False friends can be tricky and can also drastically change the meaning of what you are trying to say, so pay attention to these six uncommon Spanish-English false friends and lift your Spanish fluency off the ground.
There are a lot of Spanish words that may sound and even look the same that an English one and you might think you know them, but they are completely different in meaning.
Let’s start to explain what are false friends, perhaps you already know this, but it is good to have a refresher. False friends are words that look and sometimes sound so similar in two different languages and they make you think they mean the same or something similar; but the truth is, their meanings are not even close…
I like the saying of “knowledge is power”, so if you read on and learn these six Spanish-to-English false friends, you will have the power to avoid causing awkward situations in the future, so read carefully.
1: EMBARAZADA - Pregnant
Can you imagine if one of your Spanish girl friends says to you “!Estoy embarazada!” (I am pregnant) and instead of congratulating her the only reply you say to her is “Why?” because you associate the Spanish word embarazada with embarrassed. If you fail to give your friend a warm congratulatory reply, then you really will be embarrassed.
2: CONSTIPADO - A cold
Imagine your reaction if one of your friends keep on saying that he or she is having constipado. You would come to the conclusion that gosh darn Spanish people are so open and free in their expressions. But in reality, that friend is feeling horrible because he or she is suffering from a cold instead. Awkward, isn’t it?
3: ARGUMENTO - Plot / storyline
When watching a movie together, I bet it would be quite confusing if your friends keep talking feverishly the movie’s “argumento”. You would be especially confused if the movie happens to be a comedy with no visible arguments to be seen. Then it would be awkward to raise the question to your friends, “Why are you two so engaged in this movie’s “argument” when there is none?”
4: ACTUALMENTE - Currently
Watch out! This is one of the most common mistakes to be heard from even some advanced Spanish learners from time to time because the two words just sound so similar between English and Spanish. Keep an eye out for it.
5: CARPETA - Folder
Wouldn’t it be weird if someone appears worried because they lost their “carpeta” and you could not help but wonder how someone can lose something that big, which most of the time, remains in the same place.
6: SENSIBLE - Sensitive
One day, you hear your friend lamenting about his sensible (Spanish word) niece who is always crying, I bet you would ask yourself or you might ask your friend, why would a sensible person (English word) keep on crying? Aren't sensible people more or less responsible?
As you can imagine, your reaction to the above situation would not be ideal would it? Your friend might end up looking at you all confused. Just saying...
Here are some words and sentences you need to pay attention to as well to avoid future confusion:
- To pay attention: we do not say pagar atención, that phrase actually does not exist, if we are pay[ing] attention, we say “prestar atención”.
- To succeed: contrary to what you might think, succeed is not suceder, which means “to happen”. When we say “succeed” in Spanish, we say, “hablamos de tener éxito”.
- Sometimes it is common to translate To record as recordar. The word recordar actually means “remember”. We say grabar as the real meaning of “to record”.
- To ask a question: in Spanish we do not say "preguntamos una pregunta", since this is too literal and repetitive. Instead, we use the verb hacer, therefore, we say “hacemos una pregunta” instead.
- Rendition: This is not rendición as much as the two might look alike. In Spanish, rendición means “surrender”. The actual translated word for rendition is “interpretación”.
- Idiom: Most people believe the Spanish expression for this is idioma. This is the beauty and pain of languages, idiom is “modismo” or “expresión idiomática”.
- To dice: This is a verb, yes, so it is an action, but not the action of “decir” as many people thought. Decir means “to say, to tell”, whereas to dice means something more specific like “cortar en cubos/dados”.
Create at least two sentences with each word, and repeat them throughout your day. This will help to retrain your brain to remember the different meanings and stick them in your head.
Feel free to share your sentences with us in the comments below. Who knows, your sentences might help someone else learn these tricky Spanish-English false friends.
Have a good one. !Buen día!
Talk and write to you “pronto”.