English Words from Arabic

The English language borrows from many older languages. Do you know these common English words from Arabic?

In the year 711, Arabic speakers called the Moors fought for and won control of what are now Portugal and Spain. The popular language in that part of Europe was Latin. Spain and Portugal later came under Christian rule, but Arabic words still remain in Spanish and Portuguese. Some of these entered English from Latin.

Top english words from arabic



Commonly used in mathematics, algebra solves problems with numbers and symbols. It’s one of the older types of math, already known in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The word “algebra” comes into English words from Arabic “al jebr,” meaning “the piecing back together of broken parts.” Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi first used the term in a math book he wrote in the 9th century CE.

It’s thought to have entered English from Spain. There, Arabic-speaking medical workers used “al jebr” to describe setting a broken bone.


The number system used in the English-speaking parts of the world is called the Arabic (or Hindu-Arabic) numeral system. India began using it around the 7th century, but it may have been used even earlier in Persia (modern Iran).

Likely, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system combines symbols from both Indian and Arabic sources. Mathematician Al-Khwarizmi helped the system spread through the Middle East.

In Europe, the Moors used their Arabic numeral system throughout Spain. A man named Gerbert of Aurillac visited Spain and learned it there.

Gerbert became the pope, an important religious leader, in the 15th century. When he did, he helped the Hindu-Arabic numeral system replace the Roman numeral system that Europeans used at the time.

Food and drink


The English “alcohol” came from the Arabic “al kohl.” Kohl is a dark powder that’s mixed with something oily to make eye makeup.

Historians aren’t clear on how a word for eye makeup powder became a word for a drink. They think the change happened after the word entered English. It first meant “powder distilled from minerals.” Over time it came to mean the drinkable liquid made from distilling fruits and other things.


In Arabic, coffee is called “qahwah.” Arabic-speaking traders in Yemen and other parts of Middle East sold their coffee beans to traders in Turkey. In the Turkish language, “qahwah” became “kahveh.”

The Turks shared their coffee with the Italians, who called it “caffe.” The drink became popular with English speakers by the 17th century, when “caffe” became “coffee.”


The sour, yellow fruit first came from Southeastern Asia or India. From India, it was introduced to Arab traders, who called the fruit “laimun”.

The first Europeans to buy lemons were the Spanish. From Spain, lemons spread to France, where they were called “limon.” Many, many English words are borrowed from French.