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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

False friends in Spanish and English
Thursday, January 19, 2023 @ 9:27 AM

By Don Pablo

Languages are categorised into families, depending on their origen. Romance languages, those descended from the Latin spoken by Roman legionaires during the Roman conquest and occupation of much of southern Europe, include Spanish, as well as French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.

The Germanic family includes Dutch, Flemish, German and English, although English has many Latin-origin words as a result of the Norman (French) conquest of England in 1066 and the subsequent repopulation of many areas by Normans.

As a result there are many words in English and Spanish which are the same or similar. These are called cognates.

The problem is not all cognates have the same meaning. These are called false cognates or, more commonly, false friends or falsos amigos.



Spanish and English have literally thousands of cognates, words that are basically the same in both languages, having the same etymology and similar meanings. 30% to 40% of all vocabulary in English have related words in Spanish.


Perfect Cognates

These are words which are spelt exactly the same in two languages and have the same meaning. Be careful – although the spelling may be the same, the pronunciation is often different.

Examples in English and Spanish include:

  • animal – animal
  • chocolate – chocolate
  • hotel – hotel
  • simple – simple

Near Perfect Cognates

These are words which are very similar and have the same meaning, but the spelling is slightly different.

Examples in English and Spanish include:

  • attention – atención
  • public – público
  • religious – religioso
  • delicious – delicioso

False Cognates/False Friends

There are, however, many word pairs that look like they might mean the same thing but don't. They can be confusing, and if you make the mistake of using them wrongly in speech or writing you're likely to be misunderstood.

Following is a list of some of the most common false friends — some of the ones you're most likely to come across when reading or listening to Spanish:

  • actual: This adjective (or its corresponding adverb, actualmente) indicates that something is current, at the present time. Thus, the day's hot topic might be referred to as un tema actual. If you wish to say something is “actual” (as opposed to imaginary), use real (which also can mean "royal") or verdadero.
  • asistir: Means to attend or to be presentAsisto a la oficina cada día, I go to the office daily. To say "to assist," use ayudar, to help.
  • atender: Means to serve or to take care ofto attend to. If you're talking about attending a meeting or a class, use asistir.
  • boda: Means a wedding or wedding reception. A body (as of a person or animal) is most often cuerpo or tronco.
  • campo: Means a field or the country(side). If you're going camping, you'll stay in a campamento or a camping.
  • carpeta: Means a file folder (including on a computer) or a briefcase. "Carpet" is most often alfombra.
  • compromiso: Meaning a promiseobligation, or commitment, it does not usually convey the sense that one has given up something to reach an agreement. There is no good noun equivalent in Spanish of "compromise".
  • constiparse, constipación: In verb form, it means to catch a cold, while una constipación  means a cold. Someone who is constipated is estreñido.
  • contestar: It's a very common verb meaning to answer. To contest something, use contender.
  • corresponder: Yes, it does mean to correspond, but only in the sense of to match. If you're talking about corresponding with someone, use a form of escribir con or mantener correspondencia.
  • decepción, decepcionar: Means disappointment or to disappoint. To deceive someone is engañar a alguién. Something deceptive is engañoso.
  • delito: This is an offence or a minor crime. The feeling of delight can be un deleite, while the object that causes it is un encanto or una delicia.
  • desgracia: In Spanish, this is little more than a mistake or misfortune. Something shameful is una vergüenza .
  • despertar: This verb is usually used in the reflexive form, meaning to wake up (me despierto a las siete, I wake up at seven). If you're desperate, there's a true cognate you can use: desesperado.
  • disgusto: Derived from the prefix dis- (meaning "not") and the root word gusto (meaning pleasure), this word refers simply to displeasure or misfortune. If you need to use a much stronger term akin to disgust, use asco.
  • embarazada: Means pregnant, so be careful. Someone who feels embarrassed tiene vergüenza or se siente avergonzado.
  • emocionante: Used to describe something that's thrilling or emotionally moving. To say emotional, the cognate emocional will do fine.
  • en absoluto: This phrase means the opposite of what you think it might, meaning not at all or absolutely not. To say absolutely, use the cognate totalmente or completamente.
  • éxito: Means a hit or a success. If you're looking for a way out, look for una salida.
  • fábrica: That's a place where they fabricate items, namely a factory. Words for cloth include tejido and tela.
  • insulación: This isn't even a word in Spanish (although you may hear it in Spanglish). If you want to say insulation, use aislamiento.
  • ganga: It's a bargain. A gang is una pandilla.
  • inconsecuente: This adjective refers to something that is contradictory. Something inconsequential is de poca importancia.
  • introducirThis isn't truly a false cognate, for it can be translated as, among other things, to introduce in the sense of to bring into beginto put, or to place. For example, se introdujo la ley en 1998, the law was introduced (put in effect) in 1998. But it's not the verb to use to introduce someone. Use presentar.
  • largo: When referring to size, it means long. Large, ie big, is grande.
  • minorista: Means retail (adjective) or retailer. A minority is una minoría.
  • molestar: The verb doesn't have sexual connotations in Spanish. It means simply to bother or to annoy. For the sexual meaning of to molest in English, use abusar sexualmente or some phrase that says more precisely what you mean.
  • once: If you can count past 10, you know that once is the word for eleven. If something happens once, it happens una vez. By the way, la ONCE is the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind, which runs a daily lottery to raise funds.
  • pretender: The Spanish verb doesn't have anything to do with faking it, only to try. To pretend, use fingir or simular.
  • realizar, realizacón: realizar can be used reflexively to indicate something becoming real or becoming completedSe realizó el rascacielos, the skyscraper was built. To realise as a mental event can be translated using darse cuenta (to realise), comprender (to understand) or saber (to know), among other possibilities, depending on the context.
  • recordar: Means to remember or to remind. The verb to use when recording something depends on what you're recording. Possibilities include anotar or tomar nota for writing something down, or grabar for making an audio or video recording.
  • revolver: As its form suggests, this is a verb, in this case meaning to turn over, to revolve, or otherwise to cause disorder. The Spanish word for a revolver is similar, but pronounced differently:  un revólver.
  • ropa: clothing, not rope. Rope is cuerda.
  • sano: Usually means healthy. Someone who is sane or in his right mind is en su juicio.
  • sensibleUsually means sensitive or capable of feeling. A sensible person or idea can be referred to as sensato or razonable.
  • sopa: Soup, not soap. Soap is jabón.
  • suceso: Merely an event or happening. A success is un éxito.
  • tuna: Order this at a desert restaurant and you'll get edible cactus. The fish is atún.


For a complete list of false friends, click here.

Phew! Got all that?

The chances are you'll make a few mistakes, but just have a laugh about them and remember for the next time.




Tags: cognate, Don Pablo, Dutch, English, etymology, false cognate, false friend, falso amigo, Flemish, French, German, Germanic, Italian, language family, Latin, Near Perfect Cognate, perfect cognate, Portuguese, Roman, Romance Language, Romanian, Spanish, Spanish Matters

Like 3


eos_ian said:
Thursday, January 19, 2023 @ 4:27 PM

There is a good website called:

If you feel like you needed more!

Thanks for the article!

PablodeRonda said:
Thursday, January 19, 2023 @ 8:42 PM

Thanks for your comment. I think Don Pablo's article is already long enough.....

Yvonne Speak said:
Friday, January 20, 2023 @ 11:58 AM

Thanks Pablo, very interesting and informative.

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