Hello. I teach English to busy Spanish business professionals. Obviously, in a business environment, it's so important that you are understood and do not offend your customers/clients.


My students are very confident when speaking English but occasionally they say the wrong word with great confidence because it feels right. They are usually the same words: false friends or false cognates.


The English/Spanish vocabulary contains so many similar words due to their common roots in Latin, and that makes learning vocabulary easy, right? This is usually true, except for those annoying false friends (where the same/similar word has a completely different meaning). Of course everyone learns about false friends, and some are easy to remember, but it's not always easy to avoid making the same mistakes when you are busy thinking about your message!


Below is a list of the most common false friends used by mystudents in an office/business situation:


False Friend #1: Actualmente


In business we often need to talk about what is happening right now (especially when comparing it to what happened in the past).


You may, for example, want to say that ten years ago prices were cheap but recently prices have risen and now they are expensive.


The student should say (correct):

Things were cheap in 1996 but nowadays/currently/at the moment things are expensive.


What the student usually says (incorrect):

Things were cheap in 1996 but actually things are expensive.



The Spanish word actualmente means now, nowadays, at the moment or currently. It does not mean actually.


The English word actually means “something that exists in fact” (en realidad).


Example:What actually happened?” is the same as “What really happened?

You can use actually if you are surprised (sorprendentemente), so you can use it when something you are not expecting happens.


Example: I thought it would rain today, but actually it's a lovely day!

You can also use actually to say no, when someone expects you to say yes.



Person A: Can we talk now?

Person B: Actually, I'm busy, come back tomorrow.


Person A: Do you mind if I sit here?

Person B: Actually, this seat is taken.


False Friend #2: Carrera


During a job interview you want to talk about the three or four years you were at university when you studied for your degree qualification.


The student should say (correct):

During my degree/university studies I lived in London and I studied History.


What the student usually says (incorrect):

During my career, I lived in London and I studied History.



Carrera sounds like career, but career means progress through your working life.


In English we use the noun career to talk about your progress, but we use it for your working life, and not for your university studies. Career means “progress in work” (trayectoria profesional) and “your job” (profesión/trabajo). In Spanish it also means your university studies (estudios universitarios/carrera universitaria). In English your university course is called your “degree” or your “major”.


So in English, you do not start your career until after you have finished your education. Although you could use the phrase “school career” (meaning progress through school), this is very rarely used so it could lead to confusion and people thinking you were the teacher, not the pupil. Career is also a verb which has a completely different meaning (to move fast).


False Friend #3: Asistir


Your boss has called a meeting and you have decided that you will go. You tell your boss you will be there.


The student should say (correct):

I will attend the meeting.


What the student usually says (incorrect):

I will assist the meeting.



The Spanish word asistir means to go to a meeting/event. The English word assist means “to give help”.


Example: The nurse assisted the doctor (the nurse helped…).


The English word attend means “to go to an event/place/meeting”.



Lots of people attended the lecture.

The Queen attended a concert in London yesterday.


False Friend #4: Educado


You like an employee because they always say “please” and “thank you” and are always respectful to the customers.


The student should say (correct):

I like her because she is always polite with the customers.


What the student usually says (incorrect):

I like her because she is always educated with the customers.



The Spanish adjective educado means to have a good knowledge/education (instruido). This has the same meaning as the English adjective “educated”. The Spanish adjective educado also means to have good manners (buen comportamiento).


In English, the adjective educated only means “to have a good knowledge/education”, it does not mean to have good manners. The English words for respetuoso/correcto/cortés are polite/respectful/well-mannered/courteous, so they all describe people with good manners.


The English word educated refers only to your knowledge, and not your behaviour.


False Friend #5: Agenda


Most business executives keep a book showing the times and dates of their future meetings and appointments. You need to tell a colleague that you will write the time of the next meeting in your book.


The student should say (correct):

I will write it in my planner/appointments book/diary*.

(*Note: Diary is used in British English only)


The student usually says (incorrect):

I will write it in my agenda.



The Spanish word agenda means the book you use to plan your meetings. In English, this book is often called “an appointments book”/“a planner” or sometimes a “calendar”.


In English, the noun agenda is used to describe the list of topics people plan to discuss at a meeting, or a list of all the things you have to do in the near future (orden del día), but agenda is not the book you write your list in.


In British English, many people call the appointments book a diary. In American English, a diary is usually the noun for a book where you write your daily thoughts and experiences (like Bridget Jones's Diary), so don't call your appointments book a diary in the USA!


