Falsos Amigos: False Spanish Cognates you should avoid like the plague

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

“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:

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Jabón vs Sopa

You said…

Tengo las manos sucias, dame la sopa (I have dirty hands, give me the soup)

You meant…

Tengo las manos sucias, dame el jabón (I have dirty hands, give me the soap)

Sopa = Soup

Jabón = Soap

Carpeta vs Alfombra

You said…

La carpeta está muy sucia (The folder is very dirty)

You meant…

La alfombra está muy sucia (The carpet is very dirty)

Carpeta = Folder

Alfombra = Carpet

Embarazada vs avergonzada

You said…

Estoy muy embarazada! (I’m very pregnant!)

You meant…

Estoy muy avergonzada! (I’m very embarrassed)

Embarazada = Pregnant

Avergonzado/a = Embarrassed

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Excitar vs emocionar

You said…

Esto es muy excitante (This is very (sexually) exciting)

You meant…

Esto es muy emocionante (This is very exciting)

Excitante = (Sexually) exciting

Emocionante = Exciting

Asistir vs ayudar

You said…

Asisto a muchas personas (I attend a lot of people)

You meant…

Ayudo a muchas personas (I help/assist a lot of people)

Asistir = To attend

Ayudar = To help

Educado vs bien informado/culto

You said…

Estoy muy educado (I’m very polite)

You meant…

Estoy muy bien informado/culto (I’m very well educated)

Educado/a = Polite

Bien informado/a = Educated

Actualmente vs en realidad

You said…

Actualmente, es totalmente diferente (Currently, it’s totally different)

You meant…

En realidad, es totalmente diferente (Actually, it’s totally different)

Actualmente = Currently

En realidad = Actually

Bizarro vs raro

You said…

¡Qué bizarro! (How brave!)

You meant…

¡Qué raro! (How strange!)

Bizarro = Brave

Raro = Strange/bizarre

Delito vs Encantado

Estoy delito (I’m a crime(?!))
You meant…

Estoy encantado (I’m delighted)

Delito = Crime

Encantado/a = Delighted/charmed

En absoluto vs Totalmente

You said…

Me amas? – En absoluto! (Do you love me? – Absolutely not!)

You meant…

Me amas? – Totalmente (Do you love me? – Totally!)

En absoluto = Absolutely not

Totalmente/a = Absolutely/totally

Cuestión vs Pregunta

You said…

No entiendo tu cuestión (I don’t understand your issue)

You meant…

No entiendo tu pregunta (I don’t understand your question)

Cuestión = Issue/topic

Pregunta/a = Question

Sensible vs Sensato/a

You said…

Soy muy sensible (I’m very sensitive)

You meant…

Soy muy sensato/a (I’m very sensible)

Sensible = Sensitive

Sensato/a = 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!

22 Responses

    1. Hi Alvaro

      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 🙂

      1. Hi!

        “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!

        1. Hi Alvaro

          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.

          Un abrazo
          Rob

  1. Estoy tratando de buscar la traducción correcta para indulgence, indulge, indulging. Ya se que no son indulgencias, ¡y menos plenarias! ¿Sugerencias por favor?

  2. 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)

  3. 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.

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