Spanish Language Blog

False Friends Posted by on Aug 4, 2008 in Spanish Vocabulary

English and Spanish have many similarities, but sometimes what could be helpful ends up getting in the way. That’s the case of some words called “false friends”. They are pairs of words from different languages that look or sound similar, but are actually different in meaning. If students rely on the similarity and use the foreign word thinking it has the same meaning as the word in their native language, they can find themselves in awkward, and sometimes embarrassing situations.

Actual: current, at the present time.
Asistir: to attend (also to assist people).
Atender: to pay attention, to serve.
Billón: a trillion (a billion is “mil millones” in Spanish).
Argumento: reasoning used in a discussion, but never an argument.
Cándido: It means “frank,” but it more often means “naively innocent”.
Carpeta: a folder
Conductor: driver
Constipado: suffering from a cold (the word for constipated is “estreñido”).
Criatura: “creature” or “being,” including humans, but it is most commonly used to refer to babies and even to fetuses.
Demandar: As a legal term only, it is similar to the English “sue”, but to demand something in a less formal situation, use “exigir”.
Director (de orquesta): conductor
Embarazada: pregnant. Obviously, never used this word in the masculine form. If you want to say you are embarrased, use “avergonzado/a”.
Excitado: aroused, although it can also be translated as agitated.
Fútbol: soccer
Ganga: a bargain
Largo: long
Miseria: extreme poverty
Molestar: to bother, to annoy
Notorio: in Spanish it doesn’t have the negative connotation and it simply means “well-known”.
Preservativo: a condom. Food preservatives are “conservantes”.
Propaganda: in Spanish it simply means “advertising” and it doesn’t have the negative implications of the English word.
Rape: angler fish
Recordar: to remember, to remind
Sensible: sensitive
Sensato: sensible
Vicioso: depraved or faulty.
Violar, violador: to rape, a rapist.

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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.