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100 False Friends In English And Spanish (With Examples)

“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.

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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.

List of 100 English-Spanish False Friends

English word (Spanish translation)Similar Spanish word (English translation)Correct meaning and example
1Actually
(de hecho, realmente)
Actualmente
(at present, currently)
De hecho/realmente
English verbs seem difficult to conjugate, but they’re actually easier than Spanish verbs sometimes!
2Attend
(asistir)
Atender
(to take care of)
Asistir
I must attend all the meetings this week as I was out of the country last week.
3Assist
(ayudar)
Asistir
(to attend)
Ayudar
The nurses assist the patients until the doctor arrives.
4Advice
(consejo)
Aviso
(warning, notice)
Consejo
I asked my father for advice on which university to choose.
5American (americano)Americano
(person from the American continent)
Estadounidense
There were many American tourists on the beaches of Mexico.
6Arena
(estadio)
Arena
(sand)
Estadio
The National Arena was the perfect venue for the concert.
7Argument
(discusión)
Argumento
(plot)
Discusión
We got into an argument because we simply couldn’t agree.
8Avocado
(aguacate)
Abogado
(lawyer)
Aguacate
Avocado is a great source of potassium.
9Bald
(calvo)
Balde
(bucket)
Calvo
My father became bald at the age of 30.
10Basement
(sótano)
Basamento
(base de una columna)
Sótano
I keep all my boxes in the basement.
11Bigot
(un intolerante)
Bigote
(moustache)
Intolerante
His arrogance and negative attitude showed what a bigot he is.
12Billion
(mil millones)
Billón
(trillion)
(US) trillion, (UK) billion
The Spanish billion represents a million millions for us.
13Bland
(sin sabor)
Blando
(soft)
Sin sabor
British food is famous for being bland!
14Blank
(en blanco, vacío)
Blanco
(white)
En blanco, vacio
My computer screen suddenly went blank.
15Body
(cuerpo)
Boda
(wedding)
Cuerpo
I take care of my body by eating lots of vegetables.
16Bomber (bombardero)Bombero
(firefighter)
Bombardero
The bomber aircraft was used in World War II.
17Camp
(campamento)
Campo
(field)
Campamento
The children had a great time at summer camp.
18Career
(professión)
Carera
(university degree)
Profession
I have been quite successful throughout my career.
19Carpet
(alfombra)
Carpeta
(file)
Alfombra
Please don’t sweep the dust under the carpet!
20Casualty
(victima)
Casualidad (coincidence)Victima
She was a victim of the war in Syria.
21Choke
(ahogar)
Chocar
(crash, collide)
Ahogar
This necklace is so tight it’s choking me!
22Card
(tarjeta)
Carta
(letter)
Tarjeta
I paid for the shopping with my credit card.
23City
(ciudad)
Cita
(appointment)
Ciudad
I live in London. Which city do you live in?
24Code
(código)
Codo
(elbow)
Código
What is your post code? I want to send you a letter in the post.
25College
(Preparatoria/ universidad)
Colegio
(primary/secondary school)
Universidad
I will go to the local college when I finish secondary school.
26Commodity (producto)Comodidad
(comfort)
Producto
You can buy and sell commodities on the stock market.
27Complexion
(tono de piel, tez)
Complexión
(build)
Tono de piel, tez
She has a dark complexion for a Scandinavian.
28Compliment
(piropo)
Complemento (accessory)Piropo
Thank you for saying I look nice today. What a great compliment!
29Compromise (acuerdo)Compromiso (commitment, engagement)Acuerdo
Neither of us wanted to give up on our plans, so in the end, we reached a compromise.
30Condescend (dignarse)Condescender
(to comply, agree)
Dignarse
She condescended to speak to me because she needed a favour.
31Conductor
(director del orquesta)
Conductor
(driver)
Director del orquesta
The conductor directed the orchestra to begin the first set.
32Constipated (estreñido)Constipado
(having a cold)
Estreñido
She ate plenty of plums because she was constipated.
33Contest
(concurso)
Contestar
(answer)
Consurco
The two boys ran as fast as they could to win the contest.

 

