alcázar', have retained this. It got me thinking about some of the other commonly used Spanish words beginning with 'al' that are of Arabic origin.

Here are just a few.


So, if you see a Spanish word that begins with 'al', it may well have Arabic origins. However, there are many, many other words in Spanish that are not so easy to spot yet are also derived from Arabic. One that is likely to be fairly well-known is 'ojalá'. This word can be translated as 'hopefully' in English and comes from the Arabic phrase for 'God willing', or 'law šá lláh'.

Here are a few more examples.


Interested in where the Spanish words you use come from? Go to the Real Academia Española website www.rae.es