Falsos Amigos: False Spanish Cognates you should avoid like the plague
“Falsos amigos”, or literally, “false friends” (also referred to as “false cognates”), are words which sound like they mean the same thing in English as in Spanish. This is the case with true cognates, such as horrible, which does in fact mean “horrible”. However, does carpeta really mean “carpet”, and is it a good idea to say that you are “embarazada” if you feel embarrassed? Read on to find out the top “falsos” amigos that you should avoid like the plague!
There are a lot of false cognates between English and Spanish, and often you may use them without even being aware of it. This can lead to a double misunderstanding – your conversation partner as you’ve said something you didn’t mean; and you, because you are unaware of the difference in meaning! This often results in some fairly unfortunate (but often funny) situations. That’s why we’ve put together this short collection of “falsos amigos”, so you can try to avoid the most embarrassing (or pregnant?!) mistakes:
Jabón vs Sopa
Tengo las manos sucias, dame la sopa (I have dirty hands, give me the soup)
Tengo las manos sucias, dame el jabón (I have dirty hands, give me the soap)
Carpeta vs Alfombra
La carpeta está muy sucia (The folder is very dirty)
La alfombra está muy sucia (The carpet is very dirty)
Embarazada vs avergonzada
Estoy muy embarazada! (I’m very pregnant!)
Estoy muy avergonzada! (I’m very embarrassed)
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Excitar vs emocionar
Esto es muy excitante (This is very (sexually) exciting)
Esto es muy emocionante (This is very exciting)
Asistir vs ayudar
Asisto a muchas personas (I attend a lot of people)
Ayudo a muchas personas (I help/assist a lot of people)
Educado vs bien informado/culto
Estoy muy educado (I’m very polite)
Estoy muy bien informado/culto (I’m very well educated)
Actualmente vs en realidad
Actualmente, es totalmente diferente (Currently, it’s totally different)
En realidad, es totalmente diferente (Actually, it’s totally different)
Bizarro vs raro
¡Qué bizarro! (How brave!)
¡Qué raro! (How strange!)
Delito vs Encantado
Estoy delito (I’m a crime(?!))
Estoy encantado (I’m delighted)
En absoluto vs Totalmente
Me amas? – En absoluto! (Do you love me? – Absolutely not!)
Me amas? – Totalmente (Do you love me? – Totally!)
Cuestión vs Pregunta
No entiendo tu cuestión (I don’t understand your issue)
No entiendo tu pregunta (I don’t understand your question)
Sensible vs Sensato/a
Soy muy sensible (I’m very sensitive)
Soy muy sensato/a (I’m very sensible)
Have you ever used a “falso amigo” and not even realised it? Let us know of your experiences in the comments below! If you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, consider helping us out and sharing it with your friends using the buttons on the left!
This is a cool selection of examples!
Vaso and Beso got me a few times!
Wouldn’t want to confuse those two!
Actually, “actually” is not “de verdad” but “en realidad”.
I think you could use either “de verdad” or “en realidad” – they can both be translated as “actually”. I’ll add in “en realidad” as well 🙂
“De verdad” means “seriously” and it is used when the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe you.
“En realidad” means “actually”.
I’m a native speaker of Spanish and I have never heard “de verdad” in that context. I hope it helps!
I’ve often used “de verdad” to mean “actually”, but accept that this probably was inaccurate! Thanks for the correction – it’s now edited on the post.
Another important one is “preservativos” vs. “conservantes”
🙂 don’t want to get those two confused!
LOL, en absoluto made me laugh. These are good. – Leonela of SpanishBoca blog
great list. how else would you use en absoluto?
Blog muy interesante y util para aquellos de nosotros aprender el idioma! Gracias!
Blog muy interesante y util para aquellos de nosotros aprendet el idioma. Gracias
this has helped me so much its noy even funny
Estoy tratando de buscar la traducción correcta para indulgence, indulge, indulging. Ya se que no son indulgencias, ¡y menos plenarias! ¿Sugerencias por favor?
Aseguranza vs Seguro
An Spaniard here.
Actually, “No entiendo tu cuestión” while a very weird way to say it still means “I don’t understand your question” in that context.
“¡Qué bizarro!” should mean “How brave!” but actually is used to mean “How X!” X meaning a mix of strange whit weird in a bad sense, you would call “bizarro” a Eldritch Horror from lovecraft, te correct is still “brave” but if you ask someone on the street of spain, there are 2 outcomes, he/she do not know what bizarro means, or think that bizarro means what i described, probably because bizarro fell in unsue long time ago and the only exposure to the word comes from the english word “bizarre”.
“Estoy muy educado” literally has no sense in spanish, to mean “i’m very polite” you would say “Soy muy educado”, but if a spaniard heard “Estoy muy educado” most likely would understand “I’m very well educated” rather than “i’m very polite”, science “Educar” means both, politeness and education.
And “Estoy muy bien culto” literally has no sense, and “Estoy muy bien informado” means “I am very well informed” and in no way it would mean “I’m very well educated”, to say “I’m very well educated” you would need to say “Tengo muy buena educación” or “Mi educacion es muy buena” that would be the correct way.
“Asisto a muchas personas” means both “I attend a lot of people” and “I help/assist a lot of people”, the concrete meaning would depend of the context, and in some context you would mean both at the same time.
“Esto es muy excitante” actually means “This is very exciting”, is just that in spanish, that expression can be used in a sexual way, but if the context is not sexual, it literally means “This is very exciting”, the difference between “emocionante” and “excitante” is not very large, practically means the same, but for example, you would describe an adventure as “emocionante”(Esta aventura es muy emocionante) and finding a treasure in that adventure as “excitante”(Encontrar el tesoro fue realmente excitante)
Eventualmente vs eventually
éxito – success
salida – exit
There’s a good one the other way around. The Spanish “Puedo molestarte?” doesn’t translate as “May I molest you?”. I once heard it being used by a Colombian student of English while interrupting a language class.