34Correspond
with (escribir)
Corresponder
(to correspond to)
Escribir
I correspond with a girl in Paris to practise my French.
35Current
(actual)
Currante
(worker)
Actual
My current job pays me more than my last position.
36Curse
(maldición)
Curso
(course)
Maldición
She claimed a witch had placed a curse on her!
37Deception
(engaño)
Decepción (disappointment)Engaño
I cannot tolerate deception. I want you to always tell the truth.
38Dessert
(postre)
Desierto
(desert)
Postre
I’d love an ice-cream for dessert!
39Delight
(encanto)
Delito
(crime)
Encanto
Your daughter is a delight! She helped me to carry my bags this morning.
40Disgrace
(vergüenza)
Desgracia (misfortune)Vergüenza
His behaviour brought disgrace on the family.
41Disgust
(asco)
Disgusto (displeasure)Asco
She looked at the plate of worms with disgust.
42Desperate (desesperado)Despertar
(to wake up)
Desesperado
She was desperate for a drink after playing football for 2 hours.
43Destitute
(indigente)
Destituido
(fired, deprived)
Indigente
After losing all his money on a bad bet, he became destitute.
44Dormitory (residencia universitaria)Dormitorio (bedroom)Residencia universitaria
She moved into her new dormitory with three friends.
45Dinner
(cena)
Dinero
(money)
Cena
I’m making salmon for dinner. We’ll eat at 6 pm.
46Diversion (desviación)Diversión
(fun)
Desviación
The roadworks caused a diversion from the main road.
47Embarrassed (avergonzado)Embarazada (pregnant)Avergonzado
Oh no! I’m so embarrassed. He heard me talking about him.
48Empress
(emperatríz)
Empresa
(business enterprise, company)
Emperatríz
The empress ruled the empire with great wisdom.
49Envy
(envidia)
Enviar
(to send)
Envidia
She couldn’t hide her envy when she saw the neighbour’s new car.
50Estimate (estimación)Estimado (appreciated)Estimación
We aren’t sure about the cost, but we can make a good estimate of around £500.
51Stretch
(estirar, alargar)
Estrechar
(to narrow, bring closer together
Estirar
It’s a good idea to stretch before going for a run.
52Exit
(salida)
Exito
(success)
Salida
In the cinema, always take note of where the fire exit is.
53Eventually
(a largo plazo)
Eventualmente (occasionally)A largo plazo
We eventually arrived home after a tiring journey.
54Excite
(emocionar)
Exitar
(arouse)
Emocionar
Going to the circus always excites the children.
55Fabric
(tela)
Fábrica
(factory)
Tela
She loved the soft fabric of her wedding dress.
56Facilities (instalaciones)Facilidad
(ease, ability)
Instalaciones
The university facilities are incredible! They have football, hockey and rugby pitches.
57Familiar
(conocido)
Familiar
(family member)
Conocido
That boy looks familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before.
58Futile
(inútil)
Fútil
(insignificante)
Inútil
His efforts were futile. No matter what he did, he couldn’t convince Jane to come to the party.
59Gang
(pandilla)
Ganga
(bargain)
Pandilla
Living in the Bronx was difficult because there were many gangs on the streets.
60Grape
(uva)
Grapa
(staple)
Uva
We use grapes to make wine.
61Grocery
(abarrotería)
Grocería
(vulgarity)
Abarrotería
We buy all our food at the grocery store.
62Idiom
(modismo, refrán)
Idioma
(language)
Modismo
“Over the moon” is an example of an idiom in English.
63Introduce
(presentar)
Introducir
(insert)
Presentar
Let me introduce you to my sister, Jo.
64Large
(grande)
Largo
(long)
Grande
His house is very large. It has 5 bedrooms.
65Lecture
(conferencia)
Lectura
(reading)
Conferencia
William gave a lecture on Astronomy at the university.
66Library
(biblioteca)
Librería
(book shop)
Biblioteca
The college library lends its books for 21 days at a time.

 

67Mayor
(alcalde)
Mayor
(bigger, older)
Alcalde
The local mayor gave a great speech about improving the local park.
68Molest
(abusar sexualmente)
Molestar
(bother)
Abusar sexualmente
He was sent to jail for molesting a young girl.
69Misery
(tristeza)
Miseria
(poverty)
Tristeza
After his wife died, he lived in misery.
70Notice
(anuncio)
Noticia
(news)
Anuncio
If you want to find information on local events, take a look at the notices on the bulletin board.
71Nude
(desnudo)
Nudo
(knot)
Desnudo
The artist mainly paints nudes.
72Once
(una vez)
Once
(eleven)
Una vez
I was young once!
73Parade
(desfile)
Parada
(bus stop)
Desfile
We got dressed up for the Easter parade.
74Parents
(padres)
Parientes
(relatives)
Padres
I tell my parents everything. My mum and dad are the best!
75Plant
(fábrica)
Planta
(floor)
Fábrica
I had an accident with a piece of machinery at the plant today.
76Pie
(pastel)
Pie
(foot)
Pastel
I love apple pie!
77Pretend
(fingir)
Pretender
(to woo)
Fingir
Don’t pretend to be happy when you’re not.
78Preservative (conservante, conservador)Preservativo (condom)Conservador
Many foods contain preservatives to make them last longer.
79Preoccupied (distraido)Preocupado
(worried)
Distraido
Philip was so preoccupied with his new toy that he didn’t hear what the homework was.
80Probe
(investigation)
Probar
(to try, to taste)
Investigar
The police launched a probe into the series of crimes in the area.
81Rapist
(violador)
Rapista
(barber)
Violador
The rapist was sent to jail for a very long time.
82Realise
(darse cuenta)
Realizar
(perform)
Darse cuenta
I suddenly realised that I was very late for school!
83Record
(grabar)
Recordar
(to remember)
Grabar
We went to the studio to record our new album.
84Red
(rojo)
Red
(network)
Rojo
They say that red is the colour of anger.
85Remove
(quitar)
Remover
(stir)
Quitar
We use a special liquid to remove stains from the carpet.
86Resume
(reanudar)
Resumir
(to summarise)
Reanudar
As soon as it’s safe, we will resume face-to-face classes.
87Retire
(jubilarse)
Retirar
(take away/leave)
Jubilarse
In some parts of the world, you can retire when you’re 60.
88Salad
(ensalada)
Salado
(salty)
Ensalada
Lettuce and cucumber are great to put in a salad.
89Sane
(cuerdo)
Sano
(healthy)
Cuerdo
Many people think he’s crazy, but I believe he is sane.
90Sensible
(sensato)
Sensible
(sensitive)
Sensato
Don’t make your decision too quickly. Please be sensible.
91Sensitive
(sensible)
Sensitivo
(perceptive)
Sensible
It is so easy to hurt your feelings. I think you’re too sensitive.
92Sin
(pecado)
Sin
(without)
Pecado
It is a sin to commit murder.
93Spectacles
(gafas)
Espectáculo
(show)
Gafas
I broke my reading spectacles when I sat on them!
94Soap
(jabón)
Sopa
(soup)
Jabón
Please make sure there is soap in the bathroom.
95Support
(apoyar)
Soportar
(to tolerate, stand, put up with)
Apoyar
Please support me in the search for my lost dog.
96Success
(éxito)
Suceso
(event)
Exito
Graduating from university is a major success.
97Sympathy (compasión)Simpatía
(friendliness)
Compasión
When she was sad, she went to her best friend for sympathy.
98Topic
(tema)
Tópico
(topical, cliché)
Tema
This topic is so interesting!
99Tuna
(atún)
Tuna
(prickly pear)
Atún
I think tuna is my favourite fish.
100Ultimately
(al final)
Ultimadamente (recently, lately)Al final
Ultimately, we all need to take responsibility for our own actions.

