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Amigos Falsos: Top 20 False Cognates in Spanish

Dennys Caldera Boka Published on December 25, 2023

Bienvenidos, language enthusiasts! If you’re into language learning, you’ve probably heard of cognates. These linguistic buddies share the same meaning in 2 or more languages. They can be a language learner’s best friend and that’s why we love them. However, lurking in the shadows are their sneakier counterparts: the troublesome false cognates.  Words that seem similar but have different meanings. In this guide, we’ll unveil the top 20 false cognates between Spanish and English to improve your vocabulary skills. So, grab your language detective hat, and let’s uncover the truth behind these imposters!

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What is a False Cognate/False Friend?

Simply put, false cognates are words that are spelled or sound similar in two or more languages but don’t mean the same thing. They can lead to confusion and sometimes amusing misunderstandings. So, now that their definition is clear, let’s get right to the list of amigos falsos in English and Spanish. Enjoy!

1. Actual

While it may sound like it’s all about being authentic, the Spanish word refers to the present moment. It’s like the English “current.” So, don’t be misled by the similarity.

Spanish: Este es el precio actual del producto.

English: This is the current price of the product.

2. Asistir

This one might remind you of “assist” in English. But, it doesn’t translate quite like that. In Spanish, it’s about attending or being present, not necessarily offering assistance. When it comes to events or gatherings, “asistir” is your go-to term for showing up.

Spanish: Voy a asistir a la conferencia.

English: I am going to attend the conference.

3. Embarazada

This one is a classic. It may sound much like the English “embarrassed.” But, in Spanish, it means pregnant. So, when someone in Spanish mentions they are “embarazada,” it’s not a moment of awkwardness but a celebration of a different kind. 

Spanish: Mi hermana está embarazada.

English: My sister is pregnant.

False cognates: embarazada/pregnant

4. Éxito

This one might make you think of the English word “exit,” but in Spanish, it’s a triumph or success. For example, if someone wishes you “mucho éxito,” they’re not telling you to leave; they’re cheering you on for great success.

Spanish: La película fue un gran éxito.

English: The movie was a huge success.

5. Fábrica

No doubt this word is similar to “fabric” in English. In Spanish, however, it refers to a factory or manufacturing plant. So, if you find yourself near a “fábrica,” you’re more likely to see machinery than bolts of cloth.

Spanish: Trabajo en una fábrica de automóviles.

English: I work in a car factory.

6. Sensible

This might bring to mind being practical and full of common sense, just like “sensible” in English. But in Spanish, it means having emotional intelligence or appreciation of others’ feelings, akin to the word “sensitive”.

Spanish: Karina es una persona muy sensible; siempre sabe cuándo estoy triste.

English: Karina is a sensitive person; she always knows when I’m sad.

7. Sopa

This one sounds a lot like “soap” in English. In Spanish, it means “soup.” If you want to clean up in a Spanish-speaking country, you might need to ask for “jabón” instead.

Spanish: Me encanta la sopa de pollo.

English: I love chicken soup.

8. Tuna

Don’t be fooled, this word might spell and sound l like a large sea fish but it doesn’t mean that in Spanish. “Tuna” refers to a prickly pear or the fruit of the cactus. So, if you’re offered “tuna” in Latin America, expect something a bit different than canned fish.

Spanish: Comí una rica tuna en el desierto.

English: I ate a delicious prickly pear in the desert.

False cognates: tuna/prickly pear

9. Decepción

While this might evoke “deception” in English, in Spanish, it means disappointment. If someone expresses “decepción,” they’re not necessarily accusing you of deceit. They just feel let down.

Spanish: La película fue una gran decepción.

English: The movie was a big disappointment.

10. Excitado

If you think this means someone’s overly enthusiastic, think twice. In Spanish, it means “sexually aroused.” Make sure you use “excitado” in the right context, otherwise, you might go through a very awkward moment.

Spanish: Se puso muy excitado durante la película.

English: He got sexually aroused during the movie.

11. Largo

This one might make you think of “large” in English, but in Spanish, it means “long.” So, if someone describes a trip as “largo,” they’re not necessarily talking about the size but the duration.

Spanish: El camino es bastante largo.

