10 Spanish-English false friends you should know
There comes a point in your Spanish learning where you start to get comfortable with your words. You’ll notice that a lot of words are similar and can be transformed into Spanish from English by simply adding and O or something of the sort. For example chocolate is chocolate where every letter is sounded out, normal is normal in a Spanish accent, enemy becomes enemigo. This post, however, focuses on the false friends (or false cognates), the ones you really don’t want to mix up. Read on to avoid getting strange looks for making these mistakes.
Although it sounds so much like embarrassed, it’s absolutely not! Embarazada in Spanish means pregnant. If you want to say that you feel embarrassed, you could say estoy avergonzado/a.
embarazada = pregnant
avergonzado = embarrassed
Preoccupied right? As in busy? Nope. Preocupado is worried. A student told us when she was working as a secretary in Tenerife, she would often tell callers that her boss was muy preocupada, thinking she was telling them she was busy. Then when they finally got through, the callers would ask said boss if everything was okay. Our student was telling the people trying to get through that her boss was “very worried”. What she should have said was she was ocupada.
preocupado = worried
ocupado = busy
This false friend is a tricky one because it’s spelled exactly as the English word “sensible”, but beware, everything is not what it seems! Sensible is often misused by Spanish speakers when they want to talk about someone who is overly emotional, so if what they’re saying sounds a bit off, clear it up with them see if that’s what they mean. If you want to say “sensible” in Spanish, it’s razonable (reasonable). Makes sense right?
sensible = sensitive
razonable = sensible
You wouldn’t walk into your friend’s place and admire their new carpet by saying qué carpeta más bonita! You would received a bewildered look in return. Carpeta is a folder; alfombra is a carpet.
carpeta = folder
alfombra = carpet
Clearly éxito is exit right? Negative. The word éxito in Spanish has nothing to do with where you leave a building and everything to do with what you’ve accomplished. Éxito is success, while salida is exit.
éxito = success
salida = exit
Introducir is one false friend that is important to internalize! Although it sounds exactly like “introduce”, it will sound really strange when you are making people acquainted with each other. So when introducing someone new you would say: te quiero presentar a mi amigo Juan.
introducir = insert
presentar = introduce
Once you’ve gotten more comfortable with speaking Spanish and perhaps even have some friends with whom to practice, you’ll start trying to tell more personal and day-to-day stories. Maybe you’ll walk into work and “realize you forgot something”. You won’t say realizé que había olvidado mi almuerzo en casa. Instead, you would say me di cuenta…
realizar = carry out, achieve, accomplish
darse cuenta = realize
Imagine walking into a hardware store asking for clothes! That’s what would happen if you were use this false friend by mistake. Ropa sounds like rope, but actually means clothes. The word you’re looking for is cuerda.
ropa = clothes
cuerda = rope
Maybe you’ve been walking along the street in a Spanish-speaking country and passed a beautiful shop window displaying a variety of colourful books. Although the sign says “Librería María”, this doesn’t mean it’s a library! Librería in Spanish is a bookstore while biblioteca is a library.
librería = bookstore
biblioteca = library
As an English speaker visiting a Spanish-speaking country, you may have noticed while staying in a hotel that the usual “do not disturb” door hanger says no molestar. While it may be something to chuckle at, it’s a good way to learn a lesson and help you remember this vocabulary word. If you’re looking to translate the more serious “molest” into Spanish, you would say violar.
molestar = bother, disturb, annoy
violar = molest
Do you now understand why knowing your cognates is important? They can either help you significantly on the one hand or make you sound like a lunatic to native speakers. Are there any false friends you were surprised to pick up during your learning journey? If you are hoping to improve your Spanish, you can always sign up for classes with Speakeasy Academy to strengthen your vocabulary in the heart of Barcelona.