False friends in Portuguese and English Posted by on Aug 6, 2012 in Vocabulary

I read somewhere that cognates make up around 30% of a text in an English-Portuguese text and I guess the opposite is also true. That would be all good and beautiful if the false cognates weren’t around. Yes, those misleading words that get us thinking one thing when in fact they mean something else.

As I care a lot about you, my dear reader, here’s a list of common English-Portuguese false cognates so that you get your words right!

assess = avaliar || acesso = access

advise = aconselhar || avisar = warn

anthem = hino || antena = aerial, antenna

army = exército || arma = gun, weapon

assist = ajudar || assistir = to watch (TV)

chute = corredeira || chute = kick

cigar = charuto || cigarro = cigarette

collar = colarinho, gola || colar = necklace; to glue

college = universidade, faculdade || colégio = school

compass = bússola || compasso = compasses

conceit = convencimento || conceito = concept

data = dados, fatos, identificação || data = date

deception = fraude, trapaça || decepção = disappointment

educated = instruído, culto || educado = polite

eventually = finalmente, por fim || eventualmente = occasionally

exit = saída || êxito = success

expert = perito, especialista || esperto = smart

gratuity = gorjeta || gratuito = gratuitous, free

guitar = violão || guitarra = electric guitar

hazard = risco, dano, mal, perigo || azar = mischance, jinx

hospice = abrigo para viajantes || hospício = bedlam, madhouse

intimate = íntimo(s), sugerir, insinuar (v) || intimar = to summon, to cite

large = grande || largo = broad, wide

lecture = conferência || leitura = reading

library = biblioteca || livraria = bookstore

notice = observar, notar || notícia = news

parents = pais || pais = relatives

particular = determinado, específico || particular, privado = private

physician = médico clínico || físico = physicist

policy = diplomacia, política || polícia = police

pretend = fingir || pretender = intend

proper = adequado || próprio = own

push = empurrar || puxar = pull

quote = citar || cota = share, quota

realize = perceber, dar-se conta || realizar = accomplish, achieve

respite = trégua/ repouso || respeito = respect

resume = recomeçar, retomar || resumir = sum up, summarize

retire = aposentar-se || retirar = remove

rim = borda, beira (de copo, xícara) || rim = kidney

sap = seiva || sapo = toad

sensible = sensato, ajuizado || sensível = sensitive

terrific = excelente || terrível = terrible

traduce = caluniar, difamar, criticar || traduzir = translate

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About the Author: Adir

English / Spanish teacher and translator for over 20 years. I have been blogging since 2007 and I am also a professional singer in my spare time.


  1. Eduardo Trindade:

    Hi Adir, of course I agree with the fact that false cognates can mislead students and, for this reason, they should learn them as soon as possible when learning English.
    But it’s important to say that the proportion of English-Portuguese true cognates is way bigger than that of false cognates.
    Several researches about the theme state there are around 1600 cognates, and only around 200 false cognates between the two languages.
    So, I do believe the common latin root can help Portuguese speakers learn faster and understand more, as long as they also learn the false cognates.
    Nice post!

  2. Paul:

    Looking in the dictionary I noticed the Portuguese word for male relative is parente and female relative is parenta but the plural word relatives is parentela and is feminine!

  3. Margaret Nahmias:

    It doesn’t matter how many false cognates there are between languages, they can still confuse students.
    Pais dosent exist in English so I am not seeing how it is a cognate at all.

  4. David:

    Margaret, the confusion about pais is just a typo, as explained below.

    Adir, the line ” parents = pais || pais = relatives” contains a mistake, it should be ” parents = pais || parentes = relatives”.

  5. Gina Ferreira:

    Compass is compasso if you are talking about a drawing tool that has a point on one side and a pen on the other side. It makes perfect circles.

  6. Joao bento:

    My congratulations for the blog. I loved it very much. Besides, I would like to add something. I have noticed that the translation for relatives you have repeated saying pais instead of parentes. To sum up. Parents = pais and Parentes=relatives.
    Thank you.