Spanish False Friends: 10 Worst Mistakes with Examples

Walter Winchell once said, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” Having friends like that is wonderful, right?!, but not all friends are real friend. Especially in language learning – Spanish false friends are walking among us…

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

Have you heard about Spanish false friends?

Today, we’re talking about 10 of the worst Spanish 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!

1. What are Spanish false friends?

Today I will teach you 10 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 Spanish false friends and they can lead to misunderstandings or cause more serious problems.

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!

2. Spanish false friends starting with A


In English, the word ‘actually’ is used to emphasize that something is true, but the word actualmente in Spanish actually means ‘currently’!

So, instead say:

  • de hecho or
  • en realidad

as an equivalent of actually.


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. (I will be attending a congress in Mexico City.)
  • Iré a un congreso en la Ciudad de México. (I will attend a congress in Mexico City.)
spanish false friends explained by female teacher

4. Do the math with this tricky words


If you think that billion and billón stand for the same amount, 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?

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5. Spanish false friends starting with C


If your pet is lying on the carpet, you should say:

  • Mi mascota está descansando en la alfombra. (My pet is resting on the carpet.)

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!


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

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, 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.    

6. Avoid embarrassment


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, 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).


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?

7. Sports and food may be tricky as well


If you are in a store with a can in your hands, do not mention the word ‘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.

8. Remember these!


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”!   


You might have realized that there are words you thought meant something different!

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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