Podcast: False cognates Posted by on Aug 31, 2010 in Podcast

Filipe DurãesDownload this podcast:

Hello, you’re listening to the Transparent Language Portuguese Blog Podcast. My name is Filipe Durães and in this episode I’ll talk about False Cognates.

False friends or false cognates are typically derived from the Latin words that appear in different languages with similar spelling and therefore have the same origin, but over time ended up acquiring different meanings.

In the case of words with multiple meaning, this non-equivalence may occur only in some senses of the word, but not others. Far from being exhaustive, the list of false cognates below illustrates the problem with common and frequent occurrences in modern English.

It is also important to remember that there is a strong presence of words of Latin origin in English, since the percentage of occurrence of these words as false cognates in relation to Portuguese is negligible – at less than 0.1%.

Check out this false cognates list:

After you’ve had a chance to look at this list, I’m going to give you some examples of possible mistakes that can happen to new Portuguese learners. These errors usually happen when the learner is trying to “translate” certain words from English to Portuguese in a very literal fashion. For example, many users have trouble separating the meaning between Pretend and Intend.

In the translation process of these words, a logical option in the mind of the learner is to say “Pretender” for Pretend and “Entender” for Intend. But be careful. The original meaning of these “logical options” may be way different than the actual meaning you’re looking for. Although the word “Pretender” is very similar to Pretend it doesn’t work as a possible translation because the translation of the word “Pretender” is actually “to Intend” which sounds like “Entende” (depending on the scenario).

Let’s say you’re at “Carnaval” in Rio de Janeiro, a very big party where people use costumes, drink a lot, and some men even dress as women. Maybe you can’t understand why a man would do this (I don’t understand it either) so you ask him: “Por que você Pretende ser uma mulher?” This sentence is actually a “literal“ translation of the Phrase you wanted to say: “Why do you pretend to be a woman?” But what you really said was: “Why do you intend to be a woman?” The difference between these two meanings is very significant. And besides, the guy is already drunk and will likely get mad at you because he doesn’t really want to be a woman. He just wants to wear the costume and beat you up in it now. Take this scenario as a good lesson since “pretende” is a very common word here in Brazil and means “to Intend”.

“Intend” sounds a lot like the word “Entende”. You may say: Well, it’s not so similar… But there are regions here in Brazil that trade the “E” from “Entende” with an “I”, making it sound like “Intende”. And here is the problem because “Entende” or “Intende” means “to Understand”.

As you can see, false cognates can cause many confusing situations. But if you are aware that they exist and are careful to notice the very fine details in language, you will become an expert.

If you have any questions or comments about the words I’ve mentioned, words written on the list, or even words that are not in the list, I encourage you to post them as well as any other suggestions for podcast topics and video posts given to you by the Transparent Language Portuguese Blog.

So that’s it. My name is Filipe Durães signing off for the Transparent Language Portuguese Blog. Talk to you next time!

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  1. Alyssa Baches:

    i want to learn Purtugues and travel to Rio de Janeiro