FALSE FRIENDS IN SPANISH: Don’t Make These Common Mistakes!

FALSE FRIENDS IN SPANISH: Don't Make These Common Mistakes!

Walter Winchell once said, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” ¡Qué maravilla tener amistades así!, ¿no es cierto? (Having friends like that is wonderful, right?!), but not all friends are real friends… especially in language learning. 

¿Has escuchado hablar de los falsos amigos? (Have you heard about false friends?) Those that roban tu comida (steal your food) when you are not looking; piden prestado, y nunca pagan (those that borrow money and never pay it back); te invitan a una fiesta, y nunca llegan (those that invite you to a party and never show up). Those are FALSE friends… Yes, indeed, but we’re not talking about that type of false friends today! 

Hoy hablaremos de 10 de los peores  falsos amigos entre el español y el inglés (Today, we’re talking about 10 of the worst false friends between Spanish and English). Yes, languages can betray one another, or they can betray YOU, the language learner! So, read this article to find out how to avoid those traps!

False friends?

Today I will teach you ten words that one might think have the same meaning in both English and Spanish because they look or sound similar, but actually mean completely different things. 

These similar word pairs are called FALSE FRIENDS and they can lead to misunderstandings or cause more serious problems.

Beware of false friends

Aprender español (learning Spanish) might seem like a piece of cake because English and Spanish kind of share a common ancestor: Latin. 

Because of Latin, there are words like nación and nation, constitución and constitution, and actividad and activity. Overall, they mean the same thing and have a similar spelling in both languages, but beware! Things are not always that straightforward!

False friends starting with A

  1. Actually

In English, the word ‘actually’ is used to emphasize that something is true, but the word actualmente in Spanish actually means ‘currently’! So, say de hecho or en realidad as an equivalent of actually.

  1. Attend

If you’re attending a huge conference in Mexico City, you shouldn’t say “voy a atender una conferencia”, because that sentence contains two false friends: atender and conferencia.

When you attend an event, you should say asistir or ir, and a conference in Spanish is called congreso.

So, to talk about that huge conference you’re attending in Mexico City, you may say:

  • Asistiré a un congreso en la Ciudad de México. 
  • Iré a un congreso en la Ciudad de México. 

Can you think of other false friends in these sentences? Let me know in the comments if you were able to detect them!

Do the math!

  1. Billion

If you think that billion and billón stand for the same amount, tus bolsillos pueden terminar vacíos (you might empty your pockets!)

The equivalent of “billion” in Spanish is mil millones, while billón is actually the equivalent of “trillion”. Huge difference, right?

Speaking of differences, if you want to learn Spanish in a fun and easy way,  why don’t you sign up to the free Spanish training on our website. You’ll discover a method called Conversation Based Chunking that linguists say can cut the time you need to learn Spanish in half… which could save you a couple of billions of wasted seconds… and tears of frustration! Not exaggerating! 

False friends starting with C

  1. Carpet

If your pet is lying on the carpet, you should say: Mi mascota está descansando en la alfombra. If you say carpeta instead, you won’t be talking about the carpet, but about a folder. 

I know, pets can’t be bothered and may lie on folders or carpets on equal measure, so make sure you use the correct word in Spanish to refer to each of them!

  1. Constipated

I was massively embarrassed a couple of years ago because of this word…

Estaba hablando con una amiga canadiense (I was talking to a Canadian friend) and I was telling her about a time I had had a terrible cold, but I used the word ‘constipated’.

Why? Because constipada or constipado in Spanish means to have a cold! 

She obviously laughed at me and said, “eso no es lo que quieres decir” (that’s not what you want to say). And then it hit me!

Constipated is related to the bowels, while constipado has to do with the nose. They both mean clogged, but just refer to two very different parts of your body. If you want to say ‘constipated’ in Spanish, say estreñido.    

Avoid embarrassment

  1. Embarrassed

If you don’t want to feel as embarrassed as I felt when I said “constipated” instead of “I had a cold”, say estoy embarazada ONLY if you are pregnant.

Yes, embarazada means pregnant. So, if you ever feel tempted to use this word to express how embarrassed you are, imagínate con una panzota (imagine yourself with a huge belly)! 

The English word ‘embarrassed’ may be expressed in Spanish as either apenada or avergonzada (if you are a woman) or apenado or avergonzado (if you are a man).

  1. Exit

If you are looking for the exit, don’t say “¿dónde está el éxito?” because you might end up talking to a life coach… and that might be somewhat problematic if there’s a fire, for instance!  

Éxito in Spanish means ‘success’. So, to find the exit, say ¿dónde está la salida?

Sports and food may be tricky as well

  1. Preservative

Si estás en la tienda y tienes una lata en tus manos (if you are in a store with a can in your hands), no menciones la palabra ‘preservativo’ to refer to ‘preservatives’. 

Preservativo in Spanish is a fancy word for condom or condón. So, in the context of food, you want to say conservador.

Remember these!

  1. Introduce

Please don’t say “te introduzco a mi amigo” to introduce a friend of yours to someone else. 

Introducir in Spanish means to put something inside something else. So, do you see how awkward it is to say “te introduzco a mi amigo”? Imagine saying that on a double date! ¡Qué oso! (How embarrassing!)

Instead, say “te presento a mi amigo”!   

  1. Realize

Quizás te hayas dado cuenta (You might have realized) that there are words you thought meant something different! Cuéntame en los comentarios (tell me in the comments) which words surprised you the most!

But before you do, remember not to use realizar as an equivalent of “to realize”. Realizar means “to do” or “to perform” in Spanish. 

For example: 

  • Encontraron las ruinas al realizar las excavaciones. (They found the ruins while excavating.)

So, to say you’ve realized something, use the chunk: “Me di cuenta de algo”.

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