"Atender" is translated as to assist in Spanish, while "asistir" is translated as "to attend". These words seem to be cognates of each other, but have opposite meanings when translated. How did this occur? Are there any research articles/ journal papers describing how one deviated from the other?

  • Great question! It would be interesting to see the etymology of those 4 words.
    – jrdioko
    Jul 20, 2012 at 18:27
  • 3
    Even in English, an attendant is one who assists, and in that same context, to attend is also to assist.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 23, 2012 at 0:09
  • 1
    Depending on the context, "assist" is "asistir" (help) and "attend" is "atender" (take care of). Probably this is a good question for Linguistics.SE.
    – JoulSauron
    Jul 26, 2012 at 11:02
  • 1
    @JoulSauron: I think you're right... this seems more of a linguistics of spanish question than just a pure spanish question.
    – Paul
    Jul 26, 2012 at 19:59
  • 2
    I don't think that they "became" the opposite of their cognates. The two languages evolved separately. "Atender" is translated as to assist in Spanish." Atender is not translated into Spanish: it is Spanish.This question is not great. Each term has to be researched separately. And then, you can comment on the differences....the terms attend and assist in English and assistir and attender in Spanish all come from Latin.
    – Lambie
    Feb 22, 2019 at 20:17

5 Answers 5


Los orígenes de ambas lenguas no se basan en las mismas raíces. El inglés tiene sus raíces en lenguas germánicas, pero en algunos casos la raíz viene de palabras francesas, como es el caso de 'attend' y 'assist'.

En español, 'atender' y 'asistir' provienen directamente de las raíces latinas:

  • Asistir: 'assistere' formada por el prefijo 'ad' de proximidad y el verbo 'sistere' (tomar posiciones, estar en un sitio fijo).
  • Atender: 'attendere' formada por el prefijo 'ad' de proximidad y el verbo 'tendere' (tender o estirar), que aunque no es el significado de la palabra en uso común, se utiliza para hacer referencia a las acciones de ayudar o estar concentrado en alguna acción.

Por contra, las palabras inglesas 'attend' y 'assist' vienen del francés 'atendre' y 'assister'.
Aún así las palabras 'attendre' y 'assister' tienen las mismas raíces que sus respectivas en español. La diferencia entre el significado tanto en español como en francés respecto al inglés se debe a las influencias germánicas, y no a las latinas, dado que en francés el significado de estas palabras es el contrario que en inglés pero igual que en español.

  • No sé si he entendido bien el último párrafo. ¿'attendre' y 'assister' es como en inglés o como en castellano?
    – JoulSauron
    Jul 26, 2012 at 9:02
  • Como en castellano, tienen el mismo significado, por lo cual, es opuesto al significado que tiene en inglés.
    – Nuxy
    Jul 26, 2012 at 9:04
  • 2
    Por favor, deberías explicar exactamente cómo una putativa influencia germánica puede haber cambiado el sentido in las versiones inglesas respecto a las castallanas, pues que no queda nada claro. Dado que vienen al inglés a través del francés y de ahí el latín, no veo como entra lo germánico en todo esto.
    – tchrist
    Jul 26, 2012 at 12:26
  • El hecho es que no se puede comparar una lengua con raíces germánicas a otra con raíces latinas. No conozco la etimología inglesa pero si la latina al ser parlante de 3 lenguas latinas como son el español, catalán y francés. Entre las 3 lenguas el significado de las palabras que han generado la discusión son el mismo dado su orígen latino. Por contra el inglés ha cogido en algún caso palabras de latino pero el latín no es el origen principal, por lo que habría que meterse en etimología inglesa y no española en este caso.
    – Nuxy
    Jul 26, 2012 at 12:32
  • 1
    English is full of Latin-origin words. So saying it evolved from a Germanic origin is not correct. And the English words attend and assist are from Latin just like atender and asistir in Spanish also come from Latin. Only the paths they took are different.
    – Lambie
    Feb 22, 2019 at 20:19

According to sources like this, the English versions of the two words are derived directly from the Latin. So it then becomes a question of how they deviated in Spanish.

"Assist" has something of the connotation of "seat" (la silla) in Spanish. That could lead to the meaning of "to sit in" or participate in, i.e., "to attend."

"Attend" has something of the connotation of "to wait." Originally it meant to "wait FOR," but the meaning in Spanish somehow turned to "to wait ON," which could mean "to assist" or "to help."

  • I figured as much, since the cognates in french are the same as those in english...
    – Paul
    Jul 22, 2012 at 15:26
  • 1
    I'm really interested in finding out when the shift occurred, and an explanation for the shift. Do you know of any linguistic research on this?
    – Paul
    Jul 22, 2012 at 15:31

The accepted answer is dubious. There is no evidence that any Germanic influence is involved in the difference observed between these verbs given the fact that at the time English borrowed these words from French, they already had multiple meanings.

In French, assister means to attend when transitive direct (J'assisterai au concours de danse = I will attend the danse competition) and to assist when transitive indirect (Je les assisterai pour le concours = I will assist them for the competition). The single substantive assistance means either the audience or the help/aid. This duality can also be found in English, Spanish and Italian (assistere means both to assist and to attend)

The modern French attendre means "to wait" but also had, during the time French was spoken by English aristocracy, the different meaning of "being attentive", "pay attention to" which was the one kept in English.

Attendre, atender and "to attend" all eventually come from the Latin adtendere (to extend1 toward) while assister, asistir and to assist all come from the Latin adsistere (to stay toward, close).

Looking back to the roots, it is clear there is a logical link between all of these forms. They are not opposite but happens to have their main meaning more or less specialized.

It can be noted that the current French attendre currently mean "to wait" which commonly translates to esperar in Spanish. In French, espérer does exist but is now specialized to mean "to hope".

It is just a natural tendency for words to diverge over time, and meanings either to narrow or to widen when two branches of a common ancestor grow on their own.

1 To "extend his mind toward" in that case.


Both assist and attend (English) come from Latin through French (Old French, Middle French) into English. English is a Germanic language, but English words are not necessarily derived from German or any Germanic language. The Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 and subsequent centuries of Norman French introduced many word items into English (along with syntax and morphology).

The Germanic and Celtic languages and Latin (Vulgar Latin) had centuries of contact (speaking in terms of speakers in contact), and it is sometimes not immediately clear that "Germanic" or Celtic word items in Spanish are Germanic or Celtic, respectively, because they came into Spanish (Romance, Old Spanish) through the period of Roman occupation and bore Latin inflections. Germanic and Arabic contact produces toponyms in Spanish as well. If you want to visualize Roman-Peninsular contact, it is portrayed in The Gladiator, a a film set in Spain's Roman period, whose the protagonist is known as "The Spaniard."

  • 1
    But this does not answer the question... Oct 22, 2013 at 21:54
  • The question is flawed and I'm grateful someone put this on the right path.
    – Lambie
    Feb 22, 2019 at 20:21

I'm spanish and I would say that 'asistir' is like when you're going to an event, a class, etc, so, you're present there, you went to the event.

By the other hand 'Atender' is said when you're waiting for something in a formal way, but, it's commonly used to say that you're taking atention on something, like listening your teacher, etc.

  • Gracias por la explicacion, pero la pregunta mas bien se trata del origen de la diferencia entre los cognados entre ingles y espanol que las significancias en espanol.
    – Paul
    Jul 26, 2012 at 4:38
  • En parte creo que no es comparable dado que las raíces de cada una de las lenguas son diferentes. Así que daré otra respuesta que se adapte más a la pregunta.
    – Nuxy
    Jul 26, 2012 at 6:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.