“False friends” in English: an essential guide to avoid misunderstandings

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Language learning is a fascinating adventure that is full of discoveries and challenges. One of the most interesting challenges in learning English is dealing with “false friends.” These words, which sound familiar to us because of their similarity to terms in our language, can lead to misinterpretations, sometimes with comical and even embarrassing results. In this article, we will explore the world of false friends in English, offering tips to identify them and avoid mistakes.

Many false friends that share common etymological roots result in misunderstandings because they have acquired different meanings in each language. Therefore, students who are learning languages often fall victim to these confusions.

The deception of appearance: what are false friends?

False friends are terms that, at first glance, appear to have a similar meaning in two languages due to their phonetic or written similarity, but in reality have very different meanings. This linguistic phenomenon occurs between different languages, as in the case of Spanish and English, which are two languages widely used and studied throughout the world. The root of this phenomenon lies in the historical evolution of languages, where words with a common origin have derived different meanings over time, due to diverse cultural, historical, and linguistic influences.

Notable examples of false friends

There are quite a few English words that resemble, in spelling or pronunciation, Spanish words, but have different meanings. Here, we share 25 clear examples of “false friends”:

  • “Actual” and “actualmente”: although they look like “actual” and “actually” in English, these terms in Spanish mean “current” and “currently,” respectively.
  • “Embarazada”: many English speakers fall into the trap of translating it as “embarrassed,” when it really means “pregnant” in Spanish. A confusion that can lead to “embarrassing” situations.
  • “Librería”: this word does not mean “library,” but rather “bookstore.” A mistake that can lead students to look for books in the wrong place.
  • “Sensible”: in Spanish, this term means “sensitive” and not “sensible” as in English. An adjective that can completely change the meaning of a description. In this case, the word for “sensible” in Spanish would be “sensato.”
  • “Constipado”: this false friend can cause comical or embarrassing situations, as it refers to having a “cold,” and not “constipated” as one might infer.
  • “Ropa”: while it may look like “rope” in English, it actually means “clothing.”
  • “Éxito”: in Spanish means “success,” not “exit.”
  • “Asistir”: means “to attend,” although due to its written and phonetic form it’s often confused with “to assist,” so using it to mean “to help” someone would be a mistake.
  • “Atender”: in this case, “atender” means “to assist” someone, not “attend” a meeting.
  • “Suceso”: while it certainly looks like “success” in English, it really means “occurrence.”
  • “Remover”: translates as “stir,” not “remove.”
  • “Decepción”: because of its similar spelling in English, it looks like “deception,” but in reality it’s “disappointment.”
  • “Terrorífico”: an adjective that when confused means the complete opposite, since it means “terrifying,” not “terrific.”
  • “Comodidad”: translates as “comfort,” not “commodity.”
  • “Fábrica”: means “factory,” not “fabric.”
  • “Lectura”: refers to “reading,” but because of its written form, it’s often confused with “lecture.”
  • “Casualidad”: means “chance,” not “victim.”
  • “Simpatía”: often translates as “friendliness,” not “sympathy.”
  • “Pretender”: means “to attempt,” not “to pretend.”
  • “Recordar”: means “to remember,” not “to record.”
  • “Conductor”: is a “driver,” not an “orchestra conductor.”
  • “Pariente”: means “relative,” not “parent.”
  • “Carpeta”: translates as “folder,” not “carpet.”
  • “Sano”: means “healthy,” not “sane.”
  • “Noticia”: means “news,” not “notice.”

Tips to avoid confusion

The best way to deal with “false friends” is to become familiar with them, or rather, to learn them! Reading and practice undoubtedly expose us to false friends and help us internalize their real meaning. However, beyond simply memorizing isolated terms, it’s more effective to learn complete sentences containing false friends. By doing so, you better understand how they fit into the context while capturing nuances that might go unnoticed when learning only single words.

Of course, interacting with native speakers is the most effective and fastest way in this learning process. Communicating with people who are fluent in the language provokes a direct reaction in real situations, which allows correcting possible misunderstandings and strengthening the command of the language in a more authentic and fluent way.

Thus, knowing and avoiding “false friends” confers a better command and fluency in the use of a language.

In conclusion, “false friends” are equal parts fun and challenging when learning English. Knowing them and thus avoiding confusion allows us to communicate more effectively and accurately in this global language. Through exploration and practice, we can turn these misleading terms into valuable tools for demonstrating our language skills. So, the next time you encounter a false friend, remember that it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your English proficiency.


We hope you found this information useful. We will be happy to provide you with more details about “false friends.” Don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our blog for more information.

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