Sp. acompañar, Eng. accompany, and related words
There are two cognate verbs derived from the stem of the words Sp. compañero and Eng. companion, namely Sp. acompañar and Eng. accompany. Their meanings are quite similar, but the two verbs differ somewhat as to the registers they are associated with, since the Spanish verb is a rather common word and the English one is rather fancy (cf. Part I, Chapter 2, §2.5).
The English verb accompany [ə.ˈkʌm.pə.ni] is an early 15th century loan from Middle French accompagner ‘to be in company with, etc.’, from an earlier Old French coinage acompaignier ‘to take as a companion’, derived from the noun compaignon and first attested in the 12th century (cf. Modern Fr. accompagner [a.kɔ̃.pa.ˈɲe]). In other words, French coined the verb out of the noun by using the prefix a‑ (derived from Latin ad‑ ‘to’) and the infinitival verbal ending -er. This is an exact analog of Sp. acompañar (a+compañ+ar), with the same meaning, also first attested in the 12th century, in the Cantar de Mío Cid (cf. Part I, §10.7). Because of the early appearance of this verb in the various Romance languages, it is quite possible that this verb had its origins in Vulgar Latin or early Romance. The original meaning of this verb seems to have been ‘to take someone as companion, to associate with’.
The verb accompany has several senses (meanings). Dictionaries differ as to how many senses this verb has, but most agree on three, one of which has two subsenses. We follow here the definitions and examples in Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
- ‘to go somewhere with someone’: this is a fancy way to say to go with or to come with, etc., e.g. She accompanied me to the store (cf. the less formal She walked me to the store)
- [typically passive] (a) ‘to happen or occur at the same time as or along with (something)’, e.g. The thunderstorm was accompanied by high winds; (b) ‘to go together with or to be included with (something)’, e.g. A delicious sauce accompanied the grilled fish.
- ‘to play music with (someone who is singing or playing the main tune): to perform an accompaniment for (someone)’, e.g. He will be accompanying her on the piano.
We can refer to these three senses of the word accompany as the ‘escort’ sense, the ‘supplement’ sense, and the ‘musical’ sense. The Spanish verb acompañar has all three senses as well. This doesn’t mean, however, that all cases in which one would use one of these verbs should be translated by expressions with its cognate in the other language. As we have already mentioned, there is a difference in register for these verbs, since the English verb accompany is more ‘formal’ than its Spanish cognate. Thus, for example, in Spanish, it is quite normal for someone to ask a friend something like ¿Me acompañas?, meaning ‘Will you come with me?’, whereas the literal English translation, Will you accompany me?, sounds much more formal.
Additionally, sometimes English has expressions with verbs other than accompany whose translation typically calls for Sp. acompañar, as in the following use of the ‘escort’ sense in Spanish:
- She saw/walked us to the door: Nos acompañó a la puerta
Furthermore, there are a number of idiomatic expressions with Sp. acompañar that do not usually translate into English with accompany. For example, the ‘supplement’ sense of Sp. acompañar is used in idiomatic expressions with subjects such as suerte ‘luck’ and buen tiempo ‘good weather’, e.g.
- Nos acompañó la suerte ‘We were lucky’ (lit. ‘Luck accompanied us’)
- Nos acompañó el buen tiempo ‘We enjoyed good weather’ (lit. ‘Good weather accompanied us’)
The ‘escort’ sense of Sp. acompañar can also be used metaphorically in a common idiomatic expression to give condolences (Sp. dar el pésame) in a way that its English cognate cannot be used:
- Te/lo/la acompaño en el sentimiento ‘Please, accept my condolences’
Finally, let us mention that this verb’s past participle, acompañado/a, can be used as an adjective as well, like most past participles. The following are some examples of this use:
- Estoy bien/mal acompañado ‘I am in good/bad company’
- Juan vino acompañado de sus hijos ‘Juan came together with his children’
- Este plato viene acompañado de guarnición ‘This dish comes with accompaniment/garnish’
There are also a couple of nouns derived from the verb acompañar in Spanish: acompañante, acompañamiento. The noun acompañante is formed with the agentive suffix ‑ante that comes from the accusative form ‑a‑nt‑em of the Latin first conjugation present active participle ending (nominative ‑āns). (The equivalent suffix for second and third conjugation Spanish verbs is ‑iente, e.g. ardiente ‘(adj.) burning’ < arder ‘to burn’; cf. Part I, §126.96.36.199, §188.8.131.52.3.3.) This was a regular inflection of Latin verbs, which derived present participles (adjectives) from verbs. In Spanish, this suffix is not a regular inflection but a derivational one that many but not all verbs have. It produces adjectives and nouns, such as hablante ‘(adj.) speaking’ and ‘(noun) speaker’ from hablar ‘to speak’. A verb that does not have this derivation is, for example, acusar ‘to accuse’, for the is no derived word *acusante in Spanish, whether as an adjective or as a noun.
