Russian Mistakes in English: 54 False Friends

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.

false friends english russian
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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.

List of 54 False Friends in English and Russian

English Word Russian Mistake Correct Meaning + Example
Abort Аборт
Прерывать, прекращать
This website contains malware. Please abort connection!
Accord Аккорд
The political rivals managed to reach an accord.
Accurate Аккуратный
(tidy, smart)
Точный, меткий
Are these financial statistics accurate?
Actual Актуальный
(urgent, topical)
Фактический, реальный
There was a minor car accident, but with no actual damage.
Alley Аллея
(avenue, lane)
Узкий проход, переулок
I heard two cats fighting in the alley last night.
Angina Ангина
The patient had high blood pressure and suffered from angina.
Artist Артист
Turner is my favourite British artist.
Auditorium Аудитория
The university students packed into the auditorium for the lecture.
Balloon Баллон
(cylinder, container)
Воздушный шарик
Little Lucy loved her big red balloon!
Band Банда
(gang, mob)
Муз. Группа, лента
Do you know any good Russian rock bands?
Biscuit Бисквит
(sponge cake)
I usually have a chocolate biscuit with my tea.
Bog Бог
Our walk will take us through a bog so you’ll need good boots.
Brilliant Бриллиант
Отличный, блестящий
John is a brilliant footballer!
Cabinet Кабинет
(study, office)
One of our kitchen cabinets is falling off the wall so we need to fix it.
Camera Камера
(cell, chamber)
Remember to take your best camera on holiday!
Carton Картон
Картонная упаковка
If you’re going to the shop, can you get me a carton of milk?
Check (BrEn.) Чек
(BrEn. receipt, AmEn. check)
Проверить, проверка
We need to check your ID before you can enter the building.
Chef Шеф
(boss, manager)
The new restaurant in town has a world-class chef.
Clay Клей
My daughter made some clay models at school today.
Concourse Конкурс
(competition, contest)
Общий зал, стечение народа
There are plans to build a large concourse at the train station.
Data Дата
How do you protect your personal data online?
Decade Декада
(10 days)
My Russian uncle (Vanya!) has lived in America for almost a decade.
Decoration Декорация
(set design, decor)
Do we need to buy more decorations for the Xmas tree this year?
Fabric Фабрика
(factory, plant)
I need some more pieces of fabric to finish the quilt I’m making.
Family Фамилия
My wife and I would like to start a family, but we need to buy a house first.
Fart Фарт
That guy is as popular as a fart in a lift!
Focus Фокус
(magic trick)
Сконцентрировать, центр внимания, уклон
What’s the main focus of your university dissertation.
Gym(nasium) Гимназия
(grammar school)
I’m off to the gym tonight. You fancy coming?
Insult Инсульт
The boss calls everyone an idiot so I wouldn’t take it as an insult.
Intelligence Интеллигенция
Ум, интеллект
What do you like best in a man – intelligence or good looks?
Intelligent Интеллигентный
John’s a nice guy, but he’s not very intelligent.
List Лист
(leaf, sheet, piece)
We keep a shopping list on our fridge so we don’t forget anything.
Lunatic Лунатик
Сумасшедший, безумец
My ex girlfriend’s a lunatic! She keeps a pet tortoise in her bed!
Magazine Магазин
I buy a computing magazine once a month via an online subscription.
Marmalade Мармелад
(fruit jellies)
Апельсиновый джем
Thick-cut English marmalade is delicious on buttered toast!
Mark Марка
Метка, пятно, оценка
Did you get a good mark on your geography test at school today?
Multiplication Мультипликация
Размножение, умножение
We had to learn basic multiplication in our primary school maths lessons.
Obligation Облигация
Гарантия, обязательство
Every parent has an obligation to take good care of their child.
Operator Оператор
Механик, радист, телефонист
The ship’s captain told the radio operator to send out an SOS message.
Physique Физик
The boxer had a muscular physique and quick feet.
Prospect Проспект
The boss loves Mary’s work so her career prospects look good.
Preservative Презерватив
This fruit juice contains natural preservatives so it keeps for longer.
Pretend Претендовать
(try to get)
Делать вид, притворяться
You don’t have to pretend to like my cake! I can’t even eat it myself!
Realise Реализовать
Понимать, осознавать
I know you’ve been with Ben a long time, but I didn’t realise you two were married!
Recipe Рецепт
Кулинарный рецепт
I found a fantastic cake recipe on the BBC Food website.
Resin Резина
Amber is fossilised tree resin that is used to make jewellery.
Smoking Смокинг
(dinner jacket, tuxedo)
Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the building.
Stool Стул
The tables were all taken so I sat on a stool at the bar and waited.
Sympathy Симпатия
(a liking for)
Сочувствие, сострадание
I have no sympathy for murderers. They deserve the harshest punishment.
Talon Талон
The Golden Eagle caught the fish in its talons.
Trap Трап
(gangway, ladder)
Капкан, ловушка
I set a trap for my dad with a water pistol and a piece of string!
Troop Труп
Отряд, pl. войска
Russia is tracking troop movements on the border.
Velvet Вельвет
She wore a black velvet dress to the evening party.
Virtuous Виртуозный
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

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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)

Written by Alex Jude
ESL Specialist & CEO at Online Teachers UK
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