 

Spanish and English False Friends: Exercises

I. Choose the correct word to complete each sentence.
  1. I can’t come to dinner because I have a __________ this weekend.
    a) commitment b) compromise
  2. I have a terrible cold. I’ve been ____________ for three days.
    a) constipated b) congested
  3. Please don’t use ______________ here. You must show some respect.
    a) vulgarities b) groceries
  4. My favourite type of ____________ is creamy tomato.
    a) soup b) soap
  5. The nurse ___________ the needle into her arm.
    a) inserted b) introduced
  6. My favourite fruit is _________.
    a) prickly pear b) tuna
  7. I cry so easily because I’m so ___________.
    a) sensitive b) sensible
  8. I cannot __________ that girl. She’s so annoying!
    a) support b) stand
  9. Don’t forget to __________ the ingredients when cooking.
    a) remove b) stir
  10. The teacher is mad! She assigned 10 ___________ for homework.
    a) lectures b) readings
II. Connect the Spanish word to its correct meaning in English.
1. largoa. misery
2. cuerdob. success
3. tristezac. salad
4. avergonzadod. record
5. éxitoe. long
6. grabarf. pie
7. desfileg. sane
8. sensatoh. parade
9. pasteli. embarrassed
10. ensaladaj. sensible
III. Select the correct meaning in English for each word in Spanish.
  1. Bigote means…              a) moustache             b) bigot
  2. Largo means…               a) large                        b) long
  3. Sensible means…          a) sensible                   b) sensitive
  4. Molestar means…          a) to bother                 b) to abuse
  5. Recordar means…         a) to remember           b) to record
  6. Embarazada means…   a) embarrassed           b) pregnant
  7. Emocionar means…      a) to excite                   b) to arouse
  8. Soportar means…          a) to stand                   b) to support
  9. Parientes means…         a) parents                    b) family members
  10. Retirar means…             a) to retire                    b) to take away/leave
IV. Choose the best option to replace the word in bold.
  1. ¿Asistirás a la clase mañana?
    a) Will you attend….? b) Will you assist…?
  2. Siempre está distraído.
    a) a) worried b) distracted
  3. No puedo quitar la mancha.
    a) remove b) stir
  4. Mi papá pronto se va a jubilar.
    a) take away b) retire
  5. Actualmente, trabajo solo.
    a) actually b) currently

———————————————————————————————–

Answers:
Exercise II

  1. a.
  2. b.
  3. a.
  4. a.
  5. a.
  6. a.
  7. b.
  8. b.
  9. b.
  10. b.
Exercise II

  1. e.
  2. g.
  3. a.
  4. i.
  5. b.
  6. d.
  7. h.
  8. j.
  9. f.
  10. c.
Exercise III

  1. a
  2. b
  3. b
  4. a
  5. a
  6. b
  7. a
  8. a
  9. b
  10. b
Exercise IV

  1. a
  2. b
  3. a
  4. b
  5. b
largo=long
cuerdo=sane
tristeza=misery
avergonzado=embarrassed
éxito=success
grabar=record
desfile=parade
sensato=sensible
pastel=pie
ensalada=salad
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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Anna S.
— ESL Tutor.
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