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Common Spanish-English False Friends

by Joseph Carey

¡Mantener a los enemigos más cerca y falsos amigos de distancia!, or 'keep your enemies close and false friends far away'. Now here we are not talking about real friends but about the cognates from a different language. English and Spanish are the most spoken languages. Spanish developed from Latin, and English contains many words of Latin-origin. Hence, they share quite a lot of words which have different meanings in their respective languages.

This creates a little trouble for non-native speakers of both languages. So if you are learning English or Spanish, a wrong use of words can be quite embarrassing in a classroom. But that’s okay as you can be pardoned for being a foreigner. Building bridges between two languages is quite a challenging task and false friends make it even harder.

There are certain dictionaries for English-Spanish False Friends which helps in understanding the false cognates and saves everyone. One of the false cognate is plague. In Spanish, plaga is pest and for plague is peste.

There are certain common false friends in Spanish-English which can fool you in no time. But if you want to be aware of these two-faced words, make language learning process a habit. This way you will not have to face any miscommunication.

Let’s start with, librería and library. I am sure you got it right, a place from where we pick books to read from. But wait, the shocker is that one of the words actually means bookstore and the other one is a library. Apparently, librería = bookstore and biblioteca = library. It’s still the same; a place where we pick books to read from, but with a twist.

Then comes, constipado and constipated. They both are related to health but, Oh dear Lord! If you accidently end up in a pharmacy, please confirm his language first and then get the medicine otherwise, you will end up in a disastrous situation. The reason being, constipado = to have a cold and estreñido = constipated. Well, what can we say!

The same way there are words that you might be using with full confidence but make sure you make sense in front of any heritage speaker, like conservante = preservatives and preservativo = condom. This calls for instant embarrassment, but if you don’t want yourself to be caught off-guard then this false cognate is what you should be using thoughtfully if you are pregnant or embarrass at any situation because, Qué vergüenza = How embarrassing and Estoy embarazada = I am pregnant.

It’s not just that you need should know all these words to avoid situations, but false friends are your worst enemies, if you know them, you can never be fooled. Spanish-English false friends are like parasites that cannot survive without their host. You need to realize (dares cuenta), only then you would know how to achieve (realizar) the Spanish inside of you.

Next lesson, if you are speaking with a native Spanish speaker, never ever say gangs in front of them. The reason is again hidden in the word, in English gangs means gangsters but, in Spanish, gangas means bargain. So if any Spanish asks you about any gangas, you probably want to take them to the mall where there are sales. Gangas = Bargains and Pandillas = Gangs!

Just like the word ‘library’, there are also other words that exist which is identical in the format. When we say lecture in English, we mean a teacher giving out lesson in a class but when a Spanish hears lecture, he immediately opens his book and starts reading. The reason being, lectura = reading, and charla conferencia = lecture. In the same manner, recordar = to remember and grabar = to record. Well, remember or to record, a genius would never miscommunicate anymore.

The not-so-final common Spanish-English false friends are Introduce and Card. Can you find the language-humour in it? No? Well, introducir = to insert (an object) and presentar = to introduce (people), similarly, carta = letter (paper and playing) and tarjeta = card (credit, debit, greeting).

False Friends can never be overcome until and unless you know the different between English and Spanish language, other than these common Spanish-English False Friends, here is a list of false cognates that you need to learn if you want to communicate with someone without embarrassment.

Spanish word English translation English word Spanish translation
ACTUAL current, present-day ACTUAL real, efectivo
AMERICANO person from North or South America AMERICAN estadounidense
ASISTIR to attend, be present at OR to assist ASSIST ayudar
BILLION (US) trillion, (UK) billion BILLION (US) mil millones
BIZARRO dashing, brave, gallant BIZARRE extraño
BOMBERO firefighter BOMBER bombardero
CARPETA folder CARPET alfombra
CASUALIDAD coincidence, chance CASUALTY víctima
CHOCAR strike, collide CHOKE ahogar
CODO elbow CODE código
COLEGIO high school COLLEGE universidad
COMPROMISO obligation, commitment COMPROMISE componenda
CONDESCENDER to comply, agree CONDESCEND dignarse
CONSTIPADO (n.) a cold CONSTIPATED constipado (adj.)
CONTESTAR to answer CONTEST (v.) contender
CORRIENTEMENTE fluently, plainly, flatly CURRENTLY actualmente
DELITO crime DELIGHT delicia, deleite
DESGRACIA mistake, misfortune DISGRACE vergüenza
DISGUSTO annoyance, worry DISGUST asco, repugnancia
DESTITUIDO fired, deprived DESTITUTE indigente
DORMITORIO bedroom DORMITORY residencia universitaria
EMBARAZADA pregnant EMBARRASSED avergonzada
EMPRESA business enterprise, company EMPRESS emperatríz
ENVIAR send ENVY (v.) envidiar
ESTRECHAR to narrow, bring closer together STRETCH estirar, alargar
ESTIMADO esteemed ESTIMATE estimacíon, presupuesto
ÉXITO success, hit EXIT salida
FÁBRICA factory FABRIC tela
GROSERÍA grossness, crudeness GROCERY abarrotería, tienda de comestibles
INTRODUCIR insert INTRODUCE (someone) presentar
LARGO long LARGE grande
LECTURA reading LECTURE conferencia
LIBRERÍA bookstore LIBRARY biblioteca
MANTEL tablecloth MANTEL manto, mesilla
MOLESTAR bother MOLEST abusar (sexualmente)
NUDO knot NUDE desnudo
PARADA stop, e.g. bus stop PARADE desfile
PARIENTE relative PARENT padre
PRETENDER to attempt, to woo PRETEND fingir
PREOCUPADO worried PREOCCUPIED distraído
REALIZAR to come true REALIZE darse cuenta
RECORDAR to remember, remind RECORD grabar
ROPA clothes ROPE cuerda
SANO healthy SANE cuerdo
SOPA soup SOAP jabón
SOPORTAR tolerate, put up with SUPPORT apoyar
SUCESO event SUCCESS éxito
TUNA prickly pear TUNA atún
ÚLTIMAMENTE recently ULTIMATELY al final
VASO drinking glass VASE jarrón, florero

About the writer

Joseph Carey is working as a English and Spanish language instructor. He also helps students by providing them cheap custom essay. Furthermore, he is an important part of many student forums which is one of the most followed academic consultancies. Follow him on Google+.

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