“False friends” are words that look the same in two languages but have different meanings. English and Spanish have many words in common (e.g. from Latin). Some of these words have changed their meanings over time to create false cognates.
Just as people can cheat, trick, and fool us in life, so can false friends in languages! Never assume two words in English and Spanish have the same meaning. You should always double check in the dictionary to make sure.
False friends often cause misunderstandings. This happens when we use words in the wrong way. A Brit learning Spanish might use embarazada to mean “embarrassed” (avergonzado). But, this word actually means “pregnant”. Oooops!
Below is a list of the 100 most common false friends in English and Spanish. Try to understand the differences between the pairs of words and read the examples given. Don’t forget to do the exercises at the end to test your knowledge! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to study at home.
|English word (Spanish translation)||Similar Spanish word (English translation)||Correct meaning and example|
(de hecho, realmente)
(at present, currently)
English verbs seem difficult to conjugate, but they’re actually easier than Spanish verbs sometimes!
(to take care of)
I must attend all the meetings this week as I was out of the country last week.
The nurses assist the patients until the doctor arrives.
I asked my father for advice on which university to choose.
(person from the American continent)
There were many American tourists on the beaches of Mexico.
The National Arena was the perfect venue for the concert.
We got into an argument because we simply couldn’t agree.
Avocado is a great source of potassium.
My father became bald at the age of 30.
(base de una columna)
I keep all my boxes in the basement.
His arrogance and negative attitude showed what a bigot he is.
|(US) trillion, (UK) billion|
The Spanish billion represents a million millions for us.
British food is famous for being bland!
(en blanco, vacío)
|En blanco, vacio|
My computer screen suddenly went blank.
I take care of my body by eating lots of vegetables.
The bomber aircraft was used in World War II.
The children had a great time at summer camp.
I have been quite successful throughout my career.
Please don’t sweep the dust under the carpet!
She was a victim of the war in Syria.
This necklace is so tight it’s choking me!
I paid for the shopping with my credit card.
I live in London. Which city do you live in?
What is your post code? I want to send you a letter in the post.
I will go to the local college when I finish secondary school.
You can buy and sell commodities on the stock market.
(tono de piel, tez)
|Tono de piel, tez|
She has a dark complexion for a Scandinavian.
Thank you for saying I look nice today. What a great compliment!
|29||Compromise (acuerdo)||Compromiso (commitment, engagement)||Acuerdo|
Neither of us wanted to give up on our plans, so in the end, we reached a compromise.
(to comply, agree)
She condescended to speak to me because she needed a favour.
(director del orquesta)
|Director del orquesta|
The conductor directed the orchestra to begin the first set.
(having a cold)
She ate plenty of plums because she was constipated.
The two boys ran as fast as they could to win the contest.
(to correspond to)
I correspond with a girl in Paris to practise my French.
My current job pays me more than my last position.
She claimed a witch had placed a curse on her!
I cannot tolerate deception. I want you to always tell the truth.
I’d love an ice-cream for dessert!
Your daughter is a delight! She helped me to carry my bags this morning.
His behaviour brought disgrace on the family.
She looked at the plate of worms with disgust.
(to wake up)
She was desperate for a drink after playing football for 2 hours.
After losing all his money on a bad bet, he became destitute.
|44||Dormitory (residencia universitaria)||Dormitorio (bedroom)||Residencia universitaria|
She moved into her new dormitory with three friends.
I’m making salmon for dinner. We’ll eat at 6 pm.
The roadworks caused a diversion from the main road.
|47||Embarrassed (avergonzado)||Embarazada (pregnant)||Avergonzado|
Oh no! I’m so embarrassed. He heard me talking about him.
(business enterprise, company)
The empress ruled the empire with great wisdom.
She couldn’t hide her envy when she saw the neighbour’s new car.
|50||Estimate (estimación)||Estimado (appreciated)||Estimación|
We aren’t sure about the cost, but we can make a good estimate of around £500.
(to narrow, bring closer together
It’s a good idea to stretch before going for a run.
In the cinema, always take note of where the fire exit is.
(a largo plazo)
|Eventualmente (occasionally)||A largo plazo|
We eventually arrived home after a tiring journey.
Going to the circus always excites the children.
She loved the soft fabric of her wedding dress.
The university facilities are incredible! They have football, hockey and rugby pitches.
That boy looks familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before.
His efforts were futile. No matter what he did, he couldn’t convince Jane to come to the party.
Living in the Bronx was difficult because there were many gangs on the streets.
We use grapes to make wine.
We buy all our food at the grocery store.
“Over the moon” is an example of an idiom in English.
Let me introduce you to my sister, Jo.
His house is very large. It has 5 bedrooms.
William gave a lecture on Astronomy at the university.
The college library lends its books for 21 days at a time.
The local mayor gave a great speech about improving the local park.
He was sent to jail for molesting a young girl.
After his wife died, he lived in misery.
If you want to find information on local events, take a look at the notices on the bulletin board.
The artist mainly paints nudes.
I was young once!
We got dressed up for the Easter parade.
I tell my parents everything. My mum and dad are the best!
I had an accident with a piece of machinery at the plant today.
I love apple pie!
Don’t pretend to be happy when you’re not.
|78||Preservative (conservante, conservador)||Preservativo (condom)||Conservador|
Many foods contain preservatives to make them last longer.
Philip was so preoccupied with his new toy that he didn’t hear what the homework was.
(to try, to taste)
The police launched a probe into the series of crimes in the area.
The rapist was sent to jail for a very long time.
I suddenly realised that I was very late for school!
We went to the studio to record our new album.
They say that red is the colour of anger.
We use a special liquid to remove stains from the carpet.
As soon as it’s safe, we will resume face-to-face classes.
In some parts of the world, you can retire when you’re 60.
Lettuce and cucumber are great to put in a salad.
Many people think he’s crazy, but I believe he is sane.
Don’t make your decision too quickly. Please be sensible.
It is so easy to hurt your feelings. I think you’re too sensitive.
It is a sin to commit murder.
I broke my reading spectacles when I sat on them!
Please make sure there is soap in the bathroom.
(to tolerate, stand, put up with)
Please support me in the search for my lost dog.
Graduating from university is a major success.
When she was sad, she went to her best friend for sympathy.
This topic is so interesting!
I think tuna is my favourite fish.
|Ultimadamente (recently, lately)||Al final|
Ultimately, we all need to take responsibility for our own actions.
|1. largo||a. misery|
|2. cuerdo||b. success|
|3. tristeza||c. salad|
|4. avergonzado||d. record|
|5. éxito||e. long|
|6. grabar||f. pie|
|7. desfile||g. sane|
|8. sensato||h. parade|
|9. pastel||i. embarrassed|
|10. ensalada||j. sensible|
|Exercise II||Exercise II||Exercise III||Exercise IV|