What is a false friend? No, it is not exactly that lousy fellow from your neighborhood. We are talking here about a false cognate.

But what is a cognate? Well, a cognate is a word that is not only written practically the same, but also has the same meaning as in another language. For instance, ‘terrible’ and terrible, ‘minute’ and minuto, ‘idea’ and idea, ‘sofa’ and sofá, etc.

Now, false cognates are words that have quite similar spelling and pronunciation from one language to the other, but whose meanings are completely different. Not by coincidence they are also known as falsos amigos or false friends. Just like a mischievous enemy can lead us to funny misunderstandings.

There are a lot of false cognates shared by Spanish and English, and chances are that you have been using them without even knowing. But don’t worry! I’ve got your back. Read on to find out which false friends you should avoid no matter what to avoid finding yourself in awkward situations.

Embarazado/a 

What you think you are saying: Embarrassed

What you are really saying: Pregnant

What you should be saying: Avergonzado/a, apenado/a

Sopa

What you think you are saying: Soap

What you are really saying: Soup

What you should be saying: Jabón

 

Carpeta

What you think you are saying: Carpet

What you are really saying: Folder, file

What you should be saying: Alfombra

 

Bizarro/a

What you think you are saying: Bizarre

What you are really saying: Bold, courageous; although today this is being used by some Spanish-speakers as a synonym of ‘weird, strange’

What you should be saying: Extraño/a, raro/a

 

Actualmente

What you think you are saying: Actually

What you are really saying: Currently

What you should be saying: En realidad, de hecho

 

Delito

What you think you are saying: Delight

What you are really saying: Offense, crime

What you should be saying: Deleite, placer

 

Terrorífico/a

What you think you are saying: Terrific

What you are really saying: Frightening, horrific

What you should be saying: Increíble, estupendo/a, bárbaro/a

 

Sensible

What you think you are saying: Sensible

What you are really saying: Sensitive

What you should be saying: Sensato

 

Cuestión

What you think you are saying: Question, synonym of ‘inquiry’

What you are really saying: Issue, problem, matter, key subject

What you should be saying: Pregunta, interrogante

 

Eventualmente

What you think you are saying: Eventually

What you are really saying: Possibly

What you should be saying: Finalmente, al final

 

Éxito

What you think you are saying: Exit

What you are really saying: Success

What you should be saying: Salida

 

Realizar

What you think you are saying: To realize, to become aware of something

What you are really saying: To make, to do, to carry out

What you should be saying: Darse cuenta (de algo), percatarse (de algo)

 

Fábrica

What you think you are saying: Fabric

What you are really saying: Factory, (manufacturing) plant

What you should be saying: Tela, tejido

 

Excitado/a

What you think you are saying: Excited

What you are really saying: Aroused

What you should be saying: Emocionado/a

 

Chocar

What you think you are saying: To choke

What you are really saying: To shock; to crash into something

What you should be saying: Ahogar(se), extrangular

 

Suceso

What you think you are saying: Success

What you are really saying: Event, happening

What you should be saying: Éxito

 

Molestar

What you think you are saying: To harass, to molest (sexually)

What you are really saying: To annoy, to disturb

What you should be saying: Abusar (sexualmente) de alguien, acosar

 

Introducir

What you think you are saying: To introduce (someone to someone else)

What you are really saying: To put in/into something, to insert

What you should be saying: Presentar (a alguien)

 

Recordar

What you think you are saying: To record

What you are really saying: To remember

What you should be saying: Grabar

 

Contestar

What you think you are saying: To contest

What you are really saying: To answer (back), to reply

What you should be saying: Protestar (contra algo), refutar, impugnar

 

Actual

What you think you are saying: Actual

What you are really saying: Current, present

What you should be saying: Real

Largo

What you think you are saying: Large

What you are really saying: Long

What you should be saying: Grande; numeroso/a; amplio/a

 

Preservativo

What you think you are saying: Preservative

What you are really saying: This word is most commenly used as a synonym for ‘prophylactic’ or ‘condom’

What you should be saying: Conservante

 

Right from the beginning, we detect the notable differences between seemingly related words. However, there lies the beauty of understanding cognates: they will let you get a good grasp of the many nuances that Spanish contains.



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