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6. 'False Friends'

False cognates, also known as ‘false friends’ are words that look very similar in English and Spanish but have different meanings. This can be quite embarrassing because you are so sure that you have found an equivalent word in Spanish but you end up confusing your listeners. The following is a list of common ‘false friends’ to get you started but there are quite a few others.

1. Actual/actualmente – present/presently, current/currently. It does not mean ‘actually’
‘Actually’ in Spanish is expressed as ‘realmente’ or ‘en realidad’.

Y ¿dónde trabajas actualmente? – And where do you work currently?
¿Qué es lo que usted hace realmente? – What is it that you actually do?
¿Cuál es el verdadero documento? – Which is the actual document?

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2. Constipado/a
– to have a cold/be a bit stuffed up. It does not mean ‘constipated’.

No me siento bien. Estoy un poco constipado – I don’t feel well. I have a bit of a cold/My nose is a bit stuffed up

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If you want to say you are constipated use ‘estreñido/a’. ‘Estreñimiento’ means 'constipation’.

3. Televisión
– In English we use the same word ‘television’ to refer to the programs on TV and the television set. In Spanish there are 2 different words:

Televisión – The programs/content that we watch on TV
El televisor – The television set

Estamos viendo televisión – We are watching TV
Ayer compramos un televisor nuevo – Yesterday we bought a new TV (set)

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4. La carpeta
– 'The folder' not ‘the carpet’. This is what you use to file papers in or store files in. It also applies to the folders in Microsoft Windows. A carpet is ‘una alfombra’ in Spanish. When you deal with computer files, they can be referred to as ‘archivos’ or ‘ficheros’. ‘Archivo’ also mean archive. A file referring to a dossier that law enforcement or some other organization may have on someone is called ‘un expediente’. It can refer to a criminal record.

Necesito una carpeta nueva para guardar mis papeles – I need a new folder to keep my papers
El archivo que me mandaste por email no abre – The file you sent me by email doesn’t open
El FBI tiene un expediente sobre él – The FBI has a file on him

Sonido Click here to listen

5. Una discusión – an argument. The verb ‘discutir’ means to argue. A discussion is ‘una conversación’.

Hubo un discusión entre Jorge y el jefe – There was an argument between Jorge and the boss

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6. Diversión – Fun, but can also mean diversion in the sense of a military diversion. Something that is fun is ‘divertido/a’.  A diversion or a detour is ‘un desvío’ in Spanish.

Asistimos al curso sólo por diversión – We attended the class just for fun

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7. Educado – well-mannered not ‘educated’. 'Una persona mal educada' is an ill-mannered person not a badly educated person. The word ‘educación’ in Spanish can be used for a number of things depending on the context. It could mean education, upbringing (in terms of manners) or training. Someone who has bad manners ‘tiene una falta de educación’ o ‘no tiene modales’‘Modales’ – manners.  

Si usas esta palabra, vas a parecer una persona maleducada – If you use this word you are going to seem like an ill-mannered person
Esa mesera no tiene modales – That waitress has no manners

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8. Idioma
– Language. Idioms are ‘modismos’ en Spanish.

¿Cuántos idiomas habla usted? – How many languages do you speak?
‘Meter la pata’ es un ejemplo de un modismo – ‘To mess up’ is an example of an idiom

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9. Parientes
– relatives. Parents are ‘los padres’ in Spanish

Mis padres viven en España pero también tengo parientes en Cuba – My parents live in Spain but I also have relatives in Cuba

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10. Éxito
– success. ‘Tener éxito’ is to be successful. An exit in Spanish is ‘una salida’.

Esta película tuvo mucho éxito – This film was very successful
¿Dónde está la salida de emergencia? – Where is the emergency exit?

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11. Una trampa – A trap. A tramp is ‘vagabundo/a’ in Spanish. A vulgar term for a tramp when referring to a woman of low moral values is ‘una puta’ but this should be avoided if possible, as it could be a very offensive word in some contries.

¡Aléjate de la casa! ¡Es una trampa! – Move away from the house! It’s a trap! (Alejarse – to move away from something)

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12. Molestar – to bother. To molest in Spanish is ‘abusar’ or ‘violar’.

¿Le puedo molestar un momento? – Can I bother you for a moment?

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13. Asistir – to attend. To assist someone is ‘ayudar’.

Mañana, no podemos asistir a la reunión – Tomorrow, we cannot attend the meeting

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14. Pretender – to try, to aspire to. To pretend is ‘fingir’ in Spanish.

Pretendemos minimizar el nivel de violencia – We try to minimize the level of violence
Él finge ser un buen amigo – He pretends to be a good friend

Sonido Click here to listen

15. Realizar – to accomplish. To realize is ‘darse cuenta’ in Spanish.

Realizamos la tarea justo a tiempo – We finished the task just in time
No me di cuenta que ella ya habia salido – I didn’t realize that she had already left

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16. Soportar – to bear. To support is ‘apoyar’ en Spanish.

Ya no soporto la comida china – I can’t stand Chinese food anymore
Me apoyaste el año pasado. ¿Puedo contar con tu apoyo hoy? – You supported me last year. Can I count on your support today?

Sonido Click here to listen

17. Embarazada – pregnant. Embarrassed is ‘avergonzado/a’.

Este asiento está reservado para una mujer embarazada – This seat is reserved for a pregnant woman
No dijo nada porque estaba avergonzada – She didn’t say anything because she was ashamed

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18. Sensible – sensitive. Sensible is ‘sensato’ in Spanish.

Lo que me gusta es que es un hombre sensible – What I like is that he is a sensitive man
Tomar una decisión sensata en esta situación no es fácil – To make a sensible decision in this situation isn’t easy

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19. Simpático/a – nice. Sympathetic is ‘compasivo/a’ in Spanish.

La gente en esta ciudad es muy simpática – The people in this city are very nice

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20. Recordar – to remember. To record is ‘grabar’ or ‘inscribir’.

Sólo recordamos los buenos tiempos – We only remember the good times
Siempre grabamos este programa de televisión – We always  record this TV program

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21. Resistir – to bear, to tolerate. To resist is ‘resistirse a’ in Spanish.

Vámonos de aquí. Ya no resisto más – Let’s get out of here. I can’t take/bear anymore

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You could also use ‘aguantar’ which means the same thing.

¡Para por favor! ¡No lo aguanto mas! – Please stop! I can’t bear/take it anymore!

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22. Ordinario – means ordinary or common in the sense of being vulgar. If you want to say ‘ordinary’ in Spanish, it is better to use ‘común’ or ‘corriente’.

Tu amigo Ricardo es muy ordinario – Your friend Ricardo is very vulgar

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