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Portuguese Mistakes in English: 51 False Friends

Confused by similar words in English and Portuguese? You are not alone! Most ESL learners make mistakes with these “false friends” (or “false cognates”) in the two languages! Let’s take a look at some examples of false friends in English and Portuguese!

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51 false friends in English vs. Portuguese

This list contains 51 of the most commonly confused words in English and Portuguese. If your mother tongue is Portuguese, you will naturally make mistakes in English due to false cognates in the two languages. These words may look and sound similar (and often share the same etymology), but they have different meanings and usage.

When you find pairs of false friends between Portuguese and English, take the time to understand them in the context of EACH language!

English word Similar Portuguese word (mistake) Correct meaning + example
Actually Atualmente
(Currently)
Na verdade/realidade
Some people think Portuguese is an easy language to learn, but it is actually one of the most difficult!
Advert Advertir
(Advise/warn)
Propaganda
The Dove advert on TV led to a lot of controversy.
Agenda Agenda
(Diary/planner)
Pauta do dia
In today’s agenda we have made time for a meeting with the Sales team.
Alias Alias
(By the way)
Codinome
The spy’s alias was Mr Black.
Alumnus Aluno(s)
(Student/pupil)
Ex-aluno
I’m an alumnus of the University of London. I graduated in 2001.
Appointment Apontamento
(Appoint)
Compromisso
I’ve made an appointment to see the dentist.
Anthem Antena (Antenna) Hino
Before international football matches, they sing the national anthem of each country.
Attend Atender
(Pick up)
Comparecer
I have to attend two conferences this year for work.
Balcony Balcão
(Counter)
Sacada
The balcony in my room has the most amazing view!
Collar Colar
(Necklace)
Gola
The collar of my shirt needs a good clean.
Compromise Compromisso (Appointment) Entrar em acordo, fazer concessão
We need to stop fighting about this and reach a compromise.
Convict Convicto(a) (Certain) Preso
The convict escaped from Alcatraz!
Costume Costume (Habits) Fantasia
I wore a vampire costume last Halloween.
Data Data (Date) Dados
Hospital IT systems store data on all patients.
Deception Decepção (Disappointment) Fraude/enganar
A magician should be a master of deception. The same is true of politicians!
Defendant Defensivo (a) (Defensive) Réu
The defendant pleaded not guilty.
Diversion Diversão (Fun) Desvio
The diversion worked perfectly so the security guards didn’t notice us.
Exit Exito (Success) Saida
The exit to the station is on the left.
Exciting Excitante (Rousing) Empolgante
I’m really excited about my trip to India!
It will be an exciting trip!
Exquisite Esquisito (Strange) Algo belo, refinado
This ancient Egyptian vase is simply exquisite!
Enroll Enrolar (Curl/roll) Estar inscrito/se inscrever em um curso/aula
I’m enrolled on the Higher Maths course this semester.
Fabric Fabrica (Factory) Tecido
I need some pieces of fabric to make a patchwork quilt.
Grip Gripe (Flu) Agarrar/segurar
I lost my grip on the branch and fell out of the tree!
Idiom Idioma (Language) Expressão idiomática
‘A piece of cake’ is an idiom meaning something that is easy.
Ingenuity Ingenuidade (Naivety) Criatividade
It requires skill and ingenuity to be a great designer.
Injury Injúria (Insult) Ferimento
Manchester United’s best player is currently out with a knee injury.
Journal Jornal (Newspaper) Revista especializada
The Journal of Philosophy only accepts submissions in May.
Lace Laço (Bow) Tecido fino feito de fios, renda
Her wedding dress was made of beautiful white lace.
Legend Legenda (Subtitles) Lenda
The legend of Curupira comes from Brazil.
Library Livraria (Bookshop) Biblioteca
I’m going to the library to pick up some books.
Lunch Lanche (Snacks) Almoço
I usually have my lunch at 1pm.
Mayor Maior (Bigger) Prefeito
The Mayor presented awards to several community leaders.
Moisture Mistura (Mixture) Umidade
The moisture level of the soil isn’t high enough to grow flowers.
Novel Novela (Soap Opera) Um livro de ficção
I’m reading a great novel by J.K. Rowling.
Algo novo e interessante
We came up with a novel idea to solve the problem.
Notice Notícia (News) Notar/perceber
I noticed she had lost weight.
Office Ofício (Profession) Escritório
Our new office is really modern.
Parents Parentes (Relatives) Pais
We can have a party at my house as my parents aren’t home.
Pasta Pasta (Folder) Macarrão (tipo geral)
I love eating pasta when I’m in Italy.
Physician Físico (Physicist/Physical) Médico
The physician examined the blood tests thoroughly.
Policy Polícia (Police) Políticas, diretrizes
Our company has recently updated its refunds policy.
Prejudice Prejudicar/Prejuizo (Harm/Loss) Preconceito
There’s still prejudice against ethnic minorities in parts of the labour market.
Preservative Preservativo (camisinha) (Condom) Conservante
The shelf life of most orange juice is longer because of the preservatives in it.
Push Puxar (Pull) Empurrar
My sister pushed me in the lake!
Pull Pular (Jump) Puxar
I pulled the door open for her.
Realise Realizar (Accomplish) Perceber
It takes time to realise and understand the mistakes you have made in the past.
Record Recordar (Remember) Gravar um disco/dados
May I record this interview?
Resume Resumo (Summary) Retomar, reiniciar
The meeting will resume at 5pm sharp.
Retired/Retire Retirado/retirar (Withdrawn) Aposentado (a)
I am 75 and retired.
Scholar Escolar (Academic) Erudito
He is a leading political scholar at the University of York.
Senior Senhor (Sir) Pessoa mais velha que voce (nao necessariamente idosa)
The senior girls play badminton while the others play hockey.
Sensible Sensível (Sensitive) Sensato (a)
John’s a sensible guy. He always thinks long and hard before making a decision.
Tips to remember false friends in English and Portuguese
  1. Always check the meaning of new words!

Never assume that two words that sound similar in English and Portuguese have the same meaning. While they may share the same origin, their meanings may have changed a lot over time! Take a good dictionary, look up the new English words and write down their correct meaning and translation in Portuguese.

  1. Make your own list of false friends

Take the list above and remove any false friends that you already know well. Now create your own personal list of false cognates with the English word on the left, the Portuguese mistake in the middle column and the correct translation and meaning on the right. You can find more false friends by reading and translating texts in English. Build your list over time as your study.

  1. Learn false cognates with examples in context

Context is extremely important when you are learning vocabulary! Never learn a word without an example of how it is used. Context always helps us to understand what words mean. For this reason, you should never learn words in isolation – e.g. just a list with no examples. Take two words that sound very similar in English and Portuguese, find one sample sentence for each and you will quickly see the difference in usage between them!

  1. Write x3 sentences for each set of false friends

Starting with the list above, you can highlight some false cognates that have caused problems for you in the past. Look at the example of correct English usage and try to write x3 new sentences of your own. If you are unsure of how to use the English word, search for it on Google and look for more examples of it in context. You can then copy these examples or write more yourself.


  1. Practise with bad translations!

This may sound like a strange tip, but it actually works. Have you ever watched an English film with subtitles in Portuguese? Try to follow them and pick out the mistakes! There will be more than you think. Words often have several meanings in English and this creates additional problems when translating. You can also try this exercise with translated texts.

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by
Laura Turpin
Staff Writer
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