False Friends: English-Spanish

Because of the English language’s roots, there are often many similarities between it and other languages.  Words sharing the same root are called ‘cognates’, and they often help language learners understand the other word’s meaning.
Example: ‘family’ [English] = ‘familia’ [Spanish]

Sometimes, these 2 cognates don’t have the same meaning and are called ‘false friends’.
Example: ‘assist’ [English, meaning ‘to help’] ≠ ‘asistir’ [Spanish, meaning ‘to attend’]

In this post, we’re going to focus on English-Spanish false friends.  Here are some more examples!

English: ‘library’ [meaning: a place where you borrow books] Spanish: ‘librería’ [meaning: a place where you buy books] Example:  The New York Public Library is one of my favorite places to read and borrow books.

English: ‘topic’ [meaning: a theme or subject] Spanish: ‘tópico’ [meaning: cliché] Example: Last night the conversation turned to many topics, including the war in Iraq, the economic crisis and universal healthcare.

English: ‘informal’ [meaning: casual] Spanish: ‘informal’ [meaning: unreliable] Example: Our workplace is very informal; we’re allowed to wear anything we want!

English: ‘particular’ [meaning: specific] Spanish: ‘particular’ [meaning: private] Example: In Catalunya, particular emphasis is placed on learning catalan.

English: ‘content’ [meaning: satisfied] Spanish: ‘contento’ [meaning: happy] Example:  I’m content with the progress we’ve made on our project.

English: ‘to realize’ [meaning: to become aware of] Spanish: ‘realizar’ [meaning: to put into effect] Example:  It took a long time, but the Bush administration finally realized that the war in Iraq was a mistake.

Can you think of any other English-Spanish false friends?  Let us know!

Gabi O’Connor
Gabi is a Pedagogy & Curriculum Fall Associate. She has spent the past several years teaching ESL in Ireland, Spain, France and the U.S., most recently as a Featured/Recommended Tutor for NYC-based startup Tutorspree. Gabi received her BA in English Literature and French Translation at the University of York, her M.Phil. in Popular Literature at Trinity College Dublin, as well as certification from the University of Cambridge TEFL program. Having lived in eleven countries, and learned several languages as a result, she has a passion for expanding her and others’ cultural and language horizons.

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The best false friend by far is “constipated”, not quite the same than “constipado”…

The best false friend by far is “constipated”, not quite the same than “constipado”…

English: embarrassed
Spanish: embarazado (pregnant)

English: embarrassed
Spanish: embarazado (pregnant)