English: The road is quite long.

12. Librería

While it might sound like a quiet place for studying, in Spanish, it translates to “bookstore.” If you’re trying to find a “library,” you will need to ask for a “biblioteca” instead.

Spanish: Voy a la librería a comprar un libro.

English: I’m going to the bookstore to buy a book.

13. Realizar

Many people often confuse “realizar” with “realize.” But, in Spanish, it means to carry out or accomplish. So, if someone says they want to “realizar” a project, they’re not just having an epiphany; they’re planning to make it happen.

Spanish: Quiero realizar mi sueño de viajar por el mundo.

English: I want to accomplish my dream of traveling the world.

14. Ropa

This sounds like “rope” in English, right? Well, in Spanish, it means clothing or attire. If someone suggests going shopping for “ropa,” they’re not planning to go rock climbing.

Spanish: Necesito comprar ropa nueva para la fiesta.

English: I need to buy new clothes for the party.

False cognates: ropa/clothes

15. Vaso

This one sounds like a “vase,” but in Spanish, it refers to a “drinking glass.” So, if you’re offered a refreshing drink, it’s likely to be in a “vaso,” not a flower container.

Spanish: Sirve el agua en un vaso.

English: Pour the water into a glass.

16. Once

This one seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Well, before you use it to express frequency, bear in mind that this is the word for the number “eleven” in Spanish.

Spanish: Nos vemos en el parque a las once.

English: See you at the park at eleven.

17. Asignatura

You might be tempted to think about important documents that require your “signature,” but in Spanish, this means a school subject or course. So, when you hear someone talking about a difficult “asignatura,” they are not planning to forge anyone’s signature.

Spanish: Mi asignatura preferida es la historia.

English: My favorite school subject is history.

18. Abogado

Are you thinking about the delicious tropical fruit and getting a watery mouth? Sorry to disappoint you, but this one isn’t the word for “avocado” though it might sound similar. Instead, “abogado” translates to “lawyer” in Spanish. If a Spanish speaker says that you need an “abogado,” you might have bigger problems than your diet.

Spanish: Mi hermano es un excelente abogado.

English: My brother is an outstanding lawyer.

19. Red

This surely evokes images of the color “red”, but in Spanish, it means a network, a net, or a web. If someone talks about their “red,” pay close attention to the context, because they’re not discussing their favorite hue.

Spanish: Todos necesitamos una red de apoyo en los momentos difíciles.

English: We all need a support network in difficult times.

20. Carpeta

If this reminds you of that beautiful floor covering in your living room, I’m afraid you’ll be surprised once again. This is the word for “folder” in Spanish. So, next time someone says “la carpeta roja,” don’t get too excited about celebrities and paparazzi, because you won’t be walking down “the red carpet.”

Spanish: ¿Me traes la carpeta que está sobre el escritorio?

English: Can you bring me the folder that is on the desk?

Ways to Practice False Cognates in Spanish

Exploring the world of false cognates in Spanish can be both challenging and fun. If you’re learning Spanish, you’ll find that this is a crucial part of the language. To practice effectively, immerse yourself in real-life situations where these tricky words may appear. Engage in Spanish conversations with native speakers, watch films or TV shows, and read books or articles to encounter false cognates in authentic contexts. Remember, the more exposure and hands-on practice you have, the better you’ll navigate the maze of false cognates in Spanish.

False Cognates: Final Thoughts

As we finish examining the world of tricky words in Spanish, it’s important to see why understanding them is like finding hidden treasures. Learning a new language is an exciting process, full of surprises that suddenly make sense. False cognates are just one part of that. There are many words that look and sound alike, and learning them helps you communicate better in Spanish. So, enjoy the learning process, embrace the unique challenges, and let your Spanish experience be filled with fun discoveries. Stay curious, keep exploring, and enjoy the fascinating dance between two languages. ¡Buena suerte!

Dennys Caldera Boka

Dennys is a content writer at Langoly. He’s passionate about language learning and has been helping others achieve their goals and develop their language skills for many years. He’s interested in emerging technologies and how they can help people reskill and upskill. He loves cooking, watching sci-fi movies, and listening to podcasts. Connect with Dennys on LinkedIn.

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