Spanish False Cognates – False Friends in Spanish

Learning Spanish is quite easy, but there are a few words that might put you in a spot and you would rather want to steer clear of them. Spanish and English have literally thousands of words that are basically the same in both languages, having the same origin and similar meanings. These words are called ‘cognates’.
Example: ‘family’ [English] = ‘familia’ [Spanish]

But combinations such as ‘decepción’ and ‘deception’ are so-called false cognates — known commonly as “false friends” or falsos amigos. The phrase “false cognate” or “False friend” is used to refer to cognates that have different meanings.

False friends are words which look or sound similar in two different languages but actually mean something else. They can be confusing, and if you make the mistake of using them in speech or writing you’re likely to be misunderstood.
Example: ‘deception’ [English, meaning 'the act of tricking someone'] ≠ ‘decepción’ [Spanish, meaning 'disappointment']

Let us look at some common Spanish false cognates or False Friends in Spanish

The first one is perhaps the most famous, and probably the funniest :) Post 12

A man pregnant? If you say ‘Estoy embarazado’ to mean ‘I am embarrassed’ – people will actually think you are pregnant! And if you’re a man, it will make you an instant scientific wonder. Because embarazada actually means ‘pregnant’ in Spanish! :P

Embarazada = Pregnant

Calling the bombers after a fire? Doesn't seem like a good idea! Bombero means firefighter in Spanish. So, let's call the bombero now! Firefighter = Bombero

Calling the bombers after a fire? Doesn’t seem like a good idea!
Bombero may sound like ‘bombers’ but actually means firefighter in Spanish. So, let’s call the bombero now!

Bombero = Firefighter

 

The Spanish word 'molestar' may sound like the English word 'molest' but it actually means 'to bother' in Spanish So mom, don't put the kid in for molestation!

The Spanish word ‘molestar’ may sound like the English word ‘molest’ but it actually means ‘to bother’ in Spanish. So mom, don’t put the kid in for molestation!

Molestar = To bother

Do you need lentils to see? Well, lentils can help improve your vision but not make you see! The ‪#‎Spanish‬ word 'lentillas' means lenses although it sounds more like lentils! So, use your lenses to see!

Do you need lentils to see? Well, lentils can help improve your vision but not make you see! The ‪‎Spanish word ‘lentillas’ meanslenses’ although it sounds more like lentils’! So, use your lenses to see!

Lentillas = Lenses

Ohh! Can't breathe because of constipation? How is that possible? 'Constipado' means common cold in Spanish though it sounds more like constipation!

Ohh! Can’t breathe because of constipation? How is that possible? ‘Constipado’ sounds like ‘constipation’ but actually means ‘common cold’!

Constipado = Common Cold

The kid says he left his homework in the carpet. What! In the carpet??? Although the Spanish word ‘Carpeta’ sounds like 'carpet', it actually means ‘folder’ in Spanish. So the kid actually forgot his homework in the folder!

The kid says he left his homework in the carpet. What! In the carpet??? Although the Spanish word ‘Carpeta’ sounds like ‘carpet’, it actually means ‘folder’ in Spanish. So the kid actually forgot his homework in the folder!

Carpeta = Folder

You don't want to be caught saying that!! The Spanish word 'Delito' may sound like delight but it actually means crime!

You don’t want to be caught saying that!! The Spanish word ‘Delito’ may sound like delight but it actually means crime!

Delito = Crime

Eating soap? Must be quite bubbly! The Spanish word 'Sopa' may sound like soap but it actually means soup! So don't eat your soap.

Eating soap? Must be quite bubbly! The Spanish word ‘Sopa’ may sound like soap but it actually means soup! So don’t eat your soap.

Sopa = Soup

Oh well, who will need such a wish....'Exito' means success in ‪Spanish‬ but it sounds more like 'exit'. So now we are comfortable with an 'exit' in our exams, right?

Oh well, who will need such a wish….‘éxito’ means success in ‪Spanish but it sounds more like ‘exit’. So now we are comfortable with an ‘exit’ in our exams, right?

Éxito = Success

'Emocinado' means 'exciting' in Spanish but doesn't it look more like 'emotional' So don't get 'emotional' on roller coasters!

‘Emocionado’ may sound like ‘emotional’ but actually means ‘excited’ in Spanish! So don’t get ‘emotional’ on roller coasters! :)

Emocionado = Excited

If you say the French word for cake 'gâteau' to a Spanish speaking person, they'd think you ate a cat. Because in Spanish, 'gato' means cat. Cake is called pastel!

If you say the French word for cake ‘gâteau’ to a Spanish speaking person, they’d think you ate a cat. Because in Spanish, ‘gato’ means cat. Cake is called pastel!

Gato = Cat

Can you think of any more False Friends? Tell us about them!

One thought on “Spanish False Cognates – False Friends in Spanish

  1. U may like to refer to my Using Spanish, Cambridge, 2nd edition, pp 23-52. I tweet Eng/Span/Fr on lang+culture. Would U follow me?

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