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Falsos Amigos: False Spanish Cognates you should avoid like the plague

Falsos Amigos

“Falsos amigos”, or literally, “false friends” (also referred to as “false cognates”), are words which sound like they mean the same thing in English as in Spanish. This is the case with true cognates, such as horrible, which does in fact mean “horrible”. However, does carpeta really mean “carpet”, and is it a good idea to say that you are “embarazada” if you feel embarrassed? Read on to find out the top “falsos” amigos that you should avoid like the plague!

There are a lot of false cognates between English and Spanish, and often you may use them without even being aware of it. This can lead to a double misunderstanding – your conversation partner as you’ve said something you didn’t mean; and you, because you are unaware of the difference in meaning! This often results in some fairly unfortunate (but often funny) situations. That’s why we’ve put together this short collection of “falsos amigos”, so you can try to avoid the most embarrassing (or pregnant?!) mistakes:

Jabón vs Sopa

False friend number 1

You said…

Tengo las manos sucias, dame la sopa (I have dirty hands, give me the soup)

You meant…

Tengo las manos sucias, dame el jabón (I have dirty hands, give me the soap)

Sopa = Soup

Jabón = Soap

Carpeta vs Alfombra

Spanish English false cognate

You said…

La carpeta está muy sucia (The folder is very dirty)

You meant…

La alfombra está muy sucia (The carpet is very dirty)

Carpeta = Folder

Alfombra = Carpet

Embarazada vs avergonzada

Amigos falsos image

You said…

Estoy muy embarazada! (I’m very pregnant!)

You meant…

Estoy muy avergonzada! (I’m very embarrassed)

Embarazada = Pregnant

Avergonzado/a = Embarrassed

Excitar vs emocionar

False friends image

You said…

Esto es muy excitante (This is very (sexually) exciting)

You meant…

Esto es muy emocionante (This is very exciting)

Excitante = (Sexually) exciting

Emocionante = Exciting

Asistir vs ayudar

help

You said…

Asisto a muchas personas (I attend a lot of people)

You meant…

Ayudo a muchas personas (I help/assist a lot of people)

Asistir = To attend

Ayudar = To help

Educado vs bien informado/culto

books

You said…

Estoy muy educado (I’m very polite)

You meant…

Estoy muy bien informado/culto (I’m very well educated)

Educado/a = Polite

Bien informado/a = Educated

Actualmente vs en realidad

clocks

You said…

Actualmente, es totalmente diferente (Currently, it’s totally different)

You meant…

En realidad, es totalmente diferente (Actually, it’s totally different)

Actualmente = Currently

En realidad = Actually

Bizarro vs raro

bizarre

You said…

¡Qué bizarro! (How brave!)

You meant…

¡Qué raro! (How strange!)

Bizarro = Brave

Raro = Strange/bizarre

Delito vs Encantado

handcuffs

You said…

Estoy delito (I’m a crime(?!))

You meant…

Estoy encantado (I’m delighted)

Delito = Crime

Encantado/a = Delighted/charmed

En absoluto vs Totalmente

<heart

You said…

Me amas? – En absoluto! (Do you love me? – Absolutely not!)

You meant…

Me amas? – Totalmente (Do you love me? – Totally!)

En absoluto = Absolutely not

Totalmente/a = Absolutely/totally

Cuestión vs Pregunta

question

You said…

No entiendo tu cuestión (I don’t understand your issue)

You meant…

No entiendo tu pregunta (I don’t understand your question)

Cuestión = Issue/topic

Pregunta = Question

Sensible vs Sensato/a

sensible

You said…

Soy muy sensible (I’m very sensitive)

You meant…

Soy muy sensato/a (I’m very sensible)

Sensible = Sensitive

Sensato/a = Sensible

Have you ever used a “falso amigo” and not even realised it? Let us know of your experiences in the comments below! If you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, consider helping us out and sharing it with your friends using the buttons on the left!

  • Diana Caballero

    This is a cool selection of examples!

  • Vaso and Beso got me a few times!

    • spanishobsessed

      Wouldn’t want to confuse those two!

  • Alvaro

    Actually, “actually” is not “de verdad” but “en realidad”.

    • spanishobsessed

      Hi Alvaro

      I think you could use either “de verdad” or “en realidad” – they can both be translated as “actually”. I’ll add in “en realidad” as well 🙂

      • Alvaro

        Hi!

        “De verdad” means “seriously” and it is used when the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe you.

        “En realidad” means “actually”.

        I’m a native speaker of Spanish and I have never heard “de verdad” in that context. I hope it helps!

        • spanishobsessed

          Hi Alvaro

          I’ve often used “de verdad” to mean “actually”, but accept that this probably was inaccurate! Thanks for the correction – it’s now edited on the post.

          Un abrazo
          Rob

  • Pilar Platas

    Another important one is “preservativos” vs. “conservantes”

    • spanishobsessed

      🙂 don’t want to get those two confused!

  • Leonela

    LOL, en absoluto made me laugh. These are good. – Leonela of SpanishBoca blog

  • MsKris

    great list. how else would you use en absoluto?

  • Alex

    Blog muy interesante y util para aquellos de nosotros aprender el idioma! Gracias!

    • spanishobsessed

      Gracias Alex!

  • Magenta6060

    this has helped me so much its noy even funny

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