Arabic Loanwords In English

By Sharon

The Arabic language has contributed hundreds of words to the English language by many different routes. That’s partly because in what my daughter likes to call the olden days (from around 700AD to the Middle Ages), the Arabic kingdoms had a great influence on Europe and the world. In part this was through colonisation, but there were also many great mathematicians, alchemists and astronomers.

Of course, language development is not that simple. Not all the words that have entered English via Arabic originate from that language. Linguistically speaking, the Arabs borrowed as freely as they lent and their language included words originating from Spanish, Latin, Greek, Persian, Hebrew and many others. Many of the words start with the Arabic definite article ‘al’, which also appears in silent form without the l in words such as admiral. Here’s a list of some of the common words that the Arabic language has bequeathed to English.

  • admiral
  • adobe
  • alchemy – via Greek
  • alcohol – the quintessence of earthly substances, originally from alchemy
  • alcove
  • algebra – restoration of missing parts, later used in a 9th century mathematical book written by a Persian scientist whose name gave us algorithm
  • almanac
  • amber
  • apricot
  • arsenal – factory
  • assassin – hashish user
  • artichoke
  • aubergine
  • burnoose – via Latin
  • caliber
  • carat – via Greek
  • checkmate
  • coffee – possibly from the name Kefa, where the coffee plant originates
  • cotton
  • divan
  • elixir – medicinal potion, via Greek
  • gauze – from the Persian for raw silk
  • gazelle
  • genie
  • giraffe
  • harem
  • hashish
  • henna
  • jasmine – from Arabic via French
  • kohl
  • lilac, from Persian for indigo
  • lime
  • loofah
  • lute
  • magazine – storehouse
  • mocha – named after a city in Yemen
  • monsoon
  • mummy – via Persian
  • muslin
  • nadir
  • orange
  • safari – from Arabic via Swahili
  • saffron
  • sequin
  • sugar
  • tamarind
  • tariff
  • typhoon
  • zenith
  • zero

There’s a fun quiz on Arabic loan words here and more words can be found here.

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12 Responses to “Arabic Loanwords In English”

  • Matilda

    Thanks for this post. You know I got 9 out of 10 on that quiz 😀 – I’ve been trying to learn Arabic for the last 6 years now.

    I think you should have more quiz’s on this site – I like taking them, I’ve already taken all the ones you have on here! 🙂

  • Matilda

    mar-ha-ba – مرحبا – means ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ in Arabic

    ma’a- sal-ama – مع سلامه – means ‘with peace’ literally, and is used to say ‘bye’

  • Matilda

    Can quizzes be spelt as quiz’s as well? – because I’ve seen both being used, is it a UK/US difference?

  • Meg

    Quiz’s is just wrong, unless you’re talking about something that belongs to the quiz. Apostrophes are only used in simple plurals when you are pluralizing lowercase letters (eg., “mind your p’s and q’s”).

  • D.F. Rucci

    I had no clue those words were arabic. Thanks a lot for the informational post I am learning a lot through your blog.

  • Matilda

    Okay, thanks for clearing that up for me Meg, I really didn’t know as I had seen it spelt that way a few times.

  • David Hamilton

    Very interesting word list. I think I found alcohol and algebra to be the most interesting.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall

    Thanks for reading, everyone, and for adding to my limited knowledge of Arabic, Matilda.

  • Matilda

    You’re very welcome Sharon 🙂 If you would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to say.

  • Mike Mathews

    Are you sure that Typhoon is an Arabic loan word?

    I’ve checked the Pocket Oxford Dictionary and it agrees with you, but I’ve questioned an Arab and none of the Arabic words for Typhoon or big wind sound right.

    The POD says it comes from Arabic and Chinese. The Chinese route is clear. Taifeng, the Mandarin for Typhoon sounds like the English Typhoon.

  • Fadhel AlAqeel

    Typhoon is very close to the Arabic word Toofan and it means a strong storm.

  • zaki alakhdar

    I`m an arabic blogger, and I have some fun for you, that some Arabic words go to English, then comeback to Arabic after have been changed, shus as “algawl” الغول become “alcohol” then come back to arabic but stay “alcohol الكحول” I was think that it Engish word.
    also “cake” is arabic “ca`k كعك” come back to arabic “cake كيك”

    and more espishaly in scientific terms.

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