False Friend #6: Compromiso


The boss said you must attend a meeting. It is essential that you go.


The student should say (correct):

It's an obligation. I must go.


The student usually says (incorrect):

It's a compromise. I must go.



The Spanish noun compromiso means agreement or obligation (something you must do). But the English word compromise means an agreement where two people negotiate and the final agreement is favourable to both because they both keep something and also they both lose something (so they meet in the middle). They both reduce their demands or change their opinion in order to agree.


In English, an obligation, responsibility or commitment is not a compromise because in these cases neither side loses anything. Compromise is both a noun and a verb.


Example:It's a compromise” (noun) and “Let's compromise” (verb).


An example of a compromise would be if your boss wanted you to finish your report today (Monday) and you wanted five days to finish (by Friday). A compromise would be reached when you both agree that the report is finished by Wednesday. You discussed it and agreed to meet somewhere in the middle: you compromised. There would be no compromise if you had finished on Monday or on Friday.



False Friend #7: Emocionado


You want to tell your boss that you feel very positive about a new project at work. You are very enthusiastic about it.


The student should say (correct):

I am very excited/enthusiastic about the new project.


The student usually says (incorrect):

I am very emotional about the new project.



In English, excited and emotional have different meanings.


The Spanish adjective emocionado means excited (ilusionado, expectante) or emotionally moved, but in English being emotional means that you are showing your feelings very strongly only in a certain way: you are emotionally sensitive and you might even be crying, either with joy or sadness (emotivo/conmovido). Saying that you are emotional could suggest that you lack control over your feelings, and in business that is usually not what you want people to think!


The English adjective excited is always positive (meaning feeling very happy and enthusiastic about something), so it probably sounds much more professional. You can say that you are passionate about your project (which means really enthusiastic and very dedicated to it), but not emotional.


False Friend #8: Molestar


Someone at work keeps talking to you and you really want them to go away so you can get on with your work.


The student should say (correct):

Stop bothering me and go away!


What the student usually says (incorrect):

Stop molesting me and go away!

(Saying this could get someone arrested and possibly sent to jail).



The Spanish verb molestar means to upset, bother, disturb or annoy someone. The English verb molest did mean bother in the distant past, but now it usually has a much narrower meaning in modern English. People use the verb molest to mean “to touch someone sexually when it is not wanted”. So you should avoid this word unless you wish to accuse someone of sexual harassment!


False Friend #9: Decepción


If something goes wrong at work, you may need to explain you are not happy with the outcome because you expected better.


The student should say (correct):

It is a disappointment.


The student usually says (incorrect):

It is a deception.



The Spanish noun decepción means disappointment in English.


The English noun deception means “a statement or action that hides the truth” (a lie), especially to get an advantage (engaño).


False Friend #10: Constipado


You have a bad cold and you cannot breathe through your nose.


The student should say (correct):

I'm so blocked up/congested today or, I have a blocked nose.


The student usually says (incorrect):

I'm so constipated today.

(Saying this will probably get a laugh!)



The Spanish adjective constipado means having a cold (a blocked/congested nose). The English adjective constipated means your bowels are blocked and you cannot go to the toilet (estreñido). You have constipation (estreñimiento).


False Friend #11: Carpeta


You want to tell someone in your office, where you have put the letter you typed this morning


The student should say (correct):

The letter is in the folder marked “spending”.


The student usually says (incorrect):

The letter is in the carpet marked “spending”.



The Spanish noun carpeta means a “folder” (a place where documents are kept).


The English noun carpet is a large fabric floor covering attached to the floor (alfombra/ moqueta).


The word folder is used for both computer and paper storage. You will also hear the word file for a paper folder containing several/many documents.



Put that letter in the USA file please.

The file is in my desk drawer.


But on a computer the word file does not mean the same as folder. A computer file is the software used for a document.



Is your report in a PDF file, or an MS Word file?

Is your image in a JPEG file, or a GIF file?


For this reason some people also use file to mean a computer document.


False Friend #12: Embarazada


Your friend is going to have a baby. You want to tell a colleague.


The student should say (correct):

My friend is pregnant.


The student usually says (incorrect):

My friend is embarrassed.



The English adjective to describe someone who is going to have a baby is pregnant.


The adjective embarrassed describes someone who is feeling ashamed or shy (avergonzado).


Example: My face went as red as a beetroot and I was so embarrassed, when my trousers fell down in the street!


