False Friends in Spanish

Common Mistakes in Spanish

Many times when you don’t know a word in Spanish you can make a logical guess as to what it is.

If you see the word “problema” you can assume it means problem.
If you see the word “telefono” you can assume it means telephone.
If you see the word “interacción” you can assume it means interaction.

However, something you need to be aware of when you are learning Spanish is that there are words that appear similar to ones in English though in fact have a completely different meaning.

If you see the word “éxito”, it doesn’t mean exit. It actually means success!
If you want to say the word Exit in Spanish, you must use the word “salida”.

When a word looks or sounds similar in two languages though have a different meaning, they are called False Friends.

Here are some more examples of ‘false friends’ though here are many more that exist:

Campo is field and not Camp (which is campamento)
Codo is elbow and not code (which is código)
Decepción is disappointment and not deception (which is engaño)
Discusión is a heated argument and not a discussion (which is conversación or debate)
Delito is a crime and not delight (which is delicia or encanto)
Educado is polite or well-mannered and not educated (which is con estudios)
Fábrica is a factory and not fabric (which is tela o tejido)
Familiar is a relative and not familiar (which is conocido or común)
Ganga is a bargain and not a gang (which is pandilla)
Grabar is to recorde and not to grab (which is agarrar)
Idioma is language and not an idiom (which is modismo)
Introducir is to insert or put in and not introduce (which is presentar)
Mayor is older and not the English word Mayor (which is alcalde)
Molestar is to annoy/bother and not to molest (in a sexual way which is abusar sexualmente)
Once is the number eleven and not the English word once (which is una vez in Spanish)
Parientes are you relatives (extended family) and not parents (which is padres)
Pretender is to try/aspire and not to prentend (which is fingir)
Realizar is to carry out and not realize (which is darse cuenta)
Recordar is to remember and not to record (which is grabar)
Ropa is clothes and not rope (which is cuerda or soga)
Raro means strange and not rare (which is poco frecuente)
Sauce is a willow tree and not sauce (which is salsa)
Sensible is sensitive and not the English word sensible (which is sensato)
Sopa is soup and not soap (which is jabón)
Suceso is event/happening and not success (which is éxito)
Vaso is glass and not vase (which is florero or jarrón)

Be careful using excitado.
Excitado means you are sexually excited where as if you are just excited about something that will happen/did happen, you should use emocionado.

And then there is the classic:
Embarazada is pregnant and not embarrassed (which is avergonzado/a)

Have you ever said you were pregnant instead of saying you are embarrassed?
I have and you certainly get some strange looks saying it when you are a guy!!

The same happens when you are thinking of a word in English and how to say it in Spanish:

Advertise is anunciar not advertir (which is to warn)
Assist is ayudar not asistir (which means to attend)
Carpet is alfombra not carpeta (which is a folder or file)
Collar (of a shirt) is cuello and not collar (which is a necklace or collar of a dog)
Large is grande and not largo (which means long)
Library is biblioteca not librería (which is bookstore)

Check some more examples of false friends and other common mistakes

Have you ever used a false friend the wrong way?
Can you think of more examples of false friends?

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9 Responses to “False Friends in Spanish”

  1. ednella 27 October, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Very useful.

    Quince is 15, the fruit would be membrillo
    Un saludo

    • woodward 16 November, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      That’s a good one!

  2. Cindy Watts 23 November, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    Another good thing to remember is that many Spanish words have the same root and just the ending is different.
    Nice article pointing out how one can be easily fooled.
    Gracias!

  3. lili 11 April, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Su articulo es interesante y ayuda cuando se trata de ensanar el catellano, Sin embargo si Ud. consulta el diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua espanola encontrara que collar “means” Adorno que cine o rodea el cuello al contrario de lo que ud. sugiere: collar means cuello….

    NOT COLLAR DOES NOT MEANS CUELLO. collar means collar= necklace and in spanish the word “collar” is used for the dog collar or the gold collar i’ll buy in a fancy store.

    • woodward 29 May, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Thanks for your comments. I was referring to the collar of a shirt (= cuello in Spanish).
      However you are right, collar in English also means the one a dog wears around its neck which would make it the same in Spanish (collar = collar).
      I had forgotten about this other meaning.
      Saludos

  4. Steve 24 November, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Nice list – thanks for sharing!

    As a Spanish school owner, I get many emails of my students practicing their Spanish in emails with questions/comments – and I’ve seen these mistakes – especially “attend” many times. In fact, as a learner myself, I make similar mistakes!

  5. Mónica 24 March, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    That was a very good list! Just one tiny spelling mistake: it’s “excitado” (not “exitado”).

    The ones I get to hear very often as a teacher of English are the following:

    Constipated (estreñido) – costipado (have a cold). It’s very common for students to say “I am constipated” (to say that they have a cold which would be “Estoy constipado).

    Ingenuity (ingenio). They confuse that one with “ingenuidad” (ingenuousness).

    • woodward 25 March, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      Thanks for spotting that Mónica, I have made the correction.
      You made me laugh how students announce how constipated they are and it’s also interesting because in Chile Estoy resfriado is used to say you have a cold.
      Saludos

      • Mónica 26 March, 2013 at 6:12 am #

        Yes, in Spain we use “resfriado” rather than “constipado”, but I used the latter since it’s the reason why students say that they are “constipated”. 😉 I remember how a guy that I know was taken aback when he started teaching in Spain by how open his students were when it came to saying that they were constipated. I remember him asking me: “Is it something you people go around telling everybody about round here????”.

        😉 I’ll think of more examples and let you know.