Italian Language Blog

Italian False Friends Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

Falsi amici, false friends … we’ve all had them! You think you’re a ‘good judge of character’, or perhaps you just want to believe that life is simpler than it really is. And then … dammit, screwed again!

Well dear readers, your guardian angel has arrived. I’m here to forewarn you that the Italian language is peppered with some very insidious falsi amici, or to use their correct name ‘false cognates’. False cognates are words that sound the same, or similar in two different languages but actually have different meanings. There, I’ve just used one of them … did you spot it?

A joke which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog ... just because.

A joke which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog … just because …

Let’s begin to weed them out shall we?

Attualmente, that must mean actually right? Wrong!
Definition of attualmente: at present, at the moment, now, or nowadays. e.g. ‘attualmente non fa molto freddo’ (It’s not very cold at the moment), ‘mia sorella attualmente abita in Francia’  (my sister lives in France at present). Find out more about attualmente and actually here.

Pretendere obviously means to pretend, doesn’t it? No!
Definition of pretendere: To want or expect something unreasonably or unjustly, e.g. ‘pretende quaranta euro per mezz’ora di lavoro!’ (he wants forty Euro for half an hour’s work!) or ‘non puoi pretendere di parlare italiano dopo un mese’ (you can’t expect to speak Italian after one month). Find out more about pretendere and pretend here.

Attendere means to attend? Sorry, wrong again!
Definition of attendere: ‘to wait for’, ‘to await’, e.g. ‘ho atteso l’autobus per oltre mezz’ora’ (I waited for the bus for more than half an hour), or ‘attendiamo che arrivi Anna per mangiare’ (let’s wait for Anna to arrive before we eat). Find out more about attendere and attend here.

Preservativo, now don’t tell me that it doesn’t mean preservative. Correct, it doesn’t!
Definition of preservativo: condom! Find out more about preservativi and preserves here.

Sensibile, well this one’s obvious: sensible. Fooled again!
Definition of sensibile: sensitive, e.g. ‘non posso lavare i piatti senza i guanti perché ho la pelle molto sensibile’ (I can’t wash the dishes without gloves because I’ve got very sensitive skin), or ‘le mie figlie sono tutte e due ragazze molto sensibili’ (both of my children are very sensitive girls). Find out more here.

But sensitivo sounds like sensitive, so what does it really mean then?
Definition of sensitivo: spiritual medium … huh, didn’t expect that did you?

Now let me just reassure you that although this list is far from complete, false cognates are limited in number. In fact there are only 4,362 of them to learn off by heart.
Only joking! There really aren’t that many of them that you need to worry about. If I were you, I’d be more concerned about the plethora of euphemistic words that refer to genitalia and sex … now those can be really embarrassing! Hmm, I suppose I’d better write a blog on the topic, non vedo l’ora!

Do you have any favourite false cognates that you’d like to share with us? Leave a comment.

Tags: ,
Keep learning Italian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Phil:

    Grazie! The Word Reference Forum has a thread on that subject here:

    Lots of very good information on falsi amici!


  2. John:

    That alld favorite”posso” is one that caught me out when first learning italian!

    • Geoff:

      @John Scusa, ma non ho capito … ‘posso’ non è un falso amico. Ci potresti spiegare per favore?

      Saluti da Geoff

  3. Tadele:

    alcuni falsi amici che ho appena saputo 😛

    Definitivamente vs Definitely

    Editore vs Editor

    Largo vs Large

    Libreria vs Library

    Sale vs Sale

  4. Laurel Barton:

    Ah, so many!
    Rumore – not a rumor, not gossip, but noise

    Stampa – not a postage stamp, but a printer

    Morbido – not something grim, but something soft

    Licenziato – not a license, but signifies a loss of job

    Lussuria – not luxury 🙂 but sexy

    Camera – not for photos, but for sleeping

    Fabbrica – not something you make clothes out of, but a place clothing might be made

    Maggazino – not something to read, but a place to store merchandise

    In fact I wrote about this on my own blog some time ago.

  5. Chippy:

    Che fumetto preoccupante!!

    …… parenti ……educato ….. simpatico ….. confezionare ……criceto forse …

  6. Chippy:

    Entrambi fumetti, in fatti !!

  7. Patricia Sandler:

    percepire. Has nothing to do with perception. Quanto soldi percepisce?

    • Geoff:

      @Patricia Sandler Actually ………
      ….. the primary definition of percepire is ‘to perceive’ e.g. ‘ha percepito un odore di limoni’ (he perceived an odour of lemons).
      The secondary definition is a more bureaucratic term meaning to cash a sum of money.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  8. Jane:

    Ciao! I really like this blog with all these nice little stories, knowledge and journals about Italy!Please keep doing it!
    btw when I was reading one of the early post about buying shoes, I found morbidissima, which does not mean “very morbid”, but very soft, which is another interesting “false friend”. It is so much fun to learn all these.

    • Geoff:

      @Jane Thanks Jane, it’s always encouraging to get positive feedback from our readers. You’ll find that I’ve included morbido in part 2 of my False Friends post, which will be published next week.

      A presto, Geoff

  9. Janet:

    “the plethora of euphemistic words that refer to genitalia and sex”…..can you please do a blog on this??? I was understanding that to say “Figo!” meant “cool!” in the slang sense. It was then explained to me by a red-faced man that this is not the case, and I should never say it again…

    • Geoff:

      @Janet Actually, figo does mean cool, it’s figa (feminine that you should avoid). I’ll probably do a blog on sexual euphemisms next week.

      Stay tuned, Geoff 😉

  10. Lila:

    Please translate the cartoons and jokes. Very frustrating since my Italian is limited.

    • Geoff:

      @Lila Okay Lila.

      First joke: “My wife and I were happy for about 20 years! … then we met each other!”

      Second joke: Female: “Hi, I’m the new neighbour, I want to have fun, get drunk, and shag all night … are you busy this evening?” Male: “No, I’m very free!” Female: “So could you look after the dog for me?” Male: “OK”

      This second joke is related to the blog that I have just published:

      A presto, Geoff

Leave a comment: