Advanced Spanish Vocabulary: Word Families [familia de palabras] (2023)

Advanced Spanish Vocabulary: Word Families [familia de palabras] (1)

December 20, 2020 by Luis F. Dominguez Spanish Grammar, Spanish Vocabulary 0 comments

Would you like to significantly improve your Spanish vocabulary?

Today, I’m going to show you a smart way to do just that—without relying on boring memorization tricks. Word families have the power to improve your Spanish vocabulary, as they offer clues to the meaning of words and connect to other similar words.

Keep reading to discover what word families are, how they will help you improve your Spanish vocabulary, the benefits of learning them, and some of the main word families in the Spanish language.

How to Improve Your Spanish Vocabulary

Acquiring Spanish vocabulary is a key part of your language learning process. If you don’t know the words, it’s impossible to speak the language.

However, traditional methods used for learning vocabulary rely heavily on flashcards and memorization. While there is a time and a place for that, smarter ways to improve your Spanish vocabulary now exist.

One of these ways is the study of word families! Learning these groups of related words makes it easier for you to remember and use them.

Advanced Spanish Vocabulary: Word Families [familia de palabras] (2)

What Are Word Families?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a word family is “a group of related words that are formed from the same word.”

Words of the same family always have something in common with each other, whether a prefix, suffix, or root word.Two types of word families exist: rhyming and morphological.

Rhyming Word Families

As their name indicates, words with similar ending sounds form rhyming word families. Rappers are masters of these kinds of word families.

Some examples include

  • coche (car), noche (night), and broche (brooch)
  • zeta (zeta), maceta (flower pot), and calceta (stocking)

Morphological Word Families

When words share a common structure and meaning, they belong to the same morphological word family. To expand your Spanish vocabulary, you’ll want to focus on this kind of word family.

Examples of morphological word families include

  • activo (active), proactivo (proactive), and actividad (activity)
  • comer (to eat), comida (food), and comedor (dining room)

Why Are Word Families Important for Language Learners?

As a Spanish student, you want to learn everything related to the language. Improving your Spanish vocabulary is definitely one of the goals, and studying word families is a great way to do precisely that.

Word families help you to understand where words come from and how they are structured. They give you insight into the meaning of words and work like a trail of breadcrumbs to help you discover and understand more words.

Benefits of Learning Word Families

So, we’ve established that word families are great, but what’s in it for you? How are you going to directly benefit from studying word families?

Benefits of learning word families:

  • Increase and improve your Spanish vocabulary
  • Recognize word patterns
  • Recognize sounds from letter combinations
  • Improve reading comprehension
  • Identify root words and understand their common meanings
  • Improve your reading fluency
  • Improve your writing skills

Researchers have found that we learn by making connections between what we already know and what we are currently learning. This is the central idea of studying word families to increase your Spanish vocabulary.

The Parts of a Word Family

From now on, when I talk about word families I’m referring to morphological word families. Studying rhyming families has its benefits, too, but they are mostly centered around helping children learn to read in their native language.

We’re interested in the clues and insights morphological word families provide. This way, you can make connections and improve your Spanish vocabulary.

Every word in a word family comes from the same root word. In Spanish, root words are called palabras primitivas. They usually originate from a Latin or Greek word. The part of the word shared with other members of the same family is called la raíz, which means “root.”

That raíz is also known as a lexema.

The second part of a word is called gramema, and that’s the part that changes from word to word in the family.

Every word in Spanish is formed by a lexema and a gramema. Prefixes and suffixes may be added, too. Sometimes, the prefix plays the role of a lexema and the suffix the role of a gramema.

Now that you know how Spanish words are built, let’s focus on the practical benefits of learning word families to improve your Spanish vocabulary.

Common Spanish Word Families

You can study the following word families to improve your Spanish vocabulary. Instead of trying to memorize them, focus on understanding the root word. That’s the key to continue learning more and more words on your own.

1. The Agua Family

Root word: agua (water)

Derived words: acuático (aquatic), acuoso (watery), aguacero (downpour), aguarrás (turpentine oil), paraguas (umbrella)

Notice how the root can change in its form and position in derived words. In acuático and acuoso, the root is still there, but it shows its Latin roots (aqua). In paraguas, the root is also there but not at the beginning of the word like in most cases.

This can happen with other word families, as well.

2. The Flor Family

Root word: flor (flower)

Derived words: florido (flowery), florista (florist), floral (floral), flora (flora), florecer (to flourish), florería (flower shop)

3. The Leer Family

Root word: leer (to read)

Derived words: leyendo (reading), leyenda (legend), lector/a (reader), lectura (reading)

4. The Libro Family

Root word: libro (book)

Derived words: librería (bookstore), librero (bookcase), libreta (notebook), libreto (screenplay)

5. The Deporte Family

Root word: deporte (sport)

Derived words: deportivo (sporty), deportista (athlete), deportividad (sportsmanship), polideportivo (sports club)

6. The Pan Family

Root word: pan (bread)

Derived words: panadero/a (baker), panecillo (biscuit), panadería (bakery), panera (bread bin)

7. The Mar Family

Root word: mar (sea)

Derived words: marítimo (maritime), marino (sailor), ultramar (overseas), maremoto (seaquake)

8. The Luz Family

Root word: luz (light)

Derived words: luciérnaga (firefly), luminoso (bright), iluminado (enlightened), ilustración (enlightenment)

9. The Radio Family

Root word: radio (radio)

Derived words: radiación (radiation), radiodifusora (broadcaster), irradiar (radiate), radiante (radiant)

10. The Sol Family

Root word: sol (sun)

Derived words: solar (solar), soleado (sunny), solsticio (solstice), solana (solarium)

11. The Zapato Family

Root word: zapato (shoe)

Derived words: zapatilla (slipper), zapatero/a (shoemaker), zapateo (stomping), zapateado (tap dance)

Practice Your Word Families

These are just 11 of the many word families that exist in the Spanish language. Practice them and search for other words in the same family. Once you master them, look for more word families to keep improving your Spanish vocabulary.

Leave a comment below to share more words derived from these word families or add a new family to the list!

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Luis F. Dominguez

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Luis F. Domínguez is a freelance writer and independent journalist interested in travel, languages, art, books, history, philosophy, politics and sports. He has written for Fodor’s, Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated, Telemundo, and Villa Experience, among other brands of print and digital media in Europe and North America.

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