Spanish Language Blog

Spanish false friends… Beware! Posted by on Feb 13, 2014 in Learning, Spanish Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary can be very easy (I´m sure you remember the “Similar words in English and Spanish” post) because Spanish and English have lots of cognates, words with the same etymology and similar meaning. However, it can also be confusing because in both languages there are words with similar spelling or pronunciation, but quite different meaning: the so called in English “false friends”. Let´s begin.

Actual vs. Actual
Actual in Spanish means current, contemporary, nothing to do with the real or truly meaning in English.
– Mi situación laboral actual es terrible.
– My current work situation is terrible.

Carpet vs. Carpeta
A carpeta for us is a file folder, either physically or in a computer, something very different from your carpet or alfombra, which is the piece of cloth people put on their floor as decoration.
– Guardo todos mis documentos personales en una carpeta.
– I keep all my personal documents in a folder.

Deception vs. Decepción
Talking about decepción is our way to express our disappointment because things are not the way we wanted or expected them, whereas deception for Spanish people is engaño.
– Sufrimos una gran decepción cuando se canceló la fiesta.
– We were very disappointed when the party was cancelled.

Exit vs. Éxito
The exit is the salida, nothing to with the success that our éxito implies.
– ¡Esta canción es un éxito!
– This song is a hit!

Molest vs. Molestar
In this case, the Spanish cognate maintains the original meaning of bother or annoy, without the negative sexual implications.
– No molestes a tu hermano mientras está estudiando.
– Don´t bother your brother while he´s studying.

Nude vs. Nudo
To be desnudo is to be nude, naked. Just in case you are wearing a tie, you will have a nudo (knot) on it.
– ¿Sabes hacer el nudo a la corbata?
– Do you know how to make a knot?

Once vs. Once
The Spanish translation of once is “una vez”, so our fairy tales don´t begin “Once upon a time there were eleven dwarves… ” but “Había una vez once enanitos…”. And as you have probably noticed, once is our eleventh number.

Pie vs. Pie
You cannot eat a pie in Spain because you´ll be considered a cannibal: you´ll be eating a foot, not a delicious pastel lol.
– Me duele el pie con estas botas.
– My foot hurts with these boots.

Rope vs. ropa
Although they look very similar, a rope is something very uncomfortable to wear, nothing to do with the ropa or clothes. We´d better use a cuerda or soga () to tie things together.
– ¡Necesito comparme ropa nueva!
– I need to buy new clothes!

8565336 (2)

Tags: , ,
Keep learning Spanish 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

About the Author: Magda

Hi all! I’m Magda, a Spanish native speaker writing the culture posts in the Transparent Language Spanish blog. I have a Bachelor’s in English Philology and a Master’s in Linguistics and Literature from the University of Granada, in Spain. I have also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and then worked as an English teacher in several schools and academies for several years. Last year was my first at university level. In addition, I work as a private tutor, teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language to students and adults. In my free time, I’m an avid reader and writer, editing and collaborating in several literary blogs. I have published my first poetry book recently. And last but not least, I love photography!


  1. Philip Jones:

    Very helpful and amusing! If only I had read this when at school… I still remember not paying attention in Spanish lessons and suddenly being challenged by my teacher, who was trying to teach us household chores but had realised that I wasn’t paying attention. When I protested that I was listening she asked me what ‘climbo la ropa’ would be in English. Much to the mirth of my unsympathetic classmates I now know that it’s not ‘I climb the rope’! No lasting damage done as I am now a language teacher (although, you may be pleased to hear that I teach French and German… not Spanish!).

    • Magda:

      @Philip Jones Hahaha, you learned your lesson anyway. Actually… I don´t know what “climbo” means! Where was your teacher from?

  2. Anji:

    actual, (adjective) 1. existing in fact, real, 2. existing now, current.
    (Oxford English Dictionary, 1990 edition, page 13).

    Sorry, but the definition on here of the English word ‘actual’ is not entirely correct. I checked with my dictionary which is the ‘Bible’ so far as the English language is concerned. I am also a retired teacher of English and Information Technology to school pupils and foreign language students. I am a qualified teacher having graduated from Southampton University with a BA (Hons) in English and European Studies (with German and Spanish as additional units) plus a Masters Degree from Oxford.

    • Magda:

      @Anji Great qualifications Anji. I didn´t mean to give all the definitions, only to highilight possible mistaken interpretations, because actual is rarely used with the meaning of current nowadays.

  3. Daniel:

    Useful indeed, I have some more examples that I used for my BA thesis, which included one chapter specifically focused on false friends, I could share. 🙂

    • Magda:

      @Daniel That would be great Daniel!

  4. Paul:

    Embarazada is another false cognate which could leave you embarrassed if you got it wrong.

    • Magda:

      @Paul Absolutely, lol!