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!
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|
Some people think Portuguese is an easy language to learn, but it is actually one of the most difficult!
The Dove advert on TV led to a lot of controversy.
|Pauta do dia|
In today’s agenda we have made time for a meeting with the Sales team.
(By the way)
The spy’s alias was Mr Black.
I’m an alumnus of the University of London. I graduated in 2001.
I’ve made an appointment to see the dentist.
Before international football matches, they sing the national anthem of each country.
I have to attend two conferences this year for work.
The balcony in my room has the most amazing view!
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.
The convict escaped from Alcatraz!
I wore a vampire costume last Halloween.
Hospital IT systems store data on all patients.
A magician should be a master of deception. The same is true of politicians!
|Defendant||Defensivo (a) (Defensive)||Réu|
The defendant pleaded not guilty.
The diversion worked perfectly so the security guards didn’t notice us.
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.
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.
It requires skill and ingenuity to be a great designer.
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.
The Mayor presented awards to several community leaders.
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.
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.
The physician examined the blood tests thoroughly.
|Policy||Polícia (Police)||Políticas, diretrizes|
Our company has recently updated its refunds policy.
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.
My sister pushed me in the lake!
I pulled the door open for her.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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Lay and Lie are both verbs (actions). They have similar meanings, but lay means ‘put something on a surface carefully’ – e.g. Chloe lays her clothes on the bed. Lie means ‘move into a horizontal position (independently)’ – e.g. Sarah lies on the sofa after work. Simple rule: Lay (put something down flat) vs. Lie (get into a horizontal position).
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