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Russian mistakes in English: false friends

Over the centuries, English and Russian have borrowed a multitude of words from different languages; thus expanding and enriching their respective vocabularies. Continue reading

However, although certain words may look and sound similar in the two languages, they do not always have the same meanings in modern usage. This can create confusion and mistakes when translating terms that share the same origins but have evolved differently over time.

A “false friend” is a word in another language that appears similar to one in your own but has a contrasting meaning. Sometimes terms that seem alike can have very different definitions – as with the words “preservative” (консервант) in English and «презерватив» (condom) in Russian! As well as false friends, there are also “true friends” – words that appear the same and have the same or very close meanings, e.g. sport/спорт, hotel/отель, radio/радио. However, just because words look or sound similar does not mean we should automatically assume they have the same meanings in our two languages.

False friends in English and Russian can lead to embarrassing mistakes when a perfectly innocent-sounding term in one language may mean something offensive or unpleasant in the other. For example, the Russian word “фарт” (luck) sounds almost identical to “fart” (пукать) – lucky for some, unlucky for others perhaps! One OTUK student once said her husband had bought her a “brilliant ring” – she meant “diamond” but expressed the meaning “замечательное кольцо”. The English dictionary does list “brilliant” as a technical term for diamond but this usage is extremely rare in the modern language. Knowing how certain words are used in real contexts is an important part of speaking and writing properly in English and requires time and effort on the part of the learner.

Below is a list of some of the most common false friends in English and Russian:

English Word Correct Translation Russian Mistake
Abort  Прерывать, прекращать Аборт (abortion)
Accord Согласие Аккорд (chord)
Accurate Точный Аккуратный (tidy, smart)
Actual Фактический, реальный Актуальный (urgent, topical)
Alley Переулок, узкая улица Аллея (avenue, lane)
Angina Стенокардия Ангина (tonsillitis)
Balloon Воздушный шарик Баллон (cylinder, container)
Band Муз. Группа, лента Банда (gang, mob)
Bog Болота Бог (God)
Brilliant Отличный, блестящий Бриллиант (diamond)
Cabinet Шкафчик Кабинет (study, office)
Camera Фотоаппарат Камера (cell, chamber)
Carton Картонная упаковка Картон (cardboard)
Chef Шеф-повар Шеф (boss, manager)
Clay Глина Клей (glue)
Concourse Общий зал, перекресток Конкурс (competition)
Data Данные Дата (date)
Decade Десятилетие Декада (10 days)
Fabric Ткань Фабрика (factory, plant)
Family Семья Фамилия (surname)
Fart Пукать Фарт (luck)
Gymnasium Спортзал Гимназия (grammar school)
Insult Оскорбление Инсульт (stroke)
Intelligence Ум, интеллект Интеллигенция (intelligentsia)
Liquidize Превращать в жидкость Ликвидировать (eliminate)
List Список Лист (leaf, sheet, piece)
Lunatic Сумасшедший, безумец Лунатик (sleepwalker)
Magazine Журнал Магазин (shop)
Marmalade Апельсиновый джем Мармелад (fruit jellies)
Mark Метка, пятно Марка (stamp)
Multiplication Размножение, умножение Мультипликация (animation)
Prospect Перспектива Проспект (avenue)
Preservative Консервант Презерватив (condom)
Pretend Делать вид, притворяться Претендовать (try to get)
Obligation Гарантия, обязательство Облигация (bond)
Realise Понимать, осознавать Реализовать (implement)
Recipe Кулинарный рецепт Рецепт (prescription)
Resin Смола Резина (rubber)
Stool Табуретка Стул (chair)
Sympathy Сочувствие, сострадание Симпатия (a liking for)
Talon Коготь Талон (coupon)
Trap Капкан, ловушка Трап (gangway, ladder)
Troop  Отряд, pl. войска Труп (corpse)
Velvet Бархат Вельвет  (corduroy)
Virtuous Целомудренный Виртуозный (masterly)

For more on the topic of Russian mistakes see:

Russian mistakes in English: confusing words 3
Russian mistakes in English: confusing words 2
Russian mistakes in English: confusing words 1
Russian mistakes in English: gender
Russian mistakes in English: prepositions
Russian mistakes in English: singular vs. plural

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