False Friends in Spanish


False Friends in Spanish


There are many words in Spanish that sound very similar to English words. These are often referred to as cognates. For example:

concentrar means to concentrate

visitar means to visit

danzar means to dance

Many of us, when we don’t know the word, create a cognate by changing the ending of an English word to sound Spanish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

That’s where “false friends” come in. In Spanish there are many words that appear similar to a word in English, but do not in fact mean the same thing. Sometimes they can mean very different things, so it helps to be aware of “false friends” to avoid additional awkward social mistakes. Then again, it can be quite funny!

Here we have compiled a list of 10 false friends in Spanish to be aware of:

1. embarazada ≠ embarrassed

The classic. It is so prevalent because we all at some point want to say we are “embarrassed” to speak Spanish. But don’t use the word embarazada to express that sentiment. Embarazada means pregnant, which has nothing to do with what you mean to say. If you want to express embarrassment, the correct word is avergonzada.

2. constipado ≠ constipated

The first time you hear the word you might feel like you’ve just been given a little TMI (too much information), but constipado actually refers to having a cold, a synonym of the Spanish word resfriado. If you really want to talk about your bowel movements (though not recommended) the word you want is estreñido.

3. éxito ≠ exit

Do not look for the “éxito” in the airport. You won’t find it. You will find la salida. Éxito actually means success in Spanish. You may often hear the phrase “un gran éxito” or “a great success”.

4. sensible ≠ sensible

It’s almost cruel because they are even spelled the same, but sensible does not mean someone who is sensible or reasonable. It means someone who is sensitive, as in reacting with emotion. If someone is sensible, we would say she was sensato or razonable.

5. delito ≠ delete

It looks perfect … I’ll just press the “delito” and erase what I wrote. But this false friend actually means something completely different. A delito is a crime, as in “él cometió (cognate) un delito (false friend)”. The word for delete in Spanish is borrar or suprimir. Perhaps you can remember that an attorney who deletes files is actually committing a crime.

6. asistir (a) ≠ to assist

If you say “Yo puedo asistir” you are not saying that you can help, you are saying that you can attend. And the verb asistir includes a prepositional a, as in “puedo asistir a la fiesta” or “I can attend the party”. If you want to talk about assisting someone, you would use the verb ayudar (to help).

7. molestar ≠ molest

When you first hear this word you may feel a bit shocked if you’re thinking it means the same in English. But molestar in Spanish means to bother. You will often hear it as a form of politeness as in “No quiero molestarte, pero tienes algunos minutos” meaning ” I don’t want to bother you, but do you have a few minutes”.

8. disgustar ≠ disgusted

Although it certainly looks like it means disgusted, disgustar actually means to get upset. This is an important distinction in context. If someone tells you he’s upset you with you vs he’s disgusted by you, you may react differently than if they are just upset. If you want to say disgusted, you would use the verb indignar, as in “estoy indignado” or “I am disgusted”.

9. libreria ≠ library

So close, but so far. La libreria has books, but they are books for buying, as in a bookstore. If you want to go to the library, you are looking for the biblioteca, where the books are free to rent and you can study.

10. actualmente ≠ actually

This one is very common as we mentioned before in our post on classic mistakes made by English speakers. Actualmente means “in today’s day” or “of the times“. If you actually want to say “actually”, the closest Spanish word would be “realmente“.

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