Did you know there are many words that look almost the same in English and Spanish, but they actually mean something completely different?
No digo que sea tu caso (I’m not saying it’s your case), but almost all foreigners I’ve ever met use them wrong at least once in a while… and if you’re not careful, you can end up saying some pretty embarrassing—or hilarious—things in Spanish!
So, if you want to avoid:
- telling everyone they’re horny (and risk getting slapped in the face)
- mistaking your bowel issues for a runny nose
- calling someone naive when you actually think they’re a genius
- and 3 other tricky mistakes
…this is the article for you!
1. Excitado / Excited
Lo siento (I’m sorry), English speakers, but this is one of the most common, and funny, expressions people use to refer to being happy.
Well, news flash! En español (In Spanish), it doesn’t mean that… it’s more a mature form of excitement si sabes a lo que me refiero (if you know what I mean). So, next time you are feeling extremely joyous, you are better off using emocionado o emocionada.
- Estoy muy emocionada de conocerte finalmente (I’m very excited to finally meet you)
- Él está tan emocionado que no puede dejar de hablar de ti (He’s so excited that he can’t stop talking about you)
2. Constipado / Constipated
Another confusing one!
Constipado in Spanish has nothing to do with bowel issues (we’d call that estar estreñido); instead, it just means que tienes un ligero resfriado (that you have a mild cold). Literally, your nose is constipated.
So, next time you are talking about being “constipado”, make sure you know what you are talking about or people would offer you una ciruela (a plum).
- Me parece que por los nervios estoy estreñido (I’m afraid stress has caused me belly ache)
- Este ligero resfriado pasará pronto (This mild constipation will soon pass).
3. Caliente / Hot
Okay, en honor a la verdad (to be fair), the word “caliente” might have a lot of meanings. So, I promise I won’t hold it against you! However, many English speakers use this word to say “You are hot”, meaning “You are attractive”, but we don’t really interpret it like that, and if you say “estás muy caliente” to a girl, well… you might get a slap or two.
Let’s say it means pretty much the same as “excitado / excitada” in Spanish. Let’s learn the proper use of the word caliente: a beverage is caliente (hot), the weather might be “caliente” (hot) as well, but people are atractivo or atractiva or, even better, guapo or guapa.
- La chica del bikini es muy guapa (The girl in the bikini is hot)
- Me parece que mi novio es muy atractivo (I think my boyfriend is very hot)
This one is so common that Paulisima made a whole article about caliente and the different ways of expressing hotness in Spanish. You can check it out here.
4. Familiar / Familiar
Nope, I’m not talking about Salem, Sabrina’s familiar… I’m talking about English speakers confusing the term.
Familiar is someone you are very well acquainted with, a family member, or at least, es lo que queremos decir en español (that’s what we mean in Spanish). The word and term exists, but it is not something that we use a lot.
So, if you want to refer to something you are familiar with, the right word would be acostumbrado (used to):
- Estoy muy acostumbrada a conducir de noche (I’m very familiar with driving at night)
- La reunión de anoche fue bastante familiar (Last night’s reunion was quite family-oriented)
De anoche is a perfect example of a chunk in Spanish. It means “last night” and natives use it all the time. The literal translation of “last night” is “última noche” and it just sounds weird.
Literal translations just don’t work when learning Spanish. So, if you want to sound like a Spanish native and have fluent Spanish sentences roll off your tongue, make sure to learn Spanish chunks like “de anoche”.
Check out our free Spanish chunking training that shows you many more Spanish chunks and how chunking will ease your way into fluency.
5. Ingenuidad / Ingenuity
Would you consider yourself ingenious or naive? Pay attention to this word, since it is definitely not the same as it is in Spanish.
Ingenuity in English means being listo, original e inventivo (clever, original, and inventive), but in Spanish, ingenuidad refers to being naive or simple. If you are looking to sell yourself, you should use the term “ingenioso”:
- Cuando me lo propongo, puedo ser muy ingenioso (When I put my mind to it, I can be very resourceful)
Quien crea lo contrario es simple e ingenuo (Who believes otherwise is simple and naive)
6. Éxito / Exit
Many people confuse the English word “exit” with the Spanish word éxito, but let me tell you, they mean very different things.
When Metallica sings about an exit life, they are pretty much talking about leaving this life, but if you talk about éxito in Spanish, it means to be successful.
Como dato curioso (As a fun fact), the word exit, in Spanish and English, comes from the Latin word “exitus”. English speakers adopted this as “exit”, while Spanish adapted it as “success”, meaning, it has a great outcome:
- El éxito de tu empresa me da inspiración (The success of your company gives me inspiration)
- La salida del club está por allá (The club’s exit is over there)
Tell me, have you used any of these literal translations wrong before? What happened? Any funny stories? Let me know in the comments!
There is one more literal translation that English speakers use all the time, and it’s particularly funny to hear that one: “no problemo”.
I actually made a whole article about it, where I tell you why you should never say “no problemo” and I also provide you with nine great alternatives to saying “no problem” in Spanish that will make you sound like a true native speaker!