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The words I learned when beginning Spanish for east and west are este and oeste, which are basically cognates of their English equivalents.

But I've been told that there are other words to denote east and west: oriente and poniente. How did these words get those connotations? Are there times when you would use these words and not este and oeste?

Also the main words for north and south are norte and sur, which again are basically cognates. Are there non-cognate words in Spanish that connote north and south?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Oriente and Poniente are words that come from Latin/Italian.

The former comes from oriĕns, from the verb orīri, "to be born"; this refers to the sun coming out in the morning from east. Another word for it is "Levante". The latter comes from the verb ponĕre in Latin, more exactly from ponens; it refers to the sun going down. Also "Occidente" is used for this, like pleasedontbelong pointed out. "Occidente" comes from occidĕre, "to fall, to set (refering to the sun)".

The opposites work like this:

  • Occidente - Oriente
  • Poniente - Levante

I'm not sure there really is a strict rule for when you should use one of the other one, but I suppose it depends on your choice.

The other words for "north" and "south" are "septentrional" or "norteño" for the former, and "meridional" for the latter.

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you could also say "occidente" instead of "poniente"... it's more common –  pleasedontbelong Nov 19 '11 at 18:35
    
Yeah "occidente" is the opposite of "oriente", you're right! :) –  Alenanno Nov 19 '11 at 18:36
    
There's a little typo in the opposites list, you missed an "i" in Poninete. –  Gonzalo Medina Nov 20 '11 at 0:52
    
Ops! Thanks, I didn't notice it. –  Alenanno Nov 20 '11 at 1:23
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De nada. A propósito, "Saliente" y "Naciente" se usan también para "Este" y "ocaso" se usa para "Oeste". –  Gonzalo Medina Nov 21 '11 at 2:03
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