7 Spanish Words Used in English

We’ve said it before, but English is truly a wonderful language because it has taken on words from many other languages. It’s one of my favorite things about English, and can make it a bit easier for new learners, since they recognize some words from their mother tongues. This week we’ll tackle (work out, handle) Spanish words used in English.

On the Bespeaking blog, we’ve covered loan words from German (here and here), as well as loan words from  FrenchLatinUS vs. UK words, and even Yiddish. So we figured it was about time we rolled around to (finally did something) covering loan words from Spanish. Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the United States and some of the words we get from it may surprise you!

Here are 7 Spanish words used in English:


The English word alligator comes from the Spanish “el lagarto,” meaning lizard.

Don’t confuse an alligator with a crocodile! The alligator is native to (comes originally from) the Americas, while the crocodile is native to Africa. While they’re related, they’re not quite the same.


This word is pretty common if you live in New York City. People will say that they’re “running to the bodega downstairs.” We get the word bodega from Spanish, but what is it exactly?

In Spanish, bodega means “cellar, or basement,” but in NYC, it’s pretty much like a Späti: a little shop that’s open (usually) all the time so that you can easily get food and some basics when the other stores are closed.


The word for everyone’s favorite sweet comes from Spanish, too! Chocolate was originally from the Nahuatl (a Native tribe) word “xocolatl” meaning hot water. When the Spanish settlers (people who come and live in a new place for the first time) and conquistadors came to South America, they turned the word into “chocolate” and brought the delicious (tasty, yummy) treat back to Europe with them.


Have you ever heard the word flotilla in English? A flotilla is a group of boats or ships and is another great example of a Spanish word used in English. A flotilla is the diminutive form (‘little’, or the small form of a word. In English: ette, like Tonette or ‘little Toni’) of flota, or a fleet.


While jade, a green gemstone (jewel, gem), may be most known for coming from Asia, our word for it in English actually comes from Spanish! The original Spanish is piedra de ijada, which means “stone of flank.”

People used to believe that jade would cure illnesses (sicknesses, diseases) having to do with the kidneys or legs, which is where its Spanish name comes from.


A personal story on this Spanish word used in English: My family used to make fun of my younger brother because when we took road trips and stopped at a gas station (petrol station, filling station), he would always get a pack of beef jerky. Little did we know that the word jerky comes from the Spanish charqui meaning “dried flesh.”

To be fair, beef jerky can be pretty good…and my brother still gets it at gas stations from time to time.


While potatoes have become a staple of European cooking, did you know that the potato actually comes from South America? So it only makes sense that the word potato comes from Spanish (originally patata).

The potato is also an example of a domesticated vegetable, as it used to be poisonous until native tribes slowly bred (to grow something like a vegetable or to raise something like an animal) it to be edible.

Do you know of any other Spanish words used in English? Which of these surprised you? Share with us in the comments below!

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Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and loves chocolate! Send chocolate…