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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?


Note: there is a follow-up of this question in What are the Spanish words for North and South and how are they different?.

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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
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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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    Septentrional means northern, not North. And the same for meridional, which means southern. The nouns are: septentrión and mediodía – MikMik Dec 27 '11 at 8:57
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    @MikMik Where did I say that? I said "the other words for... are...", that's different. – Alenanno Dec 27 '11 at 10:21
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    En Chile para ubicarnos en las ciudades usamos el par oriente - poniente, que no es muy lógico pero estamos acostumbrados. – Rodrigo Jun 16 '16 at 0:28

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