False friends (also called "false cognates”) are Russian words that look or sound similar to English words but have different meanings. In this guide, you will find a list of common false friends with definitions and examples to show the differences between the words.
Sometimes terms that appear alike can have very different meanings – 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 look or sound similar and have the same (or very close) meanings, e.g. sport/спорт, hotel/отель, radio/радио.
Just because words look or sound similar does not mean you should assume they have the same meanings in the two languages. It is always a good idea to check all new words in your dictionary. False friends in English and Russian can lead to embarrassing mistakes when a term in one language means 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!
Another funny error can occur with the words ‘brilliant’ (отличный, блестящий) vs. ‘diamond’ (бриллиант-овый). A “brilliant ring” (прекрасное/блестящее кольцо) is not the same as a “diamond ring” (бриллиантовое кольцо)! Your dictionary will list “brilliant” as a technical term for diamond, but this usage is rare in modern English and most native speakers do not know it. These types of errors show how important it is for you to learn English vocabulary in context.
|English Word||Russian Mistake||Correct Meaning + Example|
This website contains malware. Please abort connection!
The political rivals managed to reach an accord.
Are these financial statistics accurate?
There was a minor car accident, but with no actual damage.
|Узкий проход, переулок|
I heard two cats fighting in the alley last night.
The patient had high blood pressure and suffered from angina.
Turner is my favourite British artist.
The university students packed into the auditorium for the lecture.
Little Lucy loved her big red balloon!
|Муз. Группа, лента|
Do you know any good Russian rock bands?
I usually have a chocolate biscuit with my tea.
Our walk will take us through a bog so you’ll need good boots.
John is a brilliant footballer!
One of our kitchen cabinets is falling off the wall so we need to fix it.
Remember to take your best camera on holiday!
If you’re going to the shop, can you get me a carton of milk?
(BrEn. receipt, AmEn. check)
We need to check your ID before you can enter the building.
The new restaurant in town has a world-class chef.
My daughter made some clay models at school today.
|Общий зал, стечение народа|
There are plans to build a large concourse at the train station.
How do you protect your personal data online?
My Russian uncle (Vanya!) has lived in America for almost a decade.
(set design, decor)
Do we need to buy more decorations for the Xmas tree this year?
I need some more pieces of fabric to finish the quilt I’m making.
My wife and I would like to start a family, but we need to buy a house first.
That guy is as popular as a fart in a lift!
|Сконцентрировать, центр внимания, уклон|
What’s the main focus of your university dissertation.
I’m off to the gym tonight. You fancy coming?
The boss calls everyone an idiot so I wouldn’t take it as an insult.
What do you like best in a man – intelligence or good looks?
John’s a nice guy, but he’s not very intelligent.
(leaf, sheet, piece)
We keep a shopping list on our fridge so we don’t forget anything.
My ex girlfriend’s a lunatic! She keeps a pet tortoise in her bed!
I buy a computing magazine once a month via an online subscription.
Thick-cut English marmalade is delicious on buttered toast!
|Метка, пятно, оценка|
Did you get a good mark on your geography test at school today?
We had to learn basic multiplication in our primary school maths lessons.
Every parent has an obligation to take good care of their child.
|Механик, радист, телефонист|
The ship’s captain told the radio operator to send out an SOS message.
The boxer had a muscular physique and quick feet.
The boss loves Mary’s work so her career prospects look good.
This fruit juice contains natural preservatives so it keeps for longer.
(try to get)
|Делать вид, притворяться|
You don’t have to pretend to like my cake! I can’t even eat it myself!
I know you’ve been with Ben a long time, but I didn’t realise you two were married!
I found a fantastic cake recipe on the BBC Food website.
Amber is fossilised tree resin that is used to make jewellery.
(dinner jacket, tuxedo)
Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the building.
The tables were all taken so I sat on a stool at the bar and waited.
(a liking for)
I have no sympathy for murderers. They deserve the harshest punishment.
The Golden Eagle caught the fish in its talons.
I set a trap for my dad with a water pistol and a piece of string!
|Отряд, pl. войска|
Russia is tracking troop movements on the border.
She wore a black velvet dress to the evening party.
A priest should be both wise and virtuous.
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