Other False Friends


There are of course many other false friends to watch out for. Some words you learn quickly, such as sopa (meaning soup, not soap), nombre (meaning name, not number), coche (meaning car, not coach) yet some are not as easy.


Other very common errors worth a quick reminder are:


  • mil = thousand (not million)
  • tienda = shop (not tent)
  • ratón = mouse (not rat)
  • librería = bookshop (not library)
  • preservativo = condom (not preservative)
  • parientes = relatives (not parents)
  • suave = gentle/soft (not suave)
  • grabar = to record (not grab)
  • exito = success (not exit)


There are of course, many more false friends, and many websites that list them.


In Conclusion


If you want to use correct English in the office, know the main false friends. You already have a great vocabulary, so make sure that false friends can't ruin it. Then you can continue to speak with complete confidence in any important situation.


Your Next Move:

Why not write a sentence that applies to your office/workplace for each of the false friends in this article? Repeat these sentences daily until they become automatic.


Here are some sentences you could finish in your own way to help you remember. The numbers match the 12 false friends above (sometimes both words are attached).



In the past we couldn't …………….., but nowadays we can …………………….. .


I didn't think I would be able to .................... but actually I (can/ am) ………………… .



I finished my degree in (the year) ……………………… .


My career started in (the year) …………………….. (these could both be the same year).



Yesterday I attended …………………………………… .


The last time I assisted a colleague at work was ………….. . They were very grateful for my help.



The most polite person I know is ………………………. . An example of their polite behaviour is ……………….. .



My planner for tomorrow contains …………………… .



One job I am obliged to do every day is………………….. .


The last time I compromised was ……………… .



The last time I got excited about a work project was ………………………… .


A film that made me feel very emotional was ………………………….. .



The last time someone bothered me when I was concentrating on my work, I ………………………. .



I disappointed someone recently when I ……………………….. .


If someone deceived me at work I would ………………………… .



The next time I have a blocked nose at work I will ………………………………. .



The largest folder on my work computer is ………………………….. .



Any employee who gets pregnant while they are employed here, will receive the following benefits: ……………… .


Suggested Answers


Here is an example of suitable answers.


False Friend #1: In the past we couldn't buy Indian food in Madrid but nowadays we can buy all kinds of foreign food. I didn't think I would be able to learn English easily but actually I am learning it quite quickly.


False Friend #2: I finished my degree in June 1982. My career started in September 1982.


False Friend #3: Yesterday I attended a progress meeting with the boss and a seminar. The last time I assisted a colleague at work was when the office assistant dropped her photocopies all over the floor and I helped her pick them up. She was very grateful for my help.


False Friend #4: The most polite person I know is Susan the office manager. An example of her polite behaviour is that she always thanks us for our hard work whenever we submit our reports.


False Friend #5: My planner for tomorrow contains two meetings and a lunch appointment.


False Friend #6: One job I am obliged to do every day is open the mail as soon as I arrive. The last time I compromised was when I wanted to take Thursday and Friday off to travel to France for a wedding. The boss said, “no”, and added that I had to work because there was a really important project to finish before the weekend. In the end we compromised. The boss agreed that I could go to the wedding if I agreed to work all Wednesday evening and to be contactable through 3G when I was in France, if I was needed.


False Friend #7: The last time I got excited about a work project was when I decided to write this italki article. A film that made me feel very emotional was Titanic: I cried so much at the end!


False Friend #8: The last time someone bothered me when I was concentrating on my work, I told them to leave me alone and come back later, because I was too busy to chat.


False Friend #9: I disappointed someone recently when I told them I couldn't go to visit them at Easter. If someone deceived me at work I would feel very upset that they had lied to me and I wouldn't trust them again.


False Friend #10: The next time I have a blocked nose at work I will use a decongestant and make sure I have a pocket full of tissues.


False Friend #11: The largest folder on my work computer is a folder called “English” where I store all my lessons.


False Friend #12: Any employee who gets pregnant while they are employed here, will receive the following benefits: Paid leave of six months, and a guarantee that the job will be kept open should they wish to return to their post afterwards.


List of False Friends Discussed in this Article


  • False Friend #1: Actualmente
  • False Friend #2: Carrera
  • False Friend #3: Asistir
  • False Friend #4: Educado
  • False Friend #5: Agenda
  • False Friend #6: Compromiso
  • False Friend #7: Emocionado
  • False Friend #8: Molestar
  • False Friend #9: Decepción
  • False Friend #10: Constipado
  • False Friend #11: Carpeta
  • False Friend #12: Embarazada