The word acompañante can in theory be an adjective, or so dictionaries say, but it is actually almost always a noun, which translates as accompanying person or accompanying thing. The former can be equivalent to the word companion in some cases, as in the phrase los acompañantes de Juan ‘Juan’s companions’. Note that this phrase is not equivalent to los compañeros de Juan, yet another way in which Sp. compañero and Eng. companion are different. The phrase los acompañantes de Juan refers to anybody who happens to be accompanying Juan at some point, whereas los compañeros de Juan refers to people who have a more permanent association with Juan, such as living together, studying together, working together, and so on.
The Spanish noun acompañante is also probably the best translation for Eng. chaperon. Furthermore, this noun is also used for food or drink that is consumed alongside with other, more central foods in a meal, as in Este vino es un buen acompañante para esta carne ‘This wine goes well with this meat’. The noun acompañante is used in a number of collocations such as the following, with different degrees of idiomaticity:
- ir de acompañante: to chaperon
- sin acompañante (= no acompañado/a): unaccompanied
- viajar de acompañante: to ride shotgun
- servicio de acompañante: escort service
As we can see, one of these expressions, sin acompañante, is equivalent to the English adjective unaccompanied, the antonym (opposite) of the adjective accompanied, which is equivalent to the Spanish adjective acompañado/a, as in Eng. an unaccompanied minor, a phrase which can be translated as un menor de edad sin acompañante, un menor de edad no acompañado, or un menor de edad sin acompañar. Spanish uses these phrases since it does not have an antonym for the adjective acompañado like English has, one that was created in the 16th century using the Germanic negative prefix un‑.
In the music world, the word acompañante has a special meaning, namely ‘a person who provides a musical accompaniment’ (COED), which is related to the ‘musical’ sense of the verb accompany. English has a special word for such a person, one derived from the same root, namely accompanist. The English word was coined, in English, in the first half of the 19th century out of the verb to accompany and the agent suffix ‑ist. Because the nouns Eng. accompanist and Sp. acompañante are equivalent (in the music context) and contain the same stem, acompan‑, but different derivational endings, we say that the two words are paronyms (cf. Part I, Chapter 1, §1.3.3).
The second word derived from the verb acompañar is the noun acompañamiento, derived from the verb by means of the nominal suffix ‑miento that creates nouns from verbs with the sense of action or process and which comes from Late Latin ‑ment‑um that expressed instrument, medium, or result and is itself derived from the Latin plural suffix ‑ment‑a of collective nouns (cf. Part I, §184.108.40.206). The word acompañamiento is a cognate of Eng. accompaniment [ə.ˈkʰʌm.pə.ni.mənt] that was mentioned earlier, a late 17th century borrowing from Modern French accompagnement, which is first attested in the 12th century. As for the source of Spanish acompañamiento, we just know that it first appeared in a dictionary in 1495 (Nebrija) and, because the senses of this word match quite closely those of the French word, it is possible that the word or at least some of the senses were borrowed from French.
According to most English-Spanish and Spanish-English dictionaries, the main or only translation of Eng. accompaniment is Sp. acompañamiento, and vice versa, but this is obviously an oversimplification. There is some overlap between the meanings of these two cognate words, but the two are not perfect friends (cognates). Below you can see the five senses of Sp. acompañamiento in María Moliner’s dictionary and the three senses of accompaniment according to Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
(rare) act of accompanying
(rare) person or people who accompany someone, especially in a solemn ceremony (Eng. retinue, escort)
(rare) actors in plays or movies that have minor roles
Notes that harmonically complement a melody
music played to support a person who is singing or playing a musical instrument
Side dishes for a main dish
(rare/formal) something that is added to another thing to make it better or more appealing, e.g. A nice tie was a fine accompaniment to his new suit; especially : something added to or served with food or a meal, e.g. This dish can be served as an accompaniment to most meat main dishes.
(rare/formal) something that is done or that happens at the same time as something else , e.g. She made the announcement to the accompaniment of loud applause
As we can see, there is only one matching sense, the musical one, and another one that partially overlaps, though using acompañamiento for a side dish in Spanish is much more common than using accompaniment for the same thing in English, e.g. El pollo viene con papas fritas de acompañamiento ‘The chicken comes along with fries (?for accompaniment)’. Also, note that the word acompañante can substitute some of these senses of acompañamiento, including the ‘dish’ sense, meaning that the two words can be synonyms for some of the senses. Finally, we should note that the two non-musical meanings of the English word are somewhat rare and formal, as are the first three Spanish ones.
 The initial ‘morpheme’ a‑ in verbs such as acompañar does not seem to add any meaning to the derived word but is very commonly found in derived verbs, e.g. alargar ‘to lengthen’ < largo ‘long’, amueblar ‘to furnish’ < mueble ‘piece of furniture’, cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §220.127.116.11. Another such prefix found in derived verbs is en‑, e.g. engordar ‘to get fat’ < gordo/a ‘fat’.
 Other options are escolta, a cognate of Eng. escort, which implies protection; and carabina, which is colloquial and dialectal. The term carabina is a cognate of Eng. carbine and both of these words, which date to the late 16th century, refer to ‘a short-barreled lightweight firearm originally used by cavalry’ (MWC).