If you’ve studied a language before, you already know that some words can trip us up and lead to embarrassing situations. Here are 17 false friends in Spanish to avoid.
False cognates are words from different languages that look similar to one another. True cognates are derived from the same root word and have the same meaning. For example, the English word vacation and the Spanish word vacación both come from the Latin word vacationem. However, we use the term “false cognates” to refer to words from two languages that look-alike through pure coincidence; false cognates have no common root or meaning.
The term “false friends” refers to any pair of similar looking words from two languages that don’t have the same definition. False friends is a larger category that includes false cognates but also words that evolved from the same root, eventually resulting in divergent meanings.
It’s important you’re aware of the more common words to avoid. So here’s a list of Spanish-English false friends to watch out for!
Bigote does not mean bigot. If you meet someone who is intolerant and unreasonable, you’ll just have to find another name to call them because the Spanish word bigote means “moustache”!
Where there’s smoke there’s fire but usually, you call the firemen and not the air force! A bombero is a firefighter in Spanish.
Even if you find cadavers particularly impressive, it’s not advisable to shout this out in public. Casualidad means coincidence in Spanish, even though the word sounds a lot more like the word casualty.
Anybody who has taught English to Spanish kids will probably be familiar with this one. It’s not the Spanish equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’, kids just assume that folder in English is carpet, like carpeta in Spanish.
Crudo doesn’t mean “crude.” It can mean “raw,” like raw meat (carne cruda), or in less-formal Spanish, “drunk.”
I know what you’re thinking, but you’ve got it all wrong. This Spanish word refers to sinus and nasal congestion from an upper-respiratory infection. So if someone tells you, “Estoy constipado,” don’t think they are constipated, just hand them some cold medicine.
Delito does not mean delightful but rather the complete opposite. It refers to a crime or serious offense.
Looks like embarrassed, right? Embarrassed is what you’ll be if you tell someone you’re embarazada when you’re not, or if you’re a man! It means “pregnant,” so use it wisely!
Even though they wear their hearts on their sleeves, Spaniards rarely tear up when they find something exciting. This false friend arises from the double meaning of emocionado in Spanish, which can be both excited and moved.
It’s always useful to have an escape route handy, but it still sounds pretty weird to wish someone all the exits they deserve. Exito is the Spanish word for success.
Oh dear! Everybody in Spain has been molested‘ at some point in time. Some people are molested several times a day! Molestar means to bother in Spanish and not to sexually harass as it is in English.
While this word can also refer to propaganda as we know it (political brainwashing), it’s more commonly used in Spanish to refer to advertisements. So if you get some propaganda in your mailbox, it’s less likely that you’ll be invited to join a political regime and more likely that you’ll be urged to buy some orange juice on sale for $2.99.
If you think this is something manufacturers put in food to extend its shelf life, think again. It’s actually one of the Spanish words for “condom,” so make sure you don’t get mixed up! The word you want for the food additive is conservante.
You could try, but I doubt putting lentils in your eyes will help you see better. The word you’re looking for is lentillas (lenses) rather than lentejas (lentils).
This Spanish word may look like another version of dad, but without the accent on the second “a” (papá), you’re not talking about your father but about a potato or the pope!
How do you know the difference between the latter two? Pay attention to the article: el papa is the religious ruler and la papa is what you make into French fries.
Despite what it looks like, this word has nothing to do with dessert, and it’s pronounced “pee-ay.” So if you see pie when you’re reading something in Spanish, don’t get too excited. It means the same as “foot,” the body part.
In English, a sensible person is levelheaded and rational. But in Spanish, if you’re sensible, it means you’re sensitive and emotional. Just remember, if you’re sensible, your heart is doing the talking, not your brain!
Over to you!
Have you even committed any of these blunders? What other false friends in Spanish would you add